Inman Gallery is pleased to present Arranging Family, Carlee Fernandez’ first solo exhibition in Houston. Spanning both galleries, the show opens Friday, January 9th with a reception from 6 to 8, and continues through February 21st.
Arranging Family describes its central character - Carlee Fernandez herself - by tracing her borders. Her photographs and sculptures are less concerned with one discrete persona than with areas of overlap, those blurred boundaries between children, parents and spouses that give shape to an identity without strictly limiting it.
The Strand That Holds Us Together is a black-and-white photograph of a pair of hands, fingers splayed, backs facing the camera. Though mismatched (the left is thicker and hairier), the hands’ obvious similarity and the fact that they belong to Fernandez and her father move the image towards harmony, if not quite symmetry. The connection and continuity that comes from family can be a threat to autonomy, however, and a palpable ambivalence is never far from the surface in Fernandez’ work. Family, Baptismal Cup is an enormous bronze replica of Fernandez’ husband’s christening cup. The original heirloom was engraved with the names and birthdates of her husband, his father and his grandfather. Its massive descendent has been updated to include their children and seven generations back on both sides, aggrandizing her husband’s family tradition while also claiming it for a much larger clan. It’s more inclusive, but more overwhelming. Let This Cup Pass From Us, a photograph featuring Fernandez, her husband and her two sons legs-up in that same huge vessel, drives the point home: they’re engulfed in their cavernous gene pool.
Fernandez’ punning good humor and analytic cast of mind treat her biggest themes with a light touch and an unflustered directness. The canvas print 2012 shows Fernandez flanked by life-sized pillows printed with images of her husband and children. Mother, father and eldest son face the camera unsmiling while the baby fusses. They’re four separate individuals, of whom only one is “real.” It’s an imperfect illusion of a nuclear family leavened with a jokey evocation of domestic comfort. The Possibilities, a dress printed with pictures of her relatives’ eyes, is genealogy made elegant. My Land, My Loves, an eight-foot wall calendar modified to include pictures of Fernandez’ native California, is a similarly restrained depiction of life’s expanse tidied into increments. Marked up with extended family members’ birthdays, the colossal artifact illustrates the sometimes unglamorous, practical discipline of love.
“Identity” is a fraught word, sometimes applied to emphasize the group at the expense of the individual, and generalities at the expense of specifics. Arranging Family, by contrast, cultivates an identity by rooting it in specifics, in the aspects that unite or distinguish one person from the next, and in the small accommodations and adjustments that, over the course of years and generations, become defining.