Beauty In Abandonment:
Photographs by Candace Schutt

Governors State University Visual Arts Gallery
Spring 2012

reviewed by Felissia Capelletti (April 2012)

Photographer Candace Schutt pulls open a creaking, decimated front door and steps inside a long empty house, abandoned in the middle of a forgotten, voided field or side street in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The house is filling with plumes of dust as she moves through the still quiet. Early afternoon sunlight streams in through broken windows and the frames of missing doors. Layers of mislayed dirt, dust, and weather coat the floor. Shards of drywall and dead paint crisp under foot. The house hasn't housed anyone for years but the evidence of life shows itself in the disorder of what has been left behind. A towel, a bar of soap, a denim jacket clinging to an exposed rafter, each emanate lonely, cast-off abandon, just like the sunbeams and shadows stuck rotating in the hollow rooms day after day.

As she moves through the old place, the left-behinds pro-offer themselves to her eye. A be-spackled wall-mounted pencil sharpener waits. A warped dresser, sagging into the floor beneath it, beggs for one more Midwest rainstorm to push it back into the ground. A banistered hallway stocked with displaced doors is a full-color illustration of the personal history of the house. Paint of generations peels from every surface like leaves of ivy growing from the molding wood. Pastel colors muster as much brilliance as they can in the golden sun light, and like aged memories, seep together in disarray. She snaps the picture.

Dresser (12.5 x 18.5 in. ink jet print, 2012) Candace Schutt

Viewing the show, the art-goer will experience the eerie permanence of human presence. The kind which is left in the wake of life -- the spirit of which hides in exquisite decrepitude , blushings of an old, forgotten beauty. Schutt includes two formats of photograph in her show. The small, framed pieces capture the restive ruins just as they are. The images display the delicate age of things. The rust, mold, peeling-back, and deconstruction by the elements on the helplessly empty and uncared for rooms. One recognizes the throw-away attitude coating the used quality of simple things. They are junk in a junk space, left there, splattered and strained, cluttered, grimy, and dry but reminiscent of a time and place that could be any of ours. And probably will be as we each follow our future and allow the traces of ourselves to settle into disintegration in the places we leave behind.

Lingering Memories (5 x 8 ft., vinyl decal print, 2012) Candace Schutt

The second type of photo featured in the show are life-size vinyl prints adhered directly to the gallery walls, transplanting the viewer into the musty rooms. These images of abandon are accompanied by snapshot slides projected onto surfaces in the space, superimposing two moments in time into one visual element, creating the uneasy effect of witnessing the ghosts still resident there. The projected photos, found in the attics of the houses themselves and conscientiously orchestrated by Schutt, co-exist appropriately with the surfaces or objects they imbibe.

Here is a darkened, closed door in a musty hallway. Wavering atop the dark wood is the delicate image of a grandmotherly woman leaning on a balcony railing overlooking a nostalgic green lawn. One envisions pushing past the door onto that very balcony. In this imagined moment, sun seeps to fill in the shadows, the green lawn send up its bug-song and grass breath. The blurred image of the sun-faced woman solidifies into living focus. Her softened face smiles anew.

Doorways (12.5 x 18.5 in. ink jet print, 2012) Candace Schutt

Another, of a peeling white wall, the old paint abandoning structure, showing the real face of the house, unmade-up and solid underneath. Projected here we can make out, as if from a sleepy childhood memory, a woman in a festive shirt bending over a table leaden with desserts. The familiar hominess of the image brings forth the flavor of buttercream frosting and one can't help but wonder if the dessert table might have once stood in that exact spot. The dankness suddenly smells hintingly of old wine and the dimness hides the stains of spilled strawberry pie. The same stained-glass window opens simultaneously onto both scenes.

These haunting images of gone domestication are the house's soft voice, amplified through the camera, speaking of the real life it supported before it was stripped of its title 'home,' of its furniture, and its framed family photos, long ago. The large format prints, with a little suspension of disbelief, create holes in the wall of the gallery. Stepping through, one becomes part of the remnants. Schutt's intention is to suggest to the viewer the sense of intrusion that she, herself, felt upon entering the space.

The artist's practice is to edit her photos only minimally, taking care while framing the photo to make cropping unnecessary. The printed colors are authentic to life, and she allows natural lighting to enrich the composition saying it "naturally highlights a focal point," even if that focal point is one the eye wouldn't normally respond to, thereby mirroring the very object of the show, which is to illuminate the beauty of that which has been cast asunder.

An old record in its frail sleeve is propped in a dry kitchen sink. Sprinkled with dry wall and dust, it seems to have no idea what it's doing there. Meaning may never have become clear in the lonely decades as it sat, defiantly beautiful, continuously handled by the falling years -- if not for a photograph peeling away, as hands from an enclosed secret, to uncover the old world within.

"Beauty In Abandonment" can be viewed in the Governors State University Visual Arts Gallery now through April 17th, 2012.


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