Eileen Roscina’s installation at BreckCreate challenges sentiments about memorials in our pandemic-informed world.
Eileen Roscina: Like Tears Washed Away By Rain
June 1-July 12, 2021
BreckCreate, Breckenridge, CO
An imperative adorns the pedestal found in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s iconic poem Ozymandias: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Inscribed upon a sculpture commissioned by Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, the missive sought to commemorate the vast empire the ancient ruler helped build. He imagined his stone likeness would gaze upon countless future generations and remind them of his great works. His expansive reach.
In this regard, little has changed since the 1818 publication of Shelley’s poem: monuments and memorials still serve as reminders to the present of a noteworthy past. To commemorate accomplishments. To honor sacrifice.
So future generations do not forget remarkable experiences or individuals, memorials tend to be imposing structures, such as the Lincoln Memorial or the Gateway Arch. Even when designers and architects abjure towering constructions, a monument’s enormity can be felt in its materials, scale, and negative space—for example, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Indeed, grandeur abides even when a creator intends to mute it.
With her exhibition Like Tears Washed Away By Rain, Denver-based artist Eileen Roscina—whose work has shown in such venues as the Denver Art Museum, Museo de Las Americas, and the Salina Art Center—challenges our pervading sentiments about memorials through her use of the ephemeral, fragile, minute, and subtle.
On view through July 12 in the front gallery of BreckCreate’s Old Masonic Hall in Breckenridge, CO, Roscina bills her installation as a “memorial for all we lost last year.” And what we have lost has been great. To date, 630,000 people in the United States have succumbed to COVID-19, according to news reports.
Likewise, millions more have seen their jobs, financial security, hope, and a general sense of well-being vanish. And this is to say nothing of other national events that have fostered a collective faithlessness in our political leaders and democracy, as well as those who have suffered from police brutality and other forms of social injustice.
In response to these events, Roscina created a primarily floor-bound installation of pressed flowers and mirrors that both memorializes our recent losses while simultaneously offering us “hope for tomorrow.” While her artist statement focuses on gardening as a metaphor for growth and renewal, her meta-critique of the memorial paradigm is most compelling.
Upon the hardwood floor of BreckCreate’s Old Masonic Hall’s front vestibule, Roscina arranged thousands of pressed flowers in a circular formation around a centrally situated mirror, producing a mandala-like effect. From this focal point, more pressed flowers radiate laterally along the back wall.
Overhead, mirrors laser-cut into small droplets and affixed to transparent wires hang from ceiling to floor. As the droplets twist and sway from the room’s ventilation system, reflected light creates a barely perceptible dance of secondary illumination atop the floorboards. The effect is subtle enough that viewers must remain alert to witness these minor variations in lighting.
When entering the space, which is long and narrow, the precarious nature of Like Tears Washed Away by Rain evidences itself. The room’s tight dimensions require viewers to stand close to the display. Since the pressed flowers are not permanently anchored, the slightest jostling from an errant footfall will cause catastrophic displacement.
Moreover, the flowers that Roscina employs—like all organic matter—necessarily will decay over time; and quite readily. Through the process of decomposition, the pressed flowers’ already brittle state will become more so as their biological integrity wanes.
Indeed, the brilliance of Like Tears Washed Away by Rain resides in its tenuousness. While the arrangement Roscina creates is objectively beautiful, it is unmistakably delicate. As such, the artist undercuts the enormity and permanence of normative memorials through fragile and ephemeral materiality.
Viewers, then, are left to wonder why Roscina would construct such a fleeting monument, when fostering permanence of thought or feeling is a memorial’s purpose. Returning to “Ozymandias” offers some insight.
The aforementioned inscription touts expansiveness and longevity, but the passage of time had other plans. For though the pedestal abides, “nothing [but] remains” of the sculpture exist in the form “two vast trunkless legs of stone.” And of the great works of which the inscription boasts? The poem’s speaker informs us that: “Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Regardless of their size or material, all our creations will disappear. Every empire will turn to “lone and level sand.”
Whether in form or concept, the illusion of permanence embeds itself into every memorial. But an illusion it is. For the most indelible materials will erode. Our most precious memories will vanish. To construct a lasting object in order to promote remembrance in perpetuity is a fool’s errand at best. Disingenuous at worst. Like Tears Washed Away by Rain acknowledges this truth; but instead of denying this reality, Roscina’s artwork embraces it.
(Disclosure: At the time of this writing, the author of this story was showing an installation of his work on the BreckCreate campus.)