Artscape: Memoryialize: Andrea Keys and Emily Hanako Momohara

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Our thoughts and actions bear the mark of memories, good and bad, and we in turn exist as marks on the memories of others. The ways in which these linger on past the lifespan of the people who created them unite two Ohio artists at ROY G BIV Gallery in October.

In the exhibition Memoryialize, Andrea Keys and Emily Hanako Momohara offer two sides of the same coin, exploring past associations with completely different moods and materials.

Keys, a recent Ohio University graduate, exposes the emotional scars that remain from her grandparents' youth through a haunting, massive-scale re-imagining of vintage keepsakes.

With carefully choreographed photography, Momohara, who heads the photography department at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, pays her respect to loved ones who've recently passed and the brevity of human life.

After Momohara lost seven friends and family members within the last year, she found herself listing the things that reminded her of each of them. As the photographer explained, she started to wonder, "What kind of objects do I use to show they're still part of my life?"

Titled "Koden" after a Japanese tradition of giving gifts to grieving families, the resulting series was shot at funeral homes around the country. Poignant color prints depict the spirits of the dear departed as the shadows of those objects.

Momohara shares these frames, and the shadows lie where her own shadow should be, a seamless trick of cardboard cutouts and digital manipulation. She's alone in others, blurred like a fading memory. The suggestion of a riveting narrative is a common characteristic.

The series is a major production, involving assistants and lots of equipment to give her tableaux a subtle, glowing depth, yet the pictures fulfill Momohara's goal: "I just want them to feel like a moment."

Conversely, Keys' sculpture fixes on harsher memories. She's studied and spoken publicly about the subject of intergenerational trauma, as the granddaughter of survivors of Auschwitz and a Siberian forced labor camp.

Upon her grandmother's death, Keys explored the darker regions of her family history, and how the traumas of her elders manifested in younger generations. In her ceramic work, they came out as the large, dead-eyed offspring of Soviet Socialist Realism monuments and Hummel figurines, the porcelain tchotchkes of lederhosen-clad children first produced in Germany in 1935 - the year that also brought the establishment of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws.

"I started to realize they were really the same," Keys said. Both forms of sculpture celebrated non-existent ideals amid real-life horror, so Keys decided to combine the two and burden each figure with the weight of the past for the "(dis)Placement" series.

It's such a heavy load, the figures appear to sink into floors and walls. Two are found on the higher ground of a plinth, but it's eroding under their feet. While the Hummel figurines' cherubic features are still hinted at, here they're slack, doughy framing for complacent gazes. One figure extends its hand, either for help or to take down the unsuspecting.

And unlike the smooth, color-glazed inspiration, these figures are still a bit rough, and have an overall hue reminiscent of wet clay. Like Momohara's blurring, it points to memory's unfixed quality, but Keys sees in that a chance to progress past false ideals and the traumas that hid behind them.

"I want the sense that it could all go splat, but also that they're malleable," Keys explained. "They can change."

In October, ROY G BIV gets the celebration started for its 20th anniversary. For details, click to the Bad and the Beautiful blog

"Memoryialize: Andrea Keys and Emily Hanako Momohara"

When: Through Sept. 26

Where: ROY G BIV Gallery, Short North