PHOTO GALLERY: Deconstructing Strathmore's Past
A Rockville artist-in-residence focuses on a grotto with a foundation in the arts center's history.
A relic unearthed from Strathmore's past as a convent and Catholic school named St. Angela's Hall is the focal point of a Rockville resident's work on exhibit at the arts center.
Fascinated by the forgotten history of the campus, during a six-month residency at Strathmore, Minna Philip, of Rockville, created an installation of a grotto for the exhibit at the Mansion at Strathmore.
The Strathmore Fine Artists in Residence program provides local artists with the opportunity to develop an audience in the Washington, DC metropolitan area while refining their technique under the guidance of an established professional artist mentor. Artists also may partake in Strathmore's extensive visual arts programming and debut their work in a group show during the fifth month of their residency.
The show runs through Aug. 20.
A prolific fine artist who works at the intersection of two-dimensional representation and installation art, Philips has amassed a body of work that recontextualizes its subject through fragmentation and site-specific reconstitution.
"Just as a person adapts through her travels, my projects adapt to the spaces they inhabit," said Philips, who employs tracing as one of her most generative techniques.
During a residency at Drawing Spaces in Lisbon, Portugal, Philips picked up where she had left off with the archeology and remapping of a project begun in Boston, MA. The project was later adapted to Area 405, an artist-owned exhibit space housed in a warehouse in Baltimore.
The Strathmore residency gave her ample time to choose something that was meaningful to Strathmore specifically, she said. She chose the grotto, which once served as a place of worship for the Sisters of the Holy Cross.
Philips photographed sections of the grotto—which is now overgrown with vines, scanned and printed the images and meticulously traced them on vellum. She captured the most minute details of stray leaves, dry wood bark and twigs in graphite. From a distance, the resulting panels look like lithographs. Only up close do the chalky strokes reveal the artist's scrutinizing layering process.
"The residency at Strathmore is intended as an evolutionary period for the artist," Philips said. "I worked up until the very last moment, trying to develop an open-ended concept and adapt it to this space."
Ultimately, Philips produced 14 individual panels that represent the grotto viewed at different angles and scales and installed them in the window at the top of the mansion's main stairs.
"I had to measure out each panel to fit into the window lattice," Philips said of the installation's site-specificity. "The presentation of the piece resists full form. It does not provide a complete form of the grotto."
Not only does it not provide a complete idea of what the grotto is, but the configuration of panels also acts as a medium between the interior and exterior of its installation site. The vellum is translucent and the fragmentation of the grotto into 14 individual panels leaves gaps with views through the window to the outside.
A product of a time gone by, the installation embodies paradox for the artist, whose companion piece in the exhibit, a projection of a statue of the Virgin Mary—a grotto artifact now relocated to the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington—also spells displacement in time and space and projection into the entropic present.
"The paradox is in the existence of the actual grotto," Philips said of the graphite panels installation titled "Strathmore Grotto." "It no longer makes sense in this place as it functions now."
"Displaced by Approximately .9 Miles and 361 Feet," a shadowbox projection of the statue of the Virgin Mary echoes the sentiment.
"They are objects that have been left alone, forgotten, stuck in time but that are also right here," Philips said.
Philips said she read Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri for inspiration and drew from Robert Smithson's land art formations in formulating her interest in the Strathmore grotto as a viable subject for study.
She studied Studio Art at Towson University, received an master's degree in Arts Administration from Boston University and a post-baccalaureate certificate from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
She has participated in several group shows in the Mid-Atlantic region and in Greece and has had several solo shows in Maryland and in India.
Click here to visit Philips's website and see more of her work.