A lot of the work of contemporary artists treats memory as an open sesame for content that can range from the idiosyncratic personal to the global zeitgeist. In “Pocket Walks,” her MFA show at Cal State Long Beach, Gabrielle Ferrer structures it as a framing device by which she apprehends the simultaneity of site-specific experience. Though her degree is in printmaking, this exhibition vastly elaborates on mark-making to include, not just etching but text, photography and drawing as well. The title refers to seven walks she took in the greater Los Angeles area. Their destinations embraced the natural, the suburban, and the urban. She records each excursion with four components: a snippet of letterpress printed text, a 35 mm photograph mounted on paper, a topographical map of the route freehand traced from Google Maps and a soft-ground etching pulled from a plate she carried in her pocket that rendered the tactile quality of each stride.
Medium-wise each series exponentially expands on the concept of pocket sketchbooks artists carry to render impressions – documentary, tactile, schematic, associative - of sites visited, impressions garnered. The result is a multimedia equivalent of Wallace Steven’s poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Like Stevens’s poem, the exhibition is minimal and austere. The gallery resembles haiku but haiku as if Guillaume Apollinaire, another poet, wrote it: a concrete poem whose form suggests and comments upon its content: simultaneous, meandering, ordered, sensitive, and momentarily certain. Each cluster of text and image floats in a sea of white that extends into the viewing space to suggest the perspective invoked is omnipotent though conditional, unique though fragmented.
Each piece consists of a point of departure, a destination, and everything in between, spliced and strung together, cinematic in its presentation. Incorporating POVs that span from a bird’s eye view to the interior of a pocket, the exhibition creates unity from a variety of disparate outlooks on the same subject. These subjects include jaunts to Disneyland, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Laurel Canyon, the Miracle Mile, the city of Lakewood, the Sunset Strip, and, via the 405 freeway, the beach. Each posits four points of view: an outsider’s take on the site (Evelyn Waugh, “Death in Hollywood,” for instance, or Reyner Banham on Disneyland, D.J. Waldie on “Lakewood); an image that feels like a hastily snapped Polaroid photo precious only to the one who snapped the shutter; an aerial view that is both objective – culled from omniscient Google – and subjective – she limns her perambulation with a thin white painted line; and an etching that has nothing to do with seeing and everything to do, literally and metaphorically, with feeling.
The result is a compendium of sensations that suggests the historical density of impressions of a particular place: hers, that of other artist-travelers, of the dead, those generated by an algorithm, and even the collective cultural memory of tourist sites and planned communities. They record the product of a conscious choice to visit a particular site, how it’s layered it with experiential meta-data. Ferrer is modest enough to stipulate that what she perceives about a particular place is but one of a legion of impressions any site carries. That much can be seen from the incisively clinical simplicity of the installation. You can’t separate the show’s meaning from the process of its creation and exhibition. The walkaway impression of this Kilroy Et Al Were Here show? Memorable, indeed.