We Miss You is a site-specific take on an artist’s pandemic year
Like the rest of us, Kaitlin Jencso endured the coronavirus pandemic. As a photographer, she decided to mark time in the lost year through her photographs, turning them into something like pointing marks scribbled on a wall to count the days that pass.
The result is We miss you, a site-specific collection of over 1,000 images edited at Hamiltonian Artists. Jencso painstakingly hung this mass of documentary material on Hamiltonian’s long white walls – a wave of images that loop horizontally, as if the gallery were one long continuous film strip.
Poignantly for a collection of images that documents a period of social distancing and quarantine, viewers should go in person to fully appreciate Jencso’s entire documentation, rather than viewing the footage remotely via a computer. – something that only became possible once the coronavirus pandemic had abated. The exhibition opened in May.
Jencso calls the exhibition a “diary of monotony and confinement”. A few individual images explicitly communicate a feeling of claustrophobia – a male figure captured in the bathroom, for example, or a woman photographed as she is closely surrounded by the siding of the house. But others show the open (albeit desolate) spaces of the Chesapeake Bay area; Jensco is originally from southern Maryland and has taken many images outside of locked urban DC
Jencso’s works cross a variety of genres – portrait, still life, landscape, abstraction – but a few visual themes recur in his installation, including lampposts and fences at night, close-ups of hedges à la Terri Weifenbach, and many, many moody aquatic images, sometimes speckled with sunlight, sometimes hazy, sometimes pastel and sometimes adorned with moonbeams.
Sometimes Jencso uses bold geometry in his designs. She skillfully combines a dock and water diagonally in one image, and captures a vertical zip of light dividing one red wall in half into another. (Cleverly, it’s mounted directly in front of a rhyming image that depicts a fuzzy column of orange lights dividing the two sides of a window curtain). Elsewhere, Jencso channels early Harry callahan by pairing vaporous, wavy propellers against a deep blue sky with a cluster of sturdy orange leaves, united in a satisfying triptych.
Images vary greatly in size. Many are the size of a snapshot, while others are 24 x 36 inches or larger, including the thematically appropriate image of a faulty college electronics panel; its barely spelled message gives the exhibition its title, “We Miss You”. In an impressive arrangement, Jencso offers three similar but distinct images of a female figure in a distant glade, softly lit in an Edenic garden.
Ultimately, however, despite such finely crafted individual images, We miss you is best understood as a whole, as a wave of images close to a stream of consciousness, rather than viewed as individual parts.
The rhythm of the exhibition is improvised, with elliptical variations, rather than regulated and regular. Doing it this way was smart: The weakest parts of the exhibit are the ones where Jencso mixed a lot of similar images into tight, relentless grids. These may have been intended to elucidate the psychic suffocation of midlife, but they end up suggesting a sort of sensory overload that comes from being too close to others, rather than being socially estranged. (Another nit: Jencso mounted some of his pictures too high on the wall to see clearly, especially for those of us with aging eyesight.)
It’s also surprising and interesting to note that while the flow of images documents roughly a chronological year, the changing seasons play a minimal role as the work unfolds from the start of the pandemic to the end. This only reinforces the notion of a disturbed flow of time during the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, and perhaps understandable, Jencso’s images become a little less absorbing as the pandemic year draws to a close, and many become darker and darker. But his final images include a series of seven photographs hung vertically in a row, each offering a black-and-white variation of dots of light dancing across the water. Together, these seven people communicate both a sense of calm – and a hint of hope – that suggest the lost year is finally turning into something new and more familiar.
At Hamiltonian Artists until June 19. 1353 U Street NW, Suite 101. (202) 332-116. More information, including coronavirus safety measures, at hamiltonianartists.org. An artists’ conference (in person and via virtual streaming) is scheduled for June 16 at 7 p.m.