by David M. Roth
Imagine unmooring the globe’s landmasses and suspending them in midair from strings like a cosmic puppeteer. That, essentially, is what Val Britton does in The Continental Interior, a room-sized installation in which the collagist pushes her estimable 2-D visions of terrestrial reality into three-dimensional space. For Britton, whose largest collages run to 10 feet square and can sometimes strain the bounds of what can be displayed on a wall, this seems like both a breakout move and a logical extension of what she’s been doing since the start of her career. For a prime example, check out SJICA at artMRKT, May 16-19, at Fort Mason Center – Festival Pavilion. There, you'll find Beginning Anywhere, one of Britton's iconic large-scale works from 2008.
The last installation of Britton’s I saw was in 2010, in a group show organized by Intersection for the Arts called Here be Dragons: Mapping Information and Imagination and Open Process Events. Her piece encircled a spiral staircase. This installation is much more expansive. It occupies SJICA’s Focus Gallery, bisecting the room diagonally, from the rafters almost to the floor. The piece engages you at eye-level and pulls your gaze up upward to the strings that suspend it from the ceiling. From those strands hang painted shards of paper that Britton has sliced into silhouettes of varying opacity. Held mostly taut, they range in size from specs no bigger than a fingernail to jagged masses of up to a yard in length. Some bend or fold over on themselves to suggest erosion or wind. Overall, their shapes bring to mind floating river islands, continents, icebergs, mountains, cumulous clouds and riverbeds.
What propelled Britton into this realm was the sudden death of her father, a long-haul trucker. He died when she was a teenager, and since earning her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2006, she’s created, dissected and reassembled maps of her own making an effort to follow his “tracks”.
Her “navigational” tools are scissors, X-Acto knives, brushes, glue, ink and watercolors, the latter of which she uses to create stains suggestive of mineral deposits, fire and other natural processes.