Exhibitions: Matthew Buckingham: The Spirit and the Letter

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    Matthew Buckingham: The Spirit and the Letter

    Exhibition Didactics ?
    • Matthew Buckingham The Spirit and the Letter
      Matthew Buckingham’s installation The Spirit and the Letter draws inspiration from the life and words of Mary Wollstonecraft, the influential eighteenth-century British philosopher and writer on women’s rights. Known for projects that create physical and psychic encounters encouraging viewers to question what is most familiar to them, Buckingham considers the role that collective memory and representations of history play in the construction of identity in contemporary life.

      In The Spirit and the Letter, the viewer enters a space where sculptural elements, including a softly glowing crystal chandelier balanced upright on the floor and a framed mirror hanging upside down on the opposite wall, invert physical assumptions to produce an uncanny sense of dislocation. A video projection reflects and reorients this composition within an eighteenth-century public room, where an actress dressed in period clothing recites excerpts from Wollstonecraft’s memoirs and writings. These selections, taken primarily from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, remain pertinent to contemporary issues of human rights. The artist intends the work and its title to evoke a sense of historical and personal disorientation in which the direct recitation of Wollstonecraft’s observations of two hundred years ago resonates in a modern voice and with a contemporary urgency.

      Supporting Buckingham’s project is a small exhibition of prints, documents, and ephemera related to Wollstonecraft’s life and works, including portraits of prominent figures from her intellectual, social, and familial circles. In keeping with the aims of the Herstory Gallery to facilitate exhibitions exploring the histories of women celebrated in The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, Matthew Buckingham: The Spirit and the Letter engages with notions of historical revision, which is a central goal of Chicago’s iconic feminist work, on view in the adjacent gallery.

      Catherine J. Morris
      Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art

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