In exchange for the warmth of companionship, relationships ask a certain debt of sacrifice, whether it is greater reliance on someone else, or a change of our individual identity. Beyond the normal demands of togetherness lies the sting and confusion of a failed relationship, or worse, the realization that our partner is unfaithful. These wrenching and real emotions are the catalyst for Rachael Hetzel's current exhibition, Fleeting, in which a selection of intaglio and screen prints grapple with the uncertainties of a life shared.
When you enter the gallery you're immediately struck by two large walls display several diptychs that relate a narrative of a couple engaged in an argument. Although the figures are only graphic silhouettes you can almost hear the accusations and anger. Hetzel intelligently uses the power of presentation by placing the nearly identical-looking prints in separate frames, reminding us that relationships are a struggle for both shared and individual identity.
The prints that comprise "Try" are the exhibition's largest, but difficult emotions are no less present in Hetzel's more diminutive works. "I Still Can't Tell Which Ones Are Weeds" features a white figure in the act of gardening in a black void. Clutching a vine that could be either a greenthumb's trash or treasure, the figure seems as confused as the title implies. Amazingly, the largely featureless figures in Hetzel's prints are full of expression. We can't help but to identify with the subject's struggle to complete an unfamiliar chore or satisfy someone else's expectations, even though it's represented as simple ink on thin paper.
A sense of hesitant hopefulness pervades the work and culminates in the diptych "Escape Plan." Again, two related prints are framed separately; both stark white on black. One depicts an open birdcage whose occupant has flown into the next print along a cartoonish dotted line. The first print features the text "escape" followed in the next by the word "plan." Within the context of the exhibition's other works, the flight could be seen as a hollow victory. Yet reversing the words of the title inspires thoughts of a planned escape. Perhaps the artist is encouraging the bird to trade the safety of its cage for a chance at hope on its own.
In her statement, Hetzel alludes to this work as an exploration of themes of feminism, specifically the "hidden ways in which women wield power within their families." She relates the story of her grandmother's effort to keep her family together despite her husband's infidelity. While these topics do arise, the prints themselves present couples in rough situations with seemingly little sense of resolution. Why maintain a severely broken relationship simply to protect the ideal of a family? The tension of that question weaves silently through these prints, leaving the viewer to examine their own definitions of happiness.
Fleeting, by Rachael Hetzel | through September 14 | Arts and Cultural Council New Gallery, 277 North Goodman Street, 473-4000 | Hours: Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. | Artist reception Friday, September 8, 5-7 p.m. www.artsrochester.org.