Immersive installation “Synchronized Swimmers” enthralls audiences at GMA

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Artist Jenny Fine installs Synchronized Swimmers at Gadsden Museum of Art. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Audiences have the opportunity to step inside a photograph and experience a world of unprecedented wonder at The Gadsden Museum of Art this summer. In Jenny Fine’s immersive multimedia installation Synchronized Swimmers, viewers will discover an ocean of possibility, navigating uncharted narratives as they delve deeper into the unique exhibit in the heart of downtown Gadsden.

“When Jenny told me the prospect of the show, I immediately said ‘yes,’ and agreed to have Synchronized Swimmers at GMA,” said GMA Curator Ray Wetzel. “Immersive art experiences are one of those interactive things you can’t avoid. You’re in the space and you’re present. You and your friends are engaging and looking at the work because it’s cool and fascinating.”

Synchronized Swimmers viewers who wander into the museum’s main gallery find themselves caught in blue light and shadows mimicking the movement of water. Original audio tracks play on loop, while vast sculptures depict an underwater landscape, resembling coral, crustaceans and sea-life. Legs hanging from the ceiling dangle slowly back-and-forth, while images of the Gulf Coast’s history combine with personal photographs.

The innate inquisitiveness that circulates throughout Synchronized Swimmers mirrors Fine’s artistic journey. Childhood courses – instructed by a retired high school art teacher – featured sketches mimicking Southern Living photos before Fine’s initial relationship with art briefly fizzled out. She rediscovered her intrigue and creative eye later on while taking a gap year during her time at The University of Alabama. Fine found herself teaching English in China, documenting her travels with a camera her mother purchased for her as a farewell present. As a stranger wandering about, Fine described herself as more of a witness than an active participant. She perceived the new and fascinating world around her through her camera lens, capturing moments in time and unlocking her passion in the process.

Fine’s fascination with latent image – the invisible image existing on exposed film prior to development – and its relationship with memory translate into Synchronized Swimmers. Just as latent images inhabit strips of film as unseen mysteries, flashbacks from Fine’s childhood and adolescence merge with broader stories from the past, creating a collective consciousness the audience shares. Fine’s work reverses what the camera crops, expanding photographs by adding time and space to enliven still images.

“The act of storytelling and photographing are very intertwined for me,” said Fine, who began photographing her grandmother to depict family narratives as she practiced her craft. “Working with my grandmother was more than taking a photo – it was an experience. We started pulling in costumes and reenacting these memories that were a part of my inheritance [but the memories were not my own.] I started thinking about how culture is that way. We’re given and endowed with a certain history that defines who we are and how people see us. I’m interested in how memory, reality and culture combine to influence our identity, and how we can then build an identity for ourselves.”

As the months grew warmