Danielle deo Owensby

Unearthing embedded memory has often been the catalyzing impetus behind the creation of powerful artwork, and it takes courage, a measure of objectivity, and considerable formal skill to be able to navigate this loaded territory. Treading a fine line between performance, evocation, theatricality, simulation and advocacy, Danielle Owensby’s multimedia work addresses memory and trauma and the ways in which they become manifest in the spaces of both private and public life.

Beds and bedrooms are charged and evocative spaces and places, as exemplified by work by artists as diverse as Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Robert Rauschenberg, and by creating a bedroom as the axis point of her installation Hidden in Plain Sight, Owensby asks us to consider the multiple activities that take place in such a space. At once not only a refuge but also the site of intimacy, sometimes forced, bedrooms are complex spaces that contain both comfort and terror.

The artifice of staged photography, however seemingly casual, provides an opportune method of dissecting memories of experience. Markers of childhood, such as doll houses, brightly colored clothing, accumulations of toys, and age-appropriate wallpaper patterns, are given additional context when isolated from the child themselves.

Broadening her media use beyond static photographic images to include video performance, Owensby incorporates tightly choreographed documentation of the artist herself performing a series of routines based upon the color guard ceremonies in which she participated as a teenager. These highly disciplined routines provide a way to think about counteractions to trauma, using a codified set of movements that leave no room for deviation. As they play out in strict order, testimony of abuse gradually enters the equation, subverting the structure of physical and corporeal organization.

Enumerating the statistical information of (under)reported child sexual abuse cases, but using the acquired objects that children surround themselves with, such as collections of various kinds, in this instance inexpensive plastic watches, Owensby endows these objects with the chilly recognition of clandestine and forbidden interactions.

The interlocking components of this complex installation examine, interrogate and use as catharsis the threads of memory, place, experience and action that Danielle Owensby has been investigating for a number of years, ultimately offering a moving exploration of the circumstances surrounding extreme betrayals of trust, as well as ways that such traumatic events can be addressed, understood and ameliorated, but never forgotten.

Essay By:

Adam Brooks

Professor, Fine Art

Art and Art History Department

Columbia College Chicago

Using Format