|Education||Yale University, MFA|
|Known for||Photography, Video, Sound, Performance, Installation|
Constance Thalken (/tah-kin/; born 1952 in Nebraska) is an American intermedia artist known foremost for her photographic explorations of the complexities of loss. She has gained recognition for her ability to carefully convey subject matter that simultaneously engages the viewer perceptually, emotionally, viscerally, and intellectually.
Early life and education
Thalken received her BA in Psychology from Barat College in 1974. She completed her MFA in Photography at Yale University in 1988. While at Yale, Thalken was awarded a Yale Scholarship (1986–88), an Artist Support Grant (1987), and the Alice Kimball English Traveling Fellowship (1988). In 1995, she completed an Artist Residency Fellowship at The Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia.
Many of Thalken’s influences lie beyond the realm of photography. She is inspired by readings in philosophy, anthropology, fiction, poetry, and critical writings. These sources shape her work and provide further depth. Some influences are Susan Sontag, Rachel Poliquin, C. K. Williams, Roland Barthes, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla and Octavio Paz.
Thalken is an Associate Professor of Photography at the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University in Atlanta where she has lived and worked since 1990. During her tenure at GSU, she has been recognized for outstanding teaching and has received numerous individual artist research grants from the Welch School of Art and Design and the College of Arts and Sciences of Georgia State University, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the Dekalb Council for the Arts, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, and the Hartsfield Jackson Airport Art Program.
Thalken’s work has received honors from several organizations including the Atlanta Photography Gallery, the Alice and William Jenkins Gallery, Georgia Commission on Women, Professional Women Photographers, New York Center for Photographic Art International, American Art Today: Figures and ArtsATL (Critics Memorable Art of 2015 and Notable Exhibitions of 2013: Critics Picks).
Thalken is represented by Whitespace Gallery.
Notable Solo Work and Exhibitions
Eyes Open Slowly
This 2015 project draws from Thalken's investigations of a taxidermy shop. The body of work includes portrait-like images of taxidermied animals in process as well as abstracted close-ups of animal hide, fur, and surfaces, such as the salt floor of the shop. Among the images is a detail of animal scratches on a steel exterior door of the shop. The taxidermy process is denoted with varying degrees of subtlety. The completed animals appear alive, while others are pinned and taped and in process of becoming "animal". A signature image depicts a pair of antlers, taped together and hanging from wire. Thalken's imagery evokes comparisons between taxidermy and embalming, humans and animals, life and death, and speaks to loss and grief.
1.2 cm =
In 1.2 cm =, Thalken presents 45 photographs of bodily "discards" that were removed during her 14-month treatment for breast cancer accompanied by three large scale self-portraits. The photographs of the discarded bandages are labeled with its corresponding medical procedure, e.g. “Biopsy #2 11/27/09” and "Haircut #1 2/23/10", a bundle of hair from her first treatment induced haircut. The installation includes an ultrasound image of her tumor housed in a lightbox with a list of statistics compiled from her period of treatments. The title refers to the size of her tumor and invites comparison between the small physical size of the tumor and its profound impact on the body and mind. As a whole, the work employs illness as a metaphor for exploring loss, mortality, coping and the medical establishment’s objectification of the body.
This photographic collection depicts yard waste from Atlanta homeowners. Via close-ups and tight framing, the images are abstracted and elevated from their status as waste into compelling visual scenes. According to Thalken, the photos explore the cycle of life and “provide evidence of our persistent urge to control the natural world around us.”
The Soul Is A Light Housekeeper
This work consists photographs of monthly collections of debris collected from the artist’s vacuum cleaner over the course of one year. The photographs, each scaled to the size of the debris pile, serve to document the discarded remnants of daily life and the routines surrounding them. According to Thalken, the images comment “on the former life of the material itself and on my life as the generator and gatherer of the remains.”
Inspired by the death of her mother from Alzheimer’s disease in 2000, Red Jacket is a 13-minute multi-media performance that reenacts Thalken’s selective memories of her mother. The piece explores several aspects of loss including grief and the manner in which dementia erased the identity of her mother.
Ancient Pieties: Maps of Mexico
This body of work consists of photographs that combine images of animals with the landscape and religious iconography of Mexico. The images were created by layering multiple film exposures to convey a sense of indeterminacy. Thalken describes this technique as a means to not only “dematerialize the animal in order to convey its spiritual nature,” but also to suggest “the duality of life and death and the uncertainty that lies between.”
Fragments of An Elegy
Photographed over the course of five years, these images primarily reference the annual alligator harvests of coastal regions of southern Louisiana and North Florida. The work explores issues of mortality, cycles of life and human-animal hierarchies.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
The Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA
The Bunnen Collection, Atlanta, GA
Yale University Library, New Haven, CT
Dean, Ringers, Morgan and Lawton, Orlando, FL
Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston, GA
Francisco, J. (2013, February). Review: Photographer and cancer survivor Constance Thalken gives new meaning to “personal.” ArtsATL. Retrieved from http://artsatl.com
Lampe, L. (2013, January). The power of 1.2 cm = at Whitespace Gallery. BurnAway. Retrieved from http://burnaway.org
McClure, F. (2015, December). Unraveling the elegiac in Eyes Open Slowly. Catalog Essay for exhibit at The Light Factory, Charlotte North Carolina. Retrieved from http://faithmcclure.com
McClure, F. (2015, May). Review: Constance Thalken’s “Eyes Open Slowly” profound meditation on mortality, at Whitespace. ArtsATL. Retrieved from http://artsatl.com
McClure, F. (2013, January). Review: Notable exhibitions, works of art and experiences of 2013. ArtsATL. Retrieved from http://artsatl.com
Thalken, Constance. Retrieved March 5, 2016, from http://constancethalken.com
Weiskopf, D. (2015, June). Art Review: The afterlives of animals: Constance Thalken at Whitespace. BurnAway. Retrieved from http://burnaway.org