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In her multimedia exhibit “Sound of Butterfly,” D.C.-based artist Soomin Ham ingeniously blends form with theme.
Her Flashpoint Gallery exhibit dwells on themes of grief and loss, specifically Ham’s loss of her mother. She channeled her heartache by sifting through her mother’s possessions and photographing them. The items themselves are prosaic–articles of clothing, a watch, bottles of pills, even her mother’s fingerprint on a jar. Other images depict scenes with special meaning for Ham, such as the highway turnoff sign for the memorial park where her mother was laid to rest.
It’s Ham’s artistic treatment that makes them exceptional.
In one series consisting of more than two dozen square images, Ham starts with a photograph of one of her mother’s possessions, then freezes it in a layer of ice before re-photographing it. The resulting work both deadens the clarity of the image and adds a sprinkling of air bubbles around the edges, producing something almost mystical.
A second series is even more engrossing. It consists of a dozen reproductions of old family photos–vacations, weddings, group portraits. Ham scanned these images, printed them on rice paper, left them in water, then washed and dried them repeatedly until the images became murky. Then she left them out in the falling snow and photographed them again when they were almost covered.
The resulting images are visually stunning–the complex process dulls individuals’ faces to blankness and turns panoramic views into indistinct, pictorial fantasies seemingly photographed using 19th century paper negatives.
What gives these works added power, though, is the idea that they have been defined as artworks by something as ephemeral as snow or ice. The result is as eloquent as it is elegiac.
Through April 30 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. Wed-Sat 12 p.m.-6 p.m.