Julie Gautier-Downes

Here we will take a look at the piece Julie presented in the exhibit as well as her artist statement and answers to the questions I had for her.

Artist Statement:

“Where we are going there were no lit-up houses only dying ones.” -Eugene Richards

In any given landscape there are moments, which tell a story about a place and the people that dwell there. In a metropolis or a ghost town these moments of loneliness and abandonment that can be looked over or forgotten. It is in these spaces that there is an opportunity to see and understand the world in a different way. By exploring, collecting and photographing the world as an archaeologist or detective gives intensity to the seemingly banal and ordinary.

The absence of the human figure in the work provides a space for the viewer to project themselves into the desolate and abandoned environments that are captured. By pairing photographs of these deserted and abandoned environments with found personal items it provides fertile ground for narratives to emerge. The items collected are items one might find in a family album or desk drawer and provides a strong connection to the missing figure.

The types of spaces that are captured range greatly from the haunted skeletal frame of a failed dream house to a forgotten city by a manmade sea that has a vibrant past. The ghostly representation of the locations exposes moments of quietness, sadness, and abandonment. In some cases, these places are desolate due to a tragedy or economic down turn and the images and collected items speak to the way in which it happened.

It is the universality of loss that allows the viewer to find the beauty in these abandoned spaces and objects. With the hope that it enlightens them to see how sublime life is and how connected we are to each other.

Untitled Photograph, inkjet print, 2014, 30×40 inches, $1000.

I asked Julie if she could share any other specific information about the location of the structure we see in this image, to which she replied, “This photograph was made in the Eastern Sierra on Highway 395 just south of Mono Lake. I saw the house while I was driving back from Bodie (an abandoned town from the Gold Rush) in Northern California. Other images from this series were made in the disused towns around the Salton Sea and in the Mojave Desert (specifically the Morongo Basin eastern San Bernardino County).”

When I asked Julie what is it she wants a viewer to take away from this image, she had this to say, “I hope the viewer will take away a sense of longing or quiet contemplation. This image shows a house that has been left behind in this idyllic mountain landscape. Because it is an exterior view, the house is mysterious, the viewer is stuck on the outside. This inability to enter the space to learn more, offered me a lot of room to build a story through the other images I juxtaposed it with in the final series, “At A Loss”. 

For me this image is as much about the beauty of the landscape and the structure’s decay as it is about the ideas I hope to share. I showed this work in a show in Santa Cruz a few years ago, during the reception, I once heard someone telling others that this image was a digital composite because it was too perfectly captured and printed. I found that funny, but I did not correct him. I spend a good amount of time editing a digital image (or printing in the darkroom) to recreate the conditions I captured it in or the way I saw the scene. As I tell my students, our eyes are much more powerful than our cameras, so we have to be careful in the exposures we make and in our postproduction of the images. For me, the process of capturing, editing, and printing an image is a formal art process. After the image has been printed, I build a narrative through the images I select to place side by side to create a series.”

I asked her to describe the content of her work in paragraph and this was her response, “I unpack my experiences with dislocation, loss, and longing in my installations, sculptures, and photographs. My studio practice explores the emotional resonance of abandoned domestic spaces. In photographs, sculptures, and installations, I lead viewers on a journey through abandoned or distressed homes, creating both the visual and emotional experiences of the places I explore. Each method offers a different angle of inquiry that feeds my pursuit of connection to absent figures. As I was feeling trapped in photography’s limitations of two-dimensional renderings of space and object, installation and sculpture offers the freedom to give viewers a more precise sense of a recreated place and the things I find there. The work shares environments that might be not easily accessible, both physically and emotionally, to my audience. I photograph and reassemble these distant, disused spaces to give them back importance. My work follows me through the exploration of themes that animate and questions that arise about the abandoned houses of others who were, for whatever reason, made to abandon them.”

I asked Julie how this particular image connects to her wider body of work, as well as how her work has continued to develop since this piece was created in 2014 and she had this to say, “This photograph is from a series called “At A Loss.” In this work as with most of my conceptual work, I think of my work as a portrait of a person through what they leave behind. This work is about absence and the missing figure. I hope the viewer will think about the person who occupied the house and the challenges living in such a location presents. Separate from the history or mystery about the occupant, I hope the viewer will enjoy catching the fleeting beauty of these structure as it decays. When I was making this series, I often returned to a location over and over, each time the house would be a little more worn down, until eventually it would completely collapse. That process of discovery/rediscovery and of returning to one seemingly forgotten place gave me a feeling of purpose. In making this work, I sought to share these forgotten spaces, that once provided shelter and comfort, to remember what they once were before they fell apart.

Since 2014, my work has changed in form, but remained the same in concept. I suppose it feels like my work has progressed on the same trajectory of inquiry. I have continued to share the same types of domestic spaces following a loss or trauma. In 2014, I was starting to recreate abandoned spaces in three-dimensions, but over the past six years I have done this more, with more success. I honed my construction skills and matured in the way objects were presented. I created whole rooms, pieces of rooms (such as one wall or corner of a room), and more recently miniature dioramas. I incorporated other media (painting) and technology (light boxes and projectors) to recontextualize the 3D houses. However, in each of these forms, I continue to offer clues to the missing figure and a moment in the domestic decay.”

Thanks for joining us as we took a closer look at the work presented by Julie Gautier-Downes.  My final question for her had to do with what she was working on at the moment (late 2020), and here is her response, “I have found the pandemic to be really hard on my creative process. During the first half of 2020, I struggled to keep the Richmond Art Collective functioning and juggle child care. In August, I started a Master’s of Social Work program; taking classes has kept me busy.

In my creative practice this past year, I have found myself returning to the utilitarian art forms (sewing, quilting, knitting, etc.) that I loved during my adolescent years. I have found myself being more attracted to the process of making as opposed to the process of storytelling. Though not conceptual this process has offered me a needed break from the daily stress of the pandemic.

Currently, I am working on collecting materials for a new series of dioramas. I hope to have some time over the holidays to start making some new work.”

For those interested in seeing more of Julie’s work you can find her online at https://juliegautierdownes.com/home.html

or on Instagram @juliegautierdownes

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