Since Dana Dart-McLean's first solo show at small A projects last summer, the Portland artist has received some deserved attention outside the city. In addition to a sprawling solo exhibition at Southern Oregon University, her work was featured in two high-profile international shows: the Chris Johanson-curated Solo Show Solo Soul at Galleri Nicolai Wallner in Copenhagen and Abstract Things, curated by Harrell Fletcher at Laura Bartlett Gallery in London. Undaunted by that exposure, the work in Stop Signs and Memories treads the same terrain as her previous show at small A, in which gouache washes lapped up against delicately drawn reproductions of photographs. But where that exhibition show overwhelmed visually, Stop Signs brings her conceptual preoccupations into sharper focus. Namely, Dart-McLean obsesses over memory—and the futility of articulating our complex relationships to it.
Though most of her images are derived from old photographs, seemingly plucked from family albums, they are signifiers of memory rather than of sentimentality or nostalgic longing. In "Trip to Peru and Memories of Other People's Trips," for example, re-created snapshots of a woman on a couch, flanked by her two dogs and a houseplant, float on the surface. But Dart-McLean emphasizes them as abstract symbols by embedding them in an undulating plane of gouache that evokes the placeless disorientation of outer space. Dart-McLean seems determined to unfurl how the minutia of personal experience relates to an infinite conception of time.
In the unwieldy "Wall Clock," an enormous series of connected drawings that resemble the face of a clock, she most provocatively tackles this idea. In essence, a clock quantifies the abstract nature of time, reducing something infinite to measurable increments. But in Dart-McLean's clock, time becomes a qualitative entity. Repeated images—a kneeling man with a paper bag over his head, a child running with a kite, a van—appear at various positions on the clock. If photographs ostensibly locate precise moments in a person's life, here, they wheel in an endless continuum, recurring at seemingly random points. Whether Dart-McLean's clock represents the psychic make-up of an individual or a kind of collective consciousness, her treatment of memory as the turbulent composition of time is a fascinating one.