In her new exhibition Vestiges at Eye Lounge, Ashley Czajkowski creates an immersive environment in which the concepts of cyclical time, domesticity, and gender identity are envisioned on embroidery hoop stands and in lumen prints. The heart of the exhibition is the single image of a bird, whose repetition binds these concepts together in a visual, lyrical allegory of what it means to be a woman.
Ashley does an outstanding job of evoking such poetic lyricism through the arrangement of the artworks on the gallery walls. Multiple lumen prints in various sizes are sprawled across the small exhibition space. Each print features the form of a bird appearing as though it were in flight, with its outstretched wings reaching out to the edges of the print. Looking at the wall of prints from afar, each lumen print seems to represent a different position of one single bird.
For instance, in one print the bird is closing its wings while in another print its wings are opened wide. This multiple narration of the same subject implies a chronology of time but there is no evidence that the prints are sequentially organized according to a particular set of events in time. Rather, the prints are organized randomly as the bird jumps in and out of images and in and out of structured time in a random order, analogous to the random nature of life.
However, the round support on which the lumen image is printed gives us a hint that the bird images are not randomly structured but instead communicate the belief in cyclical time—a central concept in Buddhism and Hinduism that emphasizes the individual’s and the world’s cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Studying Ashley’s work with this concept in mind, the recurrence of the bird image on the round support thus becomes an allegory for the continuous pattern of repeating the same or similar life occurrences over and over again, leaving vestiges of past occurrences, like in the fleeting apparitions documented by the lumen process.
How is the concept of cyclical time tied to domesticity and gender identity? Ashley incorporates video projections and embroidery hoop stands (used in a domestic setting for “women’s work”) to comment on the conventional role of motherhood imposed on women by society’s social norms, which women have repeatedly experienced throughout history and in many cultures. The roundness of the embroidery hoops are in sync with the roundness of the lumen prints, and, thus, evokes a relationship in which the bird acquires symbolic significance, considering that the bird symbol is often associated with the feminine (for example, in Great Britain, “bird” is a slang term applied to women).
Ashley evokes the role of motherhood in the social construction of the feminine in her video projections, both on the big screen at the gallery’s entrance and on the embroidery hoop stands. On the large screen, we see a woman’s naked body framed from her hips to her waist, carrying a dead or wounded bird in her arms. In the back of the gallery, images projected on the embroidery hoops feature what we assume to be the same bird lying on the ground at a woman’s feet followed by the bird being placed in a basket. By taking care of the animal, the woman takes on the role of the mother, but to what end if the animal is already beyond saving? With her Vestiges exhibition, Ashley Czajkowski presents a sensitive, discerning portrayal of being a woman within the confines of social expectations; however, unlike the trapped bird, perhaps she can break free of the cycle.