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Christy Mitchell’s New Exhibition Addresses the Impact of a Family Crisis


Published November 15, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "Foreign Body III"

For the past 11 years, Christy Mitchell has mounted a solo installation in November — her birthday month — at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, the Burlington art venue she founded in 2009. Mitchell sold the gallery to artist Nikki Laxar in September, but the show still goes on this month. It's called "Point of Impact," and, yes, asteroids are involved.

In each show, Mitchell, who is also executive director of the South End Arts + Business Association, turns her reactions to events of the previous year into visually and conceptually compelling mixed-media installations. Though most of her shows have addressed personal concerns, this year's might be the most profoundly felt of all.

"Whether sent from the universe or embedded in our DNA," Mitchell's artist statement begins, "messages and events can suddenly arrive and change the course of our lives." In "Point of Impact," she grapples with the heartbreak and challenges of caring for family members who are struggling with their mental health. "Appearing in waves, hitting hard like an asteroid making contact with Earth, watching a loved one go through crisis can feel like the end of the world," she observes.

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "Foreign Body I"

Viewers who did not read Mitchell's statement — or missed her talk on opening night — may not take in that theme, which isn't conveyed literally. And that's OK with the artist. "I like to create something where people can relate without [my] explaining it to them," she said during a gallery visit, acknowledging that objects and images don't elicit the same responses from everyone.

Mitchell has long collected old rotary telephones, cheap midcentury cameras and analog radios. Phones, in particular, are symbolic devices that play various roles in her work. They return in "Point of Impact," mostly disassembled: a curly cord strung overhead, receivers hanging by their cords, phones sitting on the floor or affixed to black-painted wood discs on the wall.

All the objects Mitchell employs here are conveyers of communication — and it's significant that they are disabled.

The vintage cameras and radios met violent ends: Mitchell smashed them and assembled jumbled collages of the pieces on similar black discs. It was hard breaking the first one, she admitted, but then it felt cathartic. Neatly hung in a row, the six tondos — "Foreign Body I" through "VI" — relate, at least in shape, to her images of celestial bodies.

"Point of Impact" installation detail - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "Point of Impact" installation detail

For the latter, Mitchell cut out pictures of a solar eclipse and nebulae "from books about the universe," she said. (Asteroids look less interesting, she found; they're just rock.) She reinforced them with card stock and wrote a single word over each image with blue marker before framing them. The words came to her via stream of consciousness, Mitchell said. On the nebulae photos, her words include "contact," "collide" and "compound."

For Mitchell, the space images "express something about things beyond your control — like asteroids," she said. The round assemblages, she suggested, are "like a black hole, with things sticking together after a collision."

"Point of Impact" is about one woman navigating an emotional meteor shower, but, like the best art, it is universally relatable.

Christy Mitchell, "Point of Impact," on view through November 25 at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery in Burlington.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Christy Mitchell's New Exhibition Addresses the Impact of a Family Crisis"

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