Memory, for Cheryle Melander, is like a line tracing the contours of a life. For Don Myhre, memory is an object or image that recaptures a feeling, a sense of the past.
The act of remembering is translated through two artists’ very different visions in “A Constant Line,” the show currently occupying the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
While Melander is interested in the way we string together memories to construct a personal narrative — the “line” referenced in the show’s title — Myhre creates objects to inspire recollection.
Melander’s work here is mostly in pen and ink, a suitable medium for expressing her view of memory as fluid and changing. She draws an analogy with the children’s game Telephone, in which a whispered message is passed from person to person, often changing as pieces of the message are lost or added.
Melander visualizes this process in “war of the whispers,” drawing long, trembling lines that diverge and intersect across 11 panels. The effect is something like a seismograph drawing freehand during a low-magnitude quake.
In other drawings, Melander builds up long, tubular forms out of jagged hatch marks. These shapes, too, weave and twist together, like roots or snakes or the double helix of DNA.
In her notes for the exhibition, Melander writes that she views the genetic code as a kind of inherited memory, the history of a long, slow evolution.
Myhre’s work doesn’t express the same linear view of memory. His objects supposedly recall specific places and people, but in a highly personal language of symbols that can be difficult to decode.
The strange collection of objects seems downright alien at first, but that may be because the centerpiece of the exhibit is a saucer-shaped sculpture sprouting clear plastic lily pads. The large, graphite-colored fiberglass sculptures of a turtle shell, a grasshopper and maple tree seedpods would not be out of place in some extraterrestrial museum collection.
Adding to the eeriness: three oversized male heads covered in aluminum hoods, like backcountry fire fighters.
Those items seem to reference events in Myhre’s personal life, events the viewer is not necessarily meant to recall. But others tap a collective memory.
Walt Disney and the space race are touchstones for the Baby Boomer generation, and both are represented in Myhre’s work.
His sculpture of Disney plays on the urban myth that the creator of Bambi and Mickey Mouse was cryogenically frozen after his death, in hopes that he could be revived at some point in the distant future.
With “Dormant Walt,” Myhre places Disney’s decapitated head in a towering foam iceberg. There’s a smile on Disney’s face, and a projector flashes an image of his eyeballs spinning and twitching beneath closed eyelids, as if old Walt is having a particularly good dream.
Myhre’s astronaut also seems frozen in a way. A lifeless spacesuit stands in a box that could be a museum display case or an upright coffin.
Together, these objects create a sense of quiet unease. If these pieces were inspired by nostalgia, it’s nostalgia drained of some of its warmth and sentiment.
Ultimately, these two takes on memory are complimentary. Myhre probes his personal recollections, while Melander searches for the system that underlies memory making in all of us.
Melander sees memory as a long, loosely braided cord; Myrhe crafts the baubles to string on it.
Go see it
“A Constant Line” runs through Aug. 9 in the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program Galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. (888) MIA ARTS (642-2787).