Wisconsin's Ellie Honl's two multi-media constructed prints at the 2011 Fall Members' Mid America Print Council show conjure up environments filled with trepidation, anxiety, danger and something imminently unpleasant. Her "Abandoned" piece (at the top) shows a boarded-up dwelling, with slat boards and patched panels. Set amidst a swarm of thousands of starlings, the dwelling seems secure enough, but the sheer number of encircling birds make the structure's odds for survival seem slim. Also, the ground swell of color surrounding the dwelling would suggest the starlings' wave of motion has actually lifted the structure from the earth, and is swirling it up into the sky with the birds.
"Play Dead" (2nd image) shows a cluster of smaller dwellings that at one time were unified and standing upright, but now 'assume the position' of playing dead; again set against an impending storm of starlings as they approach the play dead structures. The ground is as nebulous as in the former image, but the position of the structures and sticks indicate they sit upon an open patch of earth amongst the sweeping colors. Their possum approach to survival is tenuous at best, for once the starlings swoop down upon the structures their momentum will surely sweep the fragile containers into the sky.
From her website, www.elliehonl.com/, I also enjoy her installations which compliment her 3D glass house and figurine maquettes set against the prints. In that, she is akin with the works of Jennifer Bartlett, who also broke ground in the 80s and 90s with her built constructions set against her paintings.
These pieces come from Honl's Coping Strategies series, and she says they are about coping with change - both external and internal. --
"In response to a chaotic, uncertain world, this body of work explores individuals’ coping strategies. Turbulent skies and ambiguous swarms threaten communities comprised of delicate glass shelters. These complex constructions are stand-ins for facets of a person’s psyche...those individuals that effectively cope with their changing environment are left stronger and more resilient."
I get that. I get what she's talking about. The structures act as shelters and actual embodiments of the people who live on the land. In this case, Honl describes a journey through the Midwest as the source of this series and actually witnessing the incredible flying patterns of starlings. I've seen them myself and stared in wonder at their lyricism, and their rolling thunder as they fly. It is an amazing thing to witness.
There are changes and fluctuations in life - some we can handle, some we can't. Imminent and threatening things, which we defend ourselves against or engage in the battle to survive. It's being human. And the one thing most people who live in the open stretches of this country experience is that direct engagement with our environment: the storms, the tornadoes, wild fires and floods. We live in it, with it, survive it, and come back more resilient than ever to stay our course and live where we choose and do what we do.
Honl's work speaks eloquently of survival - not only the physical sense, but also the internal, psychological. Her wooden and glass-like structures, though they seem in peril most of the time, are more than capable of surviving an onslaught of little birds that could peck away the glass surface (our skins), and still leave the wooden frame (the psyche) intact. Honl's work engages the human spirit and reminds us that life is full of surprises. She reminds us also that we must have faith to know we can weather those trials and upsets.