Jordan Mackay, 2003

Good art should always ask questions. But looking at the photo-based art of Catherine Dudley, one wonders what she sees in the world of people. Everywhere in her work are the traces of humanity, but rarely, if ever, is the grand subject approached directly. Of course every representation is to some degree an abstraction. But Catherine seems to take things one step further, making her subject the way humanity abstracts itself. Therefore you see a parade of mannequins, dolls, signs, random objects, things made and arranged by people, but people themselves are notably absent. These artifacts sit in dreamy, nostalgic solitude, solid but curiously ephemeral. She seems to be tracing the very features of what we know to be Los Angeles.

People have said this to me a lot, says Catherine, that my work is very LA. I think that maybe I understand, but my art was like this before moving to Los Angeles. But there really is so much to look at around here. I pull out these elements of the city, things from other cultures, other eras. Catherine’s favored process, the polaroid transfer, seems ideal for capturing the absurd artifacts and artifice of Los Angeles. It takes images of things worn by time and wears them out further. It makes things seem almost weary, ready to sit down and tell you their stories.

What I like about the transfer is that it keeps in the tradition of printmaking, says Catherine, whose artistic foundation lies in printmaking. But it’s also in the realm of photography, therefore instantaneous. The polaroid transfer is thus an intermediary state between photography and printmaking. In capturing images from the world it brings things home and changes them, dulling the colors, removing definition, giving objects a grain, and distorting. Catherine’s world, though, manages to seem elemental in its distortions, human in its inhumanity, absent in its presence. I’m drawn to the objects around us, she says, and I learn about myself from how I see the world. Like Catherine herself, her world seems to be full of humor, stories, and questions. For answers, though, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Jordan Mackay
Austin American Statesman