Review: Carma Lynn Park and Scottie Kersta-Wilson—Catching a Glimpse With a New Perspective

The current exhibition at the Austin-Irving Library is Glimpses that features photographs by Carma Lynn Park and Scottie Kersta-Wilson.  Although they each have a different approach in their art, together they create a synergy as they explore the concepts of observation and perception. Park focuses for the most part on nature while Kersta-Wilson focuses on Vietnam where her father died in the line of duty.

Each of Kersta-Wilson’s photo collages tells a story as she masterfully overlays images and text without overwhelming the viewer with too much detail. She follows the maxim that less is more and this in turn allows the viewer to appreciate the nuance in her works. Although most of her work explores the theme of war and its unintended consequences, she avoids being preachy or heavy-handed in her message. And she also achieves a balance by portraying the dark side to war while still honoring the many who lost their lives.

Scottie Kersta-Wilson, “A Daughter Returns: Protection”
Scottie Kersta-Wilson, A Daughter Returns: Protection, 2020. Photo collage on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The strength of Kersta-Wilson’s photo collages is how she places contrasting images together so they are not only visually appealing but also create an unsettling effect for the viewer. A good example of this is A Daughter Returns: Protection where the viewer sees three Vietnam-era helicopters moving across a blue sky. There is something ominous in this work—the helicopters have a menacing look and one can almost hear the deafening roar of the blades cutting through the air. Superimposed over one of the helicopters is an Asian conical hat that is tattered. Although a conical hat is worn to protect against the elements, it offers no defense from the onslaught of war.

In Helo Girl, Kersta-Wilson shows how darkness often shadows childhood innocence. In this work, we see an image of a young girl playing with a hula hoop in a carefree manner while a helicopter casts a dark shadow over her. This image creates a haunting effect because the artist reminds us how a child’s innocence is fragile and can be easily shattered by the tragedy of war.

Scottie Kersta-Wilson, “Windows to War”
Scottie Kersta-Wilson, Windows to War, 2021. Photo collage on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In Windows to War, there is a remnant of a wall that was once part of a building. Three holes in the wall allow viewers to get three glimpses about the Vietnam War—in one hole, the viewer can see a small section of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; in the second hole, a military helicopter can be seen landing on a beach; and in the third hole, there is a flame that represents a ceremonial fire for those who died in combat. Besides giving us three glimpses about the war, this wall also represents a barrier that we as individuals and as a society put up so that we can feel an emotional separation when we are at war.

It is also worth noting Kersta-Wilson’s work—Boxes: All the Boxes—where we see various boxes that seem to multiply as if we are in a nightmarish funhouse. This work is jarring because it makes us think how each of us are hoarders who store away a lifetime of emotional pain and grievances in various psychic containers. Do we have the courage to purge them? Or do we dare to open them? Are these boxes best left closed because like Pandora’s Box we don’t know what will be unleashed once they are opened?

While Kersta-Wilson gives us glimpses about war, Park on the other hand gives us glimpses of scenes found in nature. Park doesn’t give us wide or panoramic shots, but instead chooses closeups that express her intimate connection with nature. In her series of 16 shots titled, Looking Up, Looking Down, Park captures nature scenes found in each of the four seasons while also providing three perspectives—eye level, low angle and high angle.

Carma Lynn Park, “Lit Tulip”
Carma Lynn Park, Lit Tulip, 2024. Photograph on fine art paper. Photo courtesy of the artist.

One of Park’s strengths is capturing subtle moments in nature such as in Lit Tulip where we see a single flower that is in decay. When looking at this work, we are reminded of the fragility of life and how we cannot escape the cycle of life and death. Another one of her works that captures the life/death cycle in nature is Flutter, an autumn scene where we see the few remaining leaves on a tree fluttering from a gust of wind. This work sadly reminds us how this tree that was once lush with leaves is winding down as winter draws near.  

Some of Park’s works have an abstract quality. At first glance, these shots have a painterly look with their expressive shapes and colors. In Golden Shimmer, there is a swirl of neon gold that has a psychedelic effect, but upon further inspection we see it’s a Koi pond that is reflecting a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. In Rainbow, we see neon-colored spots splattered across a dark surface, but when we study this work more closely, these colorful shapes are actually raindrops that have mixed with a thin film of oil from freshly laid asphalt.

Carma Lynn Park, “Golden Leaves”
Carma Lynn Park, Golden Leaves, 2024. Photograph on fine art paper. Photo courtesy of the artist.

There is also the element of mystery in some of her works. In Golden Leaves, Park creates a startling effect by coloring four of the leaves in a warm golden color while stripping the color from the rest of the image. Although one can easily identify the four golden leaves, the rest of the surrounding area is somewhat of a mystery.  When studying this work for an extended period of time, one experiences a sense of pareidolia—the phenomenon where one may see faces or other objects within an image.

Also worth noting is how Park takes multiple shots of a particular plant or tree at various angles and layers them together, creating a kaleidoscope effect. A good example of this is Ghost Tree. In this work, the colors are expressive and vibrant with a sense of movement that gives it a phantasmagoric appearance.

Carma Lynn Park, “Ghost Tree”
Carma Lynn Park, Ghost Tree, 2024. Photograph on fine art paper. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The strength of Park’s photography is how she captures fleeting moments in time. Elusive moments. Her work also reminds us how our perception can deceive us because all living organisms are in a constant state of flux—what we see one moment will change within hours or minutes depending on the lighting or even our mood.

Glimpses is a provocative exhibition because Park and Kersta-Wilson show us how we perceive the world with just a partial look. This exhibition reminds us that by examining life in more detail, we will discover an ever-deepening meaning about the world.

Park and Kersta-Wilson have been collaborating since 2008 and have participated in art exhibitions, performance pieces, and readings.

Glimpses will be on display through June 26 on the second floor of the Austin-Irving Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 6100 W. Irving Park Road. Hours: Monday and Wednesday: 12 to 8pm; Tuesday and Thursday: 10am to 6pm; Friday and Saturday: 9am to 5pm; and Sunday 1 to 5pm. For more info, call 312-744-6222.

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Thomas Wawzenek