In the well-known novel, "Mrs. Dalloway," British Modernist author Virgina Woolf detailed a day in the life of a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. While this stream-of-consciousness book was written nearly a century ago, its themes, messages and unique format continue to intrigue readers and stimulate artists. In fact, this story served as the muse for Adriane Little’s main sabbatical project, which opens today at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts.
Just as the novel follows Clarissa Dalloway throughout the streets of London, Adriane Little’s "Mapping Mrs. Dalloway" is a vivid and ephemeral account of Mrs. Dalloway’s path. Combining photography and data mapping, this body of work both pays homage to Woolf’s classic novel and brings its style and path forward 90 years into the present.
Through a Q&A with Adriane, who serves as Associate Professor of Photography and Intermedia at the Gwen Frostic School of Art, we’re finding out what inspired this project, how it evolved as she navigated her way through London, and what viewers might take away after spending some time with the exhibition at the Richmond Center.
Before heading to England as part of your sabbatical, what were you hoping to achieve or experience? What were your goals, objectives and plans for your time there?
Prior to travel, I prepared to walk the streets of London to photograph along the path that Mrs. Dalloway walks in Woolf’s novel with the same title. I read the novel several times and created the walking path. These are the same streets that Woolf herself walked countless times. My intention was not to illustrate the novel, but instead to use an approach of stream of consciousness in capturing the images. This mirrors the literary strategy of the novel. My goal was to have enough images to edit down to a final group of 20 images.
How did the project – and these expectations and plans – evolve once you began walking the streets of London?
This project challenged me to photograph in a new way. I was limited to a specific amount of time while in England. I knew where I would walk but I was not certain what I would actually find. As each day past, I became more familiar with the sense of place created by the movement of people in the city and the project evolved. I photographed with both an advanced dSLR camera and my cell phone. Most of the final images selected actually came from my iPhone 6. I could more quickly respond to what I was seeing with my phone rather than a larger camera. The crowds were quite large in some cases and it became an issue of safety at certain times that I leave my advanced equipment hidden in my bag.
Share with us a little bit more about "Mapping Mrs. Dalloway" and your process in creating this project.
After returning from England, I looked through nearly 8,000 images captured between my dSLR camera and phone. I selected 17 images from London. To bear witness to the spaces that Woolf occupied while writing Mrs Dalloway, I included 3 images from Monk’s House, the house of Virginia and Leonard Woolf in Rodmell, East Sussex UK; a view into her bedroom window, her writing lodge and the orchard in between. I then divided the text of the novel into 20 sections. Each section is then visualized as a word count of the novel and layered over an image in the series. The circles grow larger the more often a particular word was repeated. The green that is used for the data mapping was color matched from photographs I took of the wall paint while inside of Monk’s House. The data visualization both obscures and reveals information within each image. I perceive the covering of the image as moments of loss.
Much of your work explores what you call the matrilineal ghost. How does "Mapping Mrs. Dalloway" advance or connect with this theme?
Literature is riddled with dead or otherwise missing mothers. Virginia Woolf’s life and writing were partly, yet significantly guided by the death of her mother when Woolf was just 13-years-old. This loss reappears across her novels. As an artist, I am interested in studying both her writing and her as a woman who experienced this early and profound loss. Conceptually, this work is supported by continued research to advance the trope of the missing mother. Mapping Mrs. Dalloway represents a new way of visualizing text and image within my practice by incorporating data mapping in this new work.
Talk more about how this project merges photography with data mapping. What inspired this unique intersection of visuals? How did you decide to execute the project in this way?
In 2005, I began re-typing Marcel Proust’s "In Search of Lost Time." It took nearly seven years to finish. This project is still in progress as I slowly cut up the print out into individual words. For another project, I cut up 32 copies of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping. Up until I began creating projects that respond to Woolf’s writing, I was selecting individual novels where the mother was dead or otherwise missing. With making the shift to working with a writer that experienced this loss, it made sense to find new ways in my practice to work with text and image. At some point, I stumbled upon a website that had many example of visually organizing data and such a strategy made sense as a next step. For this project, I started simple and used the strategy of word counting.
Tell us about the role of literature in your artistic practice.
My artwork has always combined text and image in some way. Early on before going graduate school for an M.F.A, I found myself at a crossroads with the decision in front of me to go toward the path of creative writing or to that of the visual arts. Although, I decidedly went toward the visual arts, I also continued to write as I was able. In November of 2015 while on sabbatical, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote a 51,000 word first draft of a dead mother novel of my own. I might attempt to polish it as a novel or it may appear in pieces in a future artwork or both. My interest in moving toward responding to literature in my work ultimately was an interesting way for me to move what I was communicating in my work from personal experience to another way at looking at similar ideas and experiences.
What do you hope for audiences to take away from this exhibition? What thoughts, feelings or questions do you hope "Mapping Mrs. Dalloway" will evoke among viewers?
I always hope for afterimage, or that a photograph or two or more will really stick with people once the exhibition has ended. For those that have been to London or have read the book, it would be great if they then carry this experience with them as part of their memory of either London or the experience of reading the novel. Wonderment of why the dead or otherwise missing mother troupe is so prevalent and pervasive in literature would be a great question for people to consider.
"Mapping Mrs. Dalloway" is on view at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts through Feb. 3.