Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Throne, Mixed Media Quilt 

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier

with Opal Moore

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier

What is Pablo Picasso up to when he says, “art is a lie, a lie that makes us realize the truth.” The phrase makes us realize is the key to his language and his claim—that the ‘lie’ of true art is not the lie devised to deceive or swindle. It is not the art of the huckster or the product advertiser—it is not engaged in illusion. Art may be more alchemy—a transmutation, turning what is leaden into life.

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier’s mixed media sculpture (below), from Angels in Strait Jackets: ‘Exalted on the Ward’ (2015), is part of an elegant provocation summoning us into a specific history, not as a single story, but an unraveling of multiple voices, feelings, thoughts, social practices and competing beliefs. Beyond the gallery installation, the hospital site itself begins to obtain voice as the architecture of isolation, and of texture.  The project considers the Georgia Asylum (Georgia’s state mental hospital in Milledgeville, later, Central State Hospital) as a location of community and loneliness, madness and creativity, science and bewilderment.  

Angels is one of The Journey Projects (with Newell scholar and Professor of Women’s Studies, Mab Segrest, University of Connecticut). The Project proposes creative engagement with diverse communities across the South. Site-specific works often spring forth from an archival scrap—a letter, a psychiatrist’s note or a history brined in folklore. Local communities are invited to journey to the unknowns (rather than the “knowns”) of their own historical connections and disconnections. The projects take up histories as living things. In Linnemeier’s earlier paintings, one often finds a photograph set within a field of canvas like a dot of organic matter set in a petri dish. There, the black-and-white image seems to provoke (or set free?) new and unsuspected color, shape, and vibrancy. The same energy seems to drive The Journey Projects—the artist provides the ground that bursts a seed into a new thing, community. Linnemeier has produced site-works across Georgia and in Florida, and has exhibited nationally and internationally.

My conversations with Lynn Linnemeier unveiled the intimacies often tucked behind her materials, and the cultural questions that inspire her diverse modalities. More important than her exchanges with me for this issue is the way her artistic praxis tracks with how art, when it becomes a part of the way we live, can enliven and infuse community feeling—even when the artist chooses to disturb a false peace and dis-comfort us. Lynn’s work is, in its process, intention and effect, a dialogue with her self, her audience, and her home place.

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Angels in Straight Jackets, Exalted on the Ward, Installation

Opal Moore: You have not said so, but the histories and visual stories that drive your work seem, often, to summon up the lives of women in a particular kind of way. Is this fair to say?  I’m thinking of “Throne” and “Angels in Straight Jackets”, part of The Journey Project. What are your parameters, intentions, connections?

 

Lynn Marshall Linnemeier: My mixed media works often address women’s power. I love the stories of women because we face hardships that are not even visible to men. It is almost like an intuitive language that is held between women. I’m pretty certain that the ability to bear and nourish children has everything to do with it. The quilts and the making of them is often seen as “women’s work”. I remember hanging out with the Reynoldstown Quilters who taught me the basics of quilting. I enjoyed sitting with them and hearing their “secrets” or gossip about men. The elder women would laugh a certain way, under their breath, as they were admonishing men for being silly, lacking in the intuitive skills that they possessed. The stories were infused into the quilts as they worked. This is the beauty in this type of artwork.  

“Throne,” which contains a 19th century photograph that was given to me is about a woman telling her daughter that every time she sits, she sits on her throne. The mother is alluding to her vagina, her womb. She tells the daughter this story because she knows that the girl may fall prey to white men. Rape is a not-so-subtle part of the African American female narrative. The idea of chanting refers to the calls up to the ancestors and God for protection and strength.

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Angels in Straight Jackets, Exalted on the Ward, Installation (detail)

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Angels in Straight Jackets, Exalted on the Ward, Installation (detail)

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Angels in Straight Jackets, Exalted on the Ward, Installation (detail)

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Angels in Straight Jackets, Exalted on the Ward, Installation (detail)

OM: Your newest works, the acrylics, assert a different kind of vibe. Visually, they are pure color, line, shape and movement.  And yet, the titles are subtle poetry—hint of an underground life, an absent presence? The titles speak of rivers, compasses, the “wisdom bridge.” This is the language of the hymn and the gospels and, dare I say it: liberation. Is there a bridge between this new work and, say, Mary Roberts (Angels in Strait Jackets) who claimed an ability to see her dead ancestors on the ward, saying: “they’re not living but they are real”?

 

LML: Hmmm. Yes. (smiling). The abstracts do speak of liberation and resistance-probably more about resistance, which is a huge part of the historical narrative of African Americans. Out of necessity and survival, we have resisted injustices in America through a myriad of ways, not just marching in the street. During our forced enslavement our ancestors used language, dress, rhythm and movement as tools of resistance. But it was language and communication that really intrigued me.

