It’s early afternoon and I’m standing in the middle of Tobia Makover’s installation, Nakazora: the space between Sky and Earth, at the Jepson Center. My hand rests on her shoulder while she chokes back sobs. Sunlight–somehow still warm in defiance of all architectural obstacles–streams onto her cheeks, catching the tears there on its way to illuminate the sea of artwork surrounding us. We’re talking about secrets. Or maybe we’re talking about dreams.
Nakazora is a hallway of dreams.
When you imagine us standing there you’re creating a memory of a moment you didn’t witness. Maybe it feels like something that could’ve happened to you. Maybe it’s a lot like something that did happen to you. When you imagine us standing there, imagine a hundred of those memories–the sort of moment you’re not sure you dreamed up or read about or saw in a photograph when you were a child–looking back at you from the walls.
That’s what Tobia Makover creates. Her photographs, layered over with encaustic and carved into or painted, are timeless visions of human longing–scenes that trigger chords of nostalgia associated with emotions rather than specific moments in time.
A woman sits alone in bed, staring off into the distance at a point we cannot see. A figure in white walks through a field alone. A woman stands against a sunlit window in an empty room. A person waits, half-turned away and almost out of sight, at the end of a long hallway.
“These visions are in me,” Tobia says quietly. “They don’t come to me. They’re a part of me.” And then she’s overwhelmed with emotion. I feel it too, dwarfed in this space by so many, many images doused in feeling and preserved in wax.
“These are like memories. The experience of viewing them doesn’t happen in a linear way,” she says after a moment. “You might have a memory from yesterday and a memory from ten years ago, both triggered at the same time. That’s how this installation is supposed to act–like lots of memories being triggered as you walk down the hallway.”
For Makover, the emotions she draws out of her audience are more important than the image itself. Her visual language is rooted in the lexicon of feeling. “The image ultimately needs to be about the emotion it creates,” she explains. “It’s not about my subject. I’m my subject.”
Though Makover does occasionally use herself as a model in her photographs, the individual depicted in the finished piece is only important insofar as they act as a means for the viewer to connect with a particular tonal landscape. They’re merely a mediator between worlds: an optical charade designed to scratch at deeply personal (yet universal) feelings, questions, doubts, fears, and yearnings.
It’s all personal for Makover.
She’s been working as a photographer for over thirty years; “broke the glass” to work in her now-signature 3-dimensional style a decade ago; and began experimenting with sculptural translations 2 years ago. She’s profoundly prolific (Nakazora alone consists of probably over 100 works) but totally unhampered by ego. She speaks often about the difficulties of evolving as an artist yet continues to do so at a remarkable pace.
“Pulling the image off of the mat and out of the glass… It changed everything for me. Installation and sculpture scare the hell out of me. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable because a part of me still wants everything beautiful and perfect. Every time I throw hot wax on [a piece] or paint, it scares me. I’m constantly pushing myself to uncomfortable places,” she tells me, not without a hint of anxiety in her eyes.
Though filled with tactile, tangible objects, Nakazora is unequivocally about the intangible.
The title (which is of Buddhist origin) means “A state when the feet do not touch the ground, and the space between sky and earth.” This is echoed everywhere from Nakazora’s placement in the museum (a thoroughfare between a more rigid cultural space–the museum galleries–and a more casual, personal space–the museum café) to its underlying artistic goal. Makover wants to transport us to places within our collective memories yet out of our collective reach.
Her images pull at the sinews of our dreams and our feelings, assuming nothing but what is true for every person: a need to indulge in the pain of memory.
A poem printed on the wall of the exhibition explains Makover’s relationship with the title of her installation:
Of a time before
Of a place I crave
Of owning the space I have if only for a second.
Nakazora is on view at the Jepson Center for the Arts until November 27, 2016. Click here to view more of Tobia Makover’s artwork.