Janice Caswell

Gay City News

Volume 5, Number 39 Sept. 28 - Oct. 4, 2006

Janice Caswell’s Mental Maps: Three-dimensional glimpses of memory in physical space

By Rachel Liberman

Basic human function rests on the brain’s ability to recall physical and mental action. A lucky minority of humans is born with a so-called photographic memory, some, unfortunately, lack a healthy functioning memory, while the rest of us rely on our varied capacities for retaining information. Although memory can make or break you professionally, socially, romantically, and academically, it never fails to produce a portal though which you can time travel to the best experiences of your life. But why are some memories more vivid and others more vague? What if there was a way to interact with your memory and monitor its internalization of your life, or at the very least, witness how image and action are eventually stored in the brain?

Stemming from this idea of securing experience, Janice Caswell’s “Lay of the Land” features a three-dimensional glimpse of what memory could look like in a physical space. Caswell is inspired by the concept of mental mapping, or, how the brain organizes memory. She uses various media, including beads, paper, ink, and pens, to create imagery similar to what “retracing your steps” might look like with a skilled and artistic twist. The viewer looks at her work assuming an aerial view, almost as if they were invited to investigate a microchip that stored Caswell’s personal past.

Although this exhibition has technical, psychological, and biological themes, its aesthetic strengths are just as important as its reflexive ones. Caswell’s geometric precision and carefully bold usage of color gives the viewer an image that’s calming to look at while they’re internalizing and imagining the experience mapped out in front of them.

“Vegas Baby,” a 9×15-foot installation, represents Caswell’s experience while attending a convention in Las Vegas. Representing buildings with varying sizes of squares, and paths of travel represented by beads mounted on pins, she is successful in re-creating a rooftop view of her many encounters. She uses a pastel palette of paper circles of varying size to mark individual instances of experience that have been embedded into her conscious memory. The viewer is aware that these circles represent something to the artist, but are left in ambiguity and wonderment. Clusters of circles could possibly mean one thing, but to Caswell it means another.

“Alternate Realities,” on the other hand, illustrates less of an actual memory and more of a hypothetical one. Caswell envisions a colorful map that signifies alternate paths of life she could have led. “Visiting Sue” captures the memories that erupted from a visit to a friend in Albuquerque. Caswell uses pins with blue heads to mark her paths that recount what she did and what she learned. Unlike the pastel colorings of “Las Vegas,” “Visiting Sue” includes a more diverse selection of colors, ranging from yellow to turquoise.

Other titles include, “Broken Verses,” “Two Tales From Spain,” and “Resistance.” These works, along with the rest of the exhibition, share similar construction qualities, yet each prompts a very different imaginative tale. Caswell has successfully put together a collection of extremely dimensional, original, and thought provoking works that feature the personal nature of memory as well as its beauty as a biological phenomenon.