Language is integral to my paintings and mixed media works. I spent a lot of time alone as a child telling myself stories using pictographs (I have two sisters and the 3 of us are 11 years apart). As an adult, I investigated cuneiform, Nsibidi, Arabic and other kinds of script. Hieroglyphics, cave paintings, and other forms of early communication were also influential. I was reintroduced to storytelling through my travels in Mississippi, while working on a project there called a Mississippi Self-Portrait in the late 80’s. It was at that time that I decided to use the same formula of telling stories to myself using pictographs, but rather than pencil, I worked with paint. I was excited to return to my playful space.

 

This way of working has reemerged in the new work, which also reflects my interest in science, particularly quantum mechanics--the world of the small and infinite. Quantum mechanics deals with math, which I am lousy at, but also movement on a subatomic level. I imagine myself as having carte blanche to enter this subatomic world and to use my unique photographic eye to record it. The titles also reflect what I experienced, sometimes in ways that I don’t understand. Surely my ancestors are guiding me.

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, One Eye On the Clock, Mixed Media Quilt 

OM: You have called yourself a “visual mythologist”?  How did that sense of your identity as a creative person come about?  Does this way of thinking about yourself as an artist guide or shape the kind of visual telling that you do?

 

LML: Way back in 2003-2004 when I was in graduate school, I met Maggie McCary online through her blog The Daily Arrows. At the time she was working on her dissertation at Pacifica and called herself a “cultural mythologer”. The primary focus of her writing posited “the mythic mind as providing structure and meaning in contemporary life”. We had great conversations through email and she really helped me through grad school. She focused primarily on Greek myth and the body; I was interested in African myth and the black body in Southern culture. We never met in person. One day I logged on and to my dismay, she had passed away. I was devastated.

 

I remember thinking that Maggie used poetry and literature to critically think about myth and contemporary life and my focus was on the visual. So, I came up with the term “visual mythologist” to describe the way I worked. Maggie wrote: “Poets, like great visual artists, allow the images to fall apart into their multiple forms, showing the multiplicity of forms. Like the dream, poems show us that the world is polytheistic, that there are always multiple ideas, multiple figures, multiple experiences when one cracks the shell of an image.”

As for my own work, myth and stories, especially those told to me through interviews when working through the Journey Projects, compel me to “create” myth. A simple story can be made mythic if a heroine is revealed, such as Mary Roberts in Angels in Straight Jackets. In that exhibit the figure of Mary achieves archetype, or a supernatural quality in her resistance to her treatment at Central State Hospital. She dances and sings up and down the ward to proclaim her sanity and to bear witness to the dead that she sees. I had to reimagine what it must have been like to lose nine of eleven children, to wander the streets. After having been diagnosed last year with severe depression I now know a bit more of the experience.

 

I grew up with women who were mentally ill, who wandered the streets like Mary Roberts. They were taken off to jail, assaulted and then brought back to our segregated community.  So much of the dress piece [Angels in Straight Jackets] was in homage to them as well as the 30,000 differently enabled dead buried there [in the Central State hospital cemetery].

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, In the Morning There Was a Compass, Acrylic on panel 24 x 24 inches

OM: How do the abstract paintings connect?

 

LML: When working on the abstracts, I often find myself drifting into a myth, thinking about a clashing or loving encounter with my nemesis, myself as heroine, leader and warrior— overcoming in a space of my own creation. I know that I have “saved the day” by recording what I have seen and felt with my photographic eye and putting that to canvas. I lose myself in the symbols and gestures, lines and forms that make up this mythical space.

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, The Space Meanders Bridge Meandering, 2019,  Acrylic on panel 48 x 48 inches

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia and Red Springs, NC. Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier has been documenting the American South since 1989 and works both figuratively and abstractly. She researches and collages photography, painting, and writing, with primary source documents from diaries and letters, which she incorporates into her image-based mixed-media quilts, 2-D and 3-D sculptures, and mixed media works. With an aim of re-examining and re-framing historical figures, she engages her subjects through dialogue focusing on their life stories and historical incidences attached to place. She is inspired by African-American and indigenous cultural traditions as well as stories from people that she has met during her travels, which include international residencies.  Her vibrant paintings explore personal investigations into movement and transformation often drawn from concepts surrounding ancestry, memory and written language.   https://lynnlinn.net/

Opal Moore, a native Chicagoan, is a veteran teacher of creative writing and African American women’s literature.  She is the author of Lot’s Daughters, a poetry collection that one reviewer described as “passionate slices of African American womanhood.” Her fiction and poetry have appeared in anthologies and journals, including the Boston Review; Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry, the Notre Dame Review, Connecticut Review, Honey, Hush! An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor, and Homeplaces: Stories of the South by Women Writers.