"Berry Picking" // Myken McDowell

Edmonton MFA student explores family and memory with found footage and printmaking

Before It Fades
Myken McDowell; FAB Gallery at the University of Alberta; Until Sat., Mar. 23; Reception on Thu., Feb. 28 (7 – 10 p.m.)

Myken McDowell, a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Alberta, has been working with Super 8 film footage from 1968 to 1972 to create an exhibition that explores familial connections and memory through prints, video, and an installation that includes objects from a family member’s home.

To create the prints and videos, McDowell combs through her family archival footage, and then uses stills to create the prints.

“I go through a process where I’ll find a scene, I’ll select stills from that footage, manipulate them digitally, and then produce photopolymer [a light-activated resin] prints. From there, I’ll sometime interfere with them,” she explains. “Because ultimately I’m making videos … out of these prints.”

McDowell makes the videos by scanning in the prints and editing them together digitally. She sometimes repeats the same scene, but “interferes” with the stills at the printmaking step differently, making multiple prints from the same stills.

In some of her films, she interferes by writing on the stills, and in some others, she blacks or whites them out completely—in what she refers to as a “low-tech editing process.” The white out process creates a blizzard-like effect in the final film, while the blacked out images motion to erasure while still leaving the image slightly visible.

“The further away we are from an event, the blurrier the details get, and [American photographer] Sally Mann wrote this really amazing memoire … She’s like ‘If you want to really remember something it’s better not to take a photograph or revisit that memory too often because with every time you go back to it, you’re not remembering the original impression left by the experience, but the last time you thought about that,’” McDowell explains.

She was inspired by that idea, and decided to alter the memories as captured on video to reflect that.

What especially interests McDowell about the found Super 8 footage is that while the first Super 8 camera made it easy for the average person to film video, it could only record two and half minutes at a time—and the film was expensive.

“Views II” // Myken McDowell

“I think that these images really do say something about what was valuable to the people who took those images, and it’s kind of a highlight reel,” she says. “But what’s sort of interesting is that a lot of the images from around that time look very similar because everyone wanted to capture the birthday parties and the family road trips.”

McDowell found the footage in a family member’s house and got permission to use it. She worked with it for two years; then the family member passed away and she was one of the people who helped sort through everything that was left in the house.

“And I was asking a lot of the same kinds of questions as I had been when I was selecting stills that I wanted to work with. It’s like ‘What do I want to hold onto?’” she says. “And then I found a deer lamp that was captured in the original footage and that kind of prompted me to do the [installation].”

The installation includes a number of decorative objects—porcelain figurines, lamps, old toys—lined up along a shelf on one side of the room, and a row of four hats hung on the opposite wall. A video McDowell shot herself plays on a third wall, showing scenes from the house where the objects were collected, and placing them in context.

It was McDowell’s first time shooting a video herself.

“You get a little bit of the past and a little bit of where we are right now,” she says of the installation. “It’s nostalgic to work with these home videos, but I feel like that can be a tool to move us forward and help us take on new challenges and opportunities, and making my own video felt like a way of doing that.”

The exhibition is McDowell’s final visual presentation for her MFA, and in September she’s headed to Japan to work from the Musashino University’s printmaking space and continue building on the work in Before It Fades.

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