Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
When the pandemic shuttered Lisa Freeman’s photography exhibition, she took it to the streets”One Thread Broke” is open on Freeman’s adobe wall at 847 Old Santa Fe Trail. The exhibition is running through July 17.
Freeman’s “visual statements” feature self-portraits, flowers and landscapes plastered with such phrases as “I Cry When I Say Hello” and “What Are the Most Important Questions.” The 3-by-4-foot works interlace imagery and text in an interplay of tension connecting to the anxiety of a world in political and personal turmoil.
Freeman first conceived of the exhibition as her master’s in fine arts show. She is an MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada University. Originally slated for Santa Fe’s Visual Spaces, the exhibition was cancelled in the midst of the COVID-19 panic.
“I had a lot of options that were unsatisfying to me,” Freeman said. “I really needed to make a statement related to what was happening with this universalized anxiety and the destruction of the world.”
So the photographer turned to the streets, hoping her work will engage drive-by visitors, pedestrians and art enthusiasts.
The photographs emerged from deeply personal places, Freeman said, much of it rooted in tragedy.
In 2016, she was mugged near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and left with a traumatic brain injury, a severe concussion, PTSD and panic attacks.
“I couldn’t think in a straight line, I couldn’t organize my thoughts,” she said. “I felt mentally paralyzed.”
“So I started this process of self-portraits,” she continued. “How do I move forward when I can’t see myself any more? I felt like I didn’t have full access to my brain, so I began taking these self-portraits. The sense of vagueness and mental paralysis; I can’t tell you the depth of pain it creates.”
Freeman struggled with exposing such vulnerability, but hoped others would feel a connection with her experience.
Her MFA degree projects and assignments drew her to artists known for self-revealing work, specifically the post-war prints and drawings of the German artist Käthé Kollwitz, who captured the impact of poverty, hunger and war on the working class.
Like much of the text, “One Thread Broke” is an incomplete phrase the viewer can finish.
Viewers can add “and the world came crashing down and I’m hanging by a thread,” Freeman said. “(George) Floyd got killed and we went nuts. One thread broke and the world changed.”
“I Sold Myself Short,” set amid a halo of treetops, could refer to relationships or jobs, she said.
“It’s ‘Why did I do that? Why did I accept that’?” Freeman said.
The artist’s discovery of photography was serendipitous. When she was 9 or 10, she answered a comic book ad for greeting card sales and earned a Kodak Instamatic camera for her efforts. She remembers posing her grandmother for her first portrait.
“I don’t want my work to be about tragedy and trauma,” she said. “But there is a common ground for all of us.”
A graduate of the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in sculpture, Freeman also studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Her work hangs in permanent collections in Santa Fe’s New Mexico Capitol Art Foundation Collection, the Longview Museum of Fine Art in Texas and the Robbins Center for Art in Washington, D.C. She moved to Santa Fe in 1994.