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Ghost Ship

"Ghost Ship," a 2016 sculpture by Nancy Azara, is on view at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

A small leafless tree, coated with white gesso, rises to nearly eye level, presenting the elemental idea of being it’s own proxy. Titled Sweet Pea, this sculpture and others in Nancy Azara’s exhibition, "Passage of the Ghost Ship: Trees and Vines" at the Picture Gallery at The Saint-Gaudens Memorial haunt the space as attempted resurrections. No longer the living plants they had been, these trees and parts of trees emerge as beings arrested by artistic intervention. They of course will not resurrect nor will they resume living. Their achievement, their “luck” is that they have a second chance at being slightly present, here, removed from their previous vividness. 

Azara’s sculptures are made of found wood and woody plant objects that were once living. Her sculptural method involves altering their original living identity to a state of being primarily images of what they had been. This image status, brought about by slight material alteration and painting, is like a vague resuscitation, a middle ground of being, a limbo.

The largest object of the exhibition, Ghost Ship, is a more deliberated, assembled sculpture. Although like the others it is starkly white with an additional aluminum leaf coloring, it asserts a more complex strategy of making. Spanning a 12-foot length of space, a sagging curved limb rests on two unmatched posts bearing the weight of smaller branches and vines, like a grieving exhaustion, a Pietà of vulnerability and endurance. A smaller sculpture, Twisted Limb, inspires an urge to touch and hold, like a carved walking stick. Azara’s work incorporates acts of gathering, altering, joining as ceremony and ritual, implying a different understanding to the phrase “old fashioned”. To fashion is to make, to make in a certain way. In this work the artist strides a line between an imagined tribal past and a global industrial present.

Are these sculptures expressing a sentiment at odds with contemporary technology and perhaps with modernity itself? Is there an underlying social/political discourse in play? Azara’s work suggests that we never leave our ancestry, but perhaps we continue to dream it.

Nancy Azara: Passage of the Ghost Ship: Trees and Vines
The Saint-Gaudens Memorial, Cornish, NH. July 22 – September 10, 2017

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