a life on display

Everyone has their own way to remember lost loved ones. Whether with photographs, videos or keepsakes of everyday objects, people feel the need to reminisce. Isabel: Eres Mi Vida, an installation by Jennifer Leon currently displayed at Centre Gallery in the Marshal lCenter, shows how one person can pay tribute to a person emotionally and artistically.

Leon, a senior double majoring in studio art and religious studies, decided to frame the show around Isabel, her grandmother.

“When my grandmother passed away last year, I felt the need to immortalize her as an icon,” Leon said.

When visitors enter the gallery from the entrance on the right, they can follow footsteps to “Isabel,” a work comprised of a black purse and black high heels that sits in the center of the space. The footsteps represent Isabel returning to her life to reclaim possessions she left behind, which are displayed in other parts of the installation.

With “La Familia (puesto en color),” Leon marries two of her artistic influences, pop art and religious iconography. The work consists of 28 identical screen prints, which together measure about eight feet by 28 feet in size.

The prints feature a photo of Isabel with her family after moving to New York in the late ’50s, along with layer upon layer of flowers, eight layers in all.

By printing so many layers of photos into each screen-print, Leon manages to achieve great depth within the boundaries of two-dimensional space. The vibrancy of the color in this piece is also a result of the layering. With bold, citric colors, “La Familia” feels almost self-luminescent.

“Food and bright colors are prominent in Hispanic culture, and I wanted to make them a significant part of the show,” Leon said.

Leon brings food into her installation with “cold cream, sewing and a ring.” It features three Plexiglas and wood cases, each about five feet tall, holding a different domestic staple. “Cold cream” holds oatmeal, “sewing” holds sesame seeds and “and a ring” holds rice.

The artist crafted the cases herself, cutting the Plexiglas and carving the wood beams from raw wood. Leon wanted to make the works from as close to scratch as possible, to make seemingly artificial works more personal.

“Jen impressed me by coming to the shop this summer” said Richard Beckman, associate professor of sculpture and one of Leon’s mentors. “She really wanted to learn the equipment so she could be as autonomous with her show as possible.”

The cases are spaced far enough to be singular but close enough to remain in a series. With the industrial housing, each case feels cold and austere, but since they are filled with everyday food items, organic and familiar, as well.

To present more immediacy in the show, Leon assembled various items of Isabel as a reliquary, featuring make-up, glasses, a prayer book and a rosary among other objects. Particularly stirring is “Isabel’s favorite dress,” displayed at the center of the reliquary. The dress, brown with a flower pattern, mirrors the screen-print across the gallery.

All these images cement the memory of Isabel into the minds of visitors, people who have never seen her.

“The stark, contrasting images make it feel like a place of reverence,” Beckman said.

“The works show how Jennifer, and all people, remember loved ones, with certain diffused memories on one hand and very specific memories on the other.”

Since Isabel was a devout Catholic, a priest will be brought in to bless the food during the opening week of the show. Some of the food will be placed in keepsake canisters.

“A lot of shows have a hard time reaching our visitors, but everyone has their own Isabel,” said gallery fundraising coordinator Mike Caraker.

The show’s title is layered with meaning. “Eres mi vida” — you are my life in Spanish — represents Leon and the installation as extensions of Isabel, but also patrons of the gallery, who take away with them their experience and memories of the show.

“There’s a lot of sentimentality with this show; it can touch anyone,” said Caraker.

Isabel: Eres Mi Vida is on display at Centre Gallery until Nov. 15. A closing reception for the show will be held the last day of the show. For more information contact Gallery Co-Directors Sunni Barbera and Gina Benedetto at 974-5464.

Contact Andrew Pina at oracletunes@yahoo.com