Christy Mitchell's 'Object Permanence' Explores Expectations in a Post-COVID-19 World | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Christy Mitchell's 'Object Permanence' Explores Expectations in a Post-COVID-19 World


Published November 23, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Details of "Object Permanence" - COURTESY
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  • Details of "Object Permanence"

Object permanence, as many will remember from college psychology class, refers to the understanding that things and people continue to exist even when you can't see or hear them. First documented by child psychologist Jean Piaget, that realization is a necessary milestone in a baby's brain development, even if it dashes the hilarity of playing peekaboo.

"Object Permanence" is also the title of Christy Mitchell's current exhibition at Burlington's S.P.A.C.E. Gallery. She borrows the term to refer to the expectations we had about the world when we were shut-ins during the pandemic and how we experience the world now.

"During COVID, we were confined [at home], but we had this sense that things would still be the same," she said during a gallery visit. "They're not, in so many ways."

One significant change for Mitchell was losing her grandmother to the virus early on, when travel was verboten. "Having to say goodbye over Zoom is hard," she said.

Mitchell is the proprietor of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery and the executive director of the South End Arts + Business Association. Despite those responsibilities — which include organizing September's South End Art Hop — she continues her tradition of mounting a solo show each year. Doing so allows the Savannah College of Art and Design graduate to be an artist and not just an advocate for others, she noted.

"Object Permanence" - COURTESY
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  • "Object Permanence"

"Object Permanence" includes several dozen framed prints hung in orderly rows along gallery walls, most featuring a rotary phone set against vintage-looking wallpaper. Each also contains a single word, which Mitchell wrote in cursive. Examples: mindful, frozen, hopeful, timeless, gone, loved. "Many of them are pep-talk words," she acknowledged.

The largest gallery room presents a startling, quite disorderly installation of antique furniture. Four chairs are suspended from the ceiling at various angles and heights; a coffee table emerges from a wall — or perhaps is trying to depart? A dark wood cabinet hangs atilt and holds a rotary phone with multiple handsets, which spill out onto the floor. This jumble is reflected in a large, ornate mirror that Mitchell said she unearthed at a secondhand store.

It's easy to interpret the installation as a metaphor for loss of control; furniture isn't supposed to behave like this. But for Mitchell the pieces relate to her grandmother, who was a collector. "I'm trying to do a little timeline of the furniture, a little time travel," she said. "Those chairs are older than we are." And the mirror? "That represents a portal — coming in and out of time."

Details of "Object Permanence" - COURTESY
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  • Details of "Object Permanence"

The (almost) post-pandemic world may be altered, but some key elements of Mitchell's annual exhibitions carry on. One is her penchant for nostalgia. "I have this nostalgia for times that I didn't live in," she explained. It's as if memory passed from her grandmother and mother like genetic code, tucked into the strands of DNA. The rotary phone, which Mitchell has used in previous exhibits, is a symbol of this flux. "It's also about who spoke through these phones," she said. "Women's voices, plotting and planning."

Mitchell said she likes to explore a different medium each year; this time it was learning an artificial intelligence program. But she did a form of time travel again, using the cutting-edge technology to produce prints of outdated phones and wallpaper. Inexplicably, the program would not allow her to type in her own name and instead would turn out some variation of the word "Christ." Mitchell finally gave in and produced a small square image in which a cross pendant hangs over the wallpaper. This is exhibited above a vintage caned chair next to a green table at the show's entrance. A guest book, also vintage, greets visitors and invites their comments.

Evocations of the past, of loss and of grappling with impermanence ripple through this exhibition. "Everyone who sees the show has their own stories," Mitchell said.

"Object Permanence" is on view through December 2.

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