The 2009 Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize: Molly Springfield by Bret McCabe
In the 2008 Sondheim Finalists Exhibition, Washington-based Molly Springfield installed her painstaking work--hand-drawn copies of photocopied books' pages, such as multiple translations of Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu--as multiple installations in cases and mounted on the wall. It was a curious design choice, as it emphasized the pieces as objects, when Springfield's enterprise explicitly questions the finality of objects--and, by extension, ideas. Her installation of her work in this year's finalists' exhibition better spotlights her work's intellectual thrust and broad scope.
In the first gallery of this exhibition Springfield has installed 28 of her drawings in a series of seven exhibition cases that run left to right, spilling from gallery's left wall and continuing along the wall facing you as you enter. This installation, titled Translation, contains a sizable hunk of the first chapter of Perdu's first book, Swann's Way, in various English translations. For each of the 28 drawings, Springfield photocopied a pair of pages from a book and reproduced those pages by hand--handwritten notes, varying typefaces, imperfect photocopying smudges, and all. These may be some of the same objects that Springfield displayed last year, but this installation spotlights the inherent narrative trajectory of this project: that what Springfield does is as much a time-based process as it is a reproductive process. Springfield isn't merely turning to pre-existing imagery as a source material. She's exploring how language--and the myriads of ideas and emotions expressed by language--changes through contact with people, technological processes, and over time. That she chooses to explore such a theme via a work of written literature that has been translated into English by multiple translators and edited in various editions--and an epic work written in a rather florid French that explores the ephemerally elusive nature of memory at that--invites a welcome sense of play to Spingfield's body of work, which runs the risk of feeling purely academic at first.
Springfield successfully torpedoes that coldly intellectual suspicion in her accompanying mixed-media installation A Brief Note on the Translation. Consider it the messy background and mutating byproduct of her meticulous manual copies of mechanical copies of text. Here, Springfield includes multiple edits/versions of one of her own written introductions to her project, which explains and clarifies--and then re-explains and re-clarifies--her process, plainly showing how her own interpretation of what she does mutates over time. Assembled around these three intros are various Proust-related and her Proust-project related ephemera: a photocopy of an English translation of Walter Benjamin's introduction to his German translation of Baudelaire's Tableaux Parisiens, a page from the April 6, 2008, edition of the New York Times Magazine offering a madeleine cake recipe (the biscuit that infamously midwives one of Proust's memories in Perdu), and, just to be cheeky, a photocopy of an illustration of a madeleine--a representation of a representation of an object--among other items. Also included: what looks like a hand-drawn copy of a photocopied image of nothing--i.e., a machine scanning itself. It looks like a blank slate, but it nicely articulates Springfield's coy endeavor: a bluntly literal example of how to see what lies where there's supposedly nothing there.