Liz Steketee: Remnants
What seems like a lifetime ago, but in reality was only 2010, Liz Steketee was an artist-in-residence at RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco where I was the gallery director. I still remember her images, family portraits and self-portraits and portraits of ancestors in all types of photographic mediums, from tintypes to carte-de-visites to c-prints and more. But this was the strangest family album I’d ever seen…screaming graduates, a surly baby batman, reluctant brides…digital composites brilliantly reproduced to become a falsified family history. I’ve watched Liz since then, never knowing what wonders would come from her studio. And luckily for me, Liz is my neighbor and I can walk around the block and see the magic (and the madness) anytime.
When Diane Chung asked me to curate a show of Liz Steketee’s work, I was honored, but also I wondered how it would be possible to distill down the decades of diverse work and the dozens of projects that Liz has produced to make one small solo show that speaks of the depth of the artist’s sheer talent and incredible strength of her seeing, making, and creating. As I beat the path to her house, I thought of the extraordinary sculptural pieces that Liz had created for the recent Center for Photographic Art Artist Grant Exhibition. The hundreds of wrapped and sewn rocks, grouped and piled, images of loved ones, totems really. The sticks, some burned from one of the devastating California wildfires, some gathered by her father’s own hands, some big enough to use as walking sticks, some small enough to hang together in “families” of 3 or 4 or 5 to tell the story of some piece of Liz’s history. This series, Wrapped, was an exploration of photography as a sculptural and sacred object. The process of wrapping then sewing the fabric permanently around the object, acts as a meditation on memory, loss, and the cycle of life. This series was born of earlier projects shown in this room: Traces featuring the back sides of sewn photographs from the artist’s life, memories drawn in thread; Liz’s never ending and always growing project, Sewn, an almost blissful (for me) continuation of the RayKo residency work, but this time overtly connecting two disparate pictures with thread and stitching them together. And then there is the work that breaks me: Entangled.
Liz Steketee is exhibiting at the CHUNG24 Gallery, San Francisco, CA throught July 22nd. The exhibition includes three series: Traces imagery created from 2011-2015, Sewn imagery from 2015-present, and Entangled webs 2022-23.
Through the use of photographic montage, mixed media, textiles, and sculptural treatment of photographs, Liz’s work examines memory, family, and mending of the past. Her work is a chaotic stew of elements sewn back together and made whole. She employs a breaking and mending process in all of her work, and certainly in the pieces represented in the gallery. Deconstruction of imagery forces contemplation. Reconstruction acts as a mending of that which feels broken or disparate. Together these processes result in her constructed memory of her life experiences. At the heart of Liz’s work is the notion that it is the ordinary in life that is truly extraordinary, that memories are fluid and ever-changing. Her work is an investigation of memory, family, and the role these play in our collective humanity.
Liz Steketee was born in Michigan and lives in Marin County California with her family. She has both a BFA ( University of Michigan) and MFA (SFAI) in photography, digital media, and mixed media. For 11 years, after completing her master’s degree, Liz taught on the San Francisco Art Institute photo faculty. She specialized in digital imaging, mixed media, and bookmaking. In 2017, Liz moved into a full time studio practice. Her work focuses the notions of photography and its role in memory, and identity. In her practice, Liz utilizes her photography in combination with textiles, sewing, sculpture, and installation.
Liz Has received numerous awards, articles, and residencies including the 2022 Critical Mass Top 50, 2021 Center For Photographic Art _Artist Grant, Top 20 finalist in KlompChing Fresh 2021, LenScratch featured artist 2014, 2016, 2018 2020, 2021, Nazraeli Press One Picture Book.
Liz is represented by Jen Tough Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Liz is represented by SeagerGray Gallery, Milly Valley, CA
TRACES examines how a photograph can become just a faint sketch of memory. I sew on the fronts of my photographs as an exercise in examine the image, the memory it holds, and the meaning it contains. I trace or draw lines on the image to feel out what is most important to me in the image.
What is lost, and what remains. The act of sewing is an essential part of the process, exacting chance, stress, and sewing failures onto the re examination of the moment in the image. Drawing out the salient memory with thread as fate intervenes.
In this series, the backs of photographs are the primary works. The pieces are soaked and dyed to congeal the thread, paper, imagery into one. When I have finished, I turn the image over and discover what has been left behind. Ultimately, the photograph is gone, the drawn memory is all that remains.
SEWN archival digital photographic prints, thread, and dye.
I keep a daily photo diary to document my family and my life.
The process provides visual memory, and quiet contemplation in a complex and fast moving world.
My intent is to make visual the chaotic stew of pieced together memories in my mind.
Old and new blending, experiences taking on specific color, with missing parts and exaggerated points just as I keep them in my mind.
I print the images in batches, then cut, rip, and reorder the pieces. Deconstructed. Next, the pieces are collaged intuitively, often forcing awkward combinations that mirror my own memory process
The combinations are then mended with thread into a constructed memory. Lastly, the unique sculptural pieces are dyed to congeal the paper fibers. The pieces in this series are purposefully raw and unrefined, recalling the raw and rough nature of childhood when formative memory is strongest.
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