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presents the work of emerging and established photographers, video or sound artists.

Vaughn Sills

Beyond Words

Sills image© Vaughn Sills, Rocks

Curator: Sandeep Biswas

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I have chosen objects from nature one by one, found them, dug them, preserved them – a squirrel’s skeleton, poplar saplings that sprout from one long root, broken egg shells lying on the forest floor. I have taken them, or been given them, from the land on Prince Edward Island where my grandparents visited each summer, where I now have a cottage. I chose these things because of their extraordinary beauty – and because they seem to hold the mystery of life and death.

My family’s 1932 Oxford English Dictionary seduces me with its promise to teach, to offer knowledge, even to dispel mystery. But entrancing as it is, leading me from one word to the next, this well-used book lets me down. Words are incomplete; they fall short of conveying the miraculous presence of a squirrel’s skeleton, the complexity of a bird’s nest, the delicacy of a moth. Six letters – l, u, p, i n, e – represent the tall stemmed purple, pink, yellow and white flowered perennials whose palmated leaves turn a dusty grayish green then brown, giving way to hairy seed pods that lyrically soften the late afternoon sun by the middle of August. The word ‘lupine’ doesn’t convey what I see and love, but neither does my long string of words. A word cannot even describe the beauty of a book.

Nevertheless I need the words: they matter: they name what I see, they describe a color, a shape, an action, an attribute. Thus in my photographs I wish to portray the lure and beauty of language itself.

I have brought together objects from nature that exist outside my cottage with my dictionary, the world of our intellect. And with these I offer the artifice – the wire and pushpins and tape and thread, though sometimes barely visible – of my effort to comprehend and represent, as well as to suggest the fragility of such efforts. The construction itself has become interesting to me; it is the grammar with which I work. And yet each tableau, like each object, is delicate and cannot last. The plants will die without soil, the skeletons will fall apart, the threads will let go. The pages of the dictionary will continue to yellow; the binding, continue to loosen. Like my dreams, my beloved signs of life will eventually disappear.

Vaughn Sills

The photographs are made from 4x5 Polaroid negatives and are archival Iris prints. They are available for exhibition or purchase.
25  x  20 inches,  limited editions of 10 prints
32  x  25 inches,  limited editions of 5 prints

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The Photographer: Vaughn Sills

Vaughn Sills’ interests involve how we are influenced by and how we influence the land, how cultures evolve in relation to and affect their physical environment, as well as how individuals become who we are because of our families, social and environmental circumstances.

Vaughn’s photographs have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries. Her work has been shown at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Gibbes Museum in Charleston SC, the DuSables Museum of African American History in Chicago, the US Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, and the Carpenter Center of Arts at Harvard University.

Her work is in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, DeCordova Museum, Harvard Art Museum, and Simmons University and the Fidelity and Eaton Vance Collections.

Vaughn is a Visiting Scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center and Associate Professor Emerita of Photography at Simmons University. She lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Prince Edward Island, Canada.


Curatorial Comments

Vaughn Sill’s “Beyond words” is truly a language that can be justified only through her visual exploration. Her power of imagery makes one explore beyond the perception of reasoning.

Vaughn’s images deal with the complexity of one’s interpretation of beauty. A beauty which not only exists beyond it’s physicality,it is highly personal and even questions itself.

This series of images explore her past nostalgia in an attempt to reconnect them to her present world, with help of found and posessed objects from the island where her grandparents once visited during summers and now a cottage there has become an alternate escape away from her hectic life. The objects and her recollection of those memories amalgamate into multiple childlike and self created fairytale visual stories. 
Vaughn performs playfully to create the installations, that are thereafter documented permanantly through her lens with help of  Polaroid negatives. The photographic imagery absorbs her viewers into that ephmeral and surreal world of mystery and knowledge.

Every image in Vaughn’s stories comprises of skeletons, deadwood, wild grass, plants, algae, cloth, nest, starfish and wires and more juxtaposed with one common element which is her 1932 family Oxford dictionary sometimes functional and sometimes dysfunctional becoming a metaphor for home, loss, death and memory leading towards an unknown search for a newer meaning.

© Sandeep Biswas, 2020

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