At thirty-two years old, Jovan Speller has a surprisingly bad memory. Remembering last night’s dinner is nearly as difficult as recalling hazy childhood memories growing up on the move across several U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. Memory, or rather the loss of it, is at the heart of the fine art photographer and curator’s new series of artistic work. Her work will be featured in an upcoming presentation at the Rochester Art Center on June 16.
“The Memory Series,” produced with grant funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) and in partnership with the Rochester Art Center, is Speller’s intimate exploration of what it means to remember and misremember while piecing together personal histories, ancestry, and myths. “I wanted to explore why my earliest memories just aren’t there. Why it’s just the scent of it, a little trace of it, or just no memory at all,” Speller explains.
The elegant prints in “The Memory Series” are intriguing “anthotypes”—images created using photosensitive plant material exposed to sunlight. The sun’s UV rays bleach the areas coated with the plant material, leaving an image behind. A gardener and permaculture savant, Speller used plants grown in her own garden while living in a historic farmhouse in Eyota. Beets, peonies, red chrysanthemums, carrots, indigo, violets, spirulina, red daisies, currants, blueberries, raspberries, and lupin were among the diverse plants and vegetables Speller crushed and pressed into dyes and powders for her prints. Depending on the organic make-up of the plants used, it took anywhere from thirty hours to three weeks for Speller’s images to appear.
For someone who has spent much of her life moving from one place to another, Speller feels a powerful rootedness to the land and of having what she jokes is her own proverbial “40 acres.” The farm in Eyota provided both the space and the organic materials for the creation of her unique anthotypes. Over the past year, Speller’s work has been at the mercy of the fickle Minnesota sun and the occupational hazards of farm life that left one of her very first prints and the handmade frame she built for it half trampled by her pet goat, Ina.
In many ways, the process of creating the prints reflect her life journey and the fading of her memory over time. This process-oriented work means that there is infinite trial and error. As Speller herself admits, “It was a big experiment and I never really knew how things would turn out. The risk of failure is so high and that risk pushes me to be experimental. I’m obsessed with the process. I love looking at images and deciphering how the thing is made, the full story of how that image came to be is much more interesting to me than the final image itself.”
Like memory, Speller’s anthotypes won’t last. Unlike other artistic work which is made to hang or collect, Speller describes this series of work as “unstable and not permanent,” reflecting her perspectives on belonging, ownership, attachment, and how to communicate the power of the fleeting and ephemeral. Ultimately, the images will fade the longer they are exposed to sunlight and then they will be gone. “Some are gone already.” Speller smiles, referring to a print she made last fall with vibrant beet dye that has since faded to the faintest pink.
Speller will be sharing her original work as well as her experiences with her artistic process in conversation with Megan Johnston, Executive Director of the Rochester Art Center, on June 16. The event is free and open to the public.
If you go
What: “The Memory Series” in conversation
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, June 16
Where: Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Center Drive SE. Accessible during construction
from Civic Center Drive
Tickets: Admission is free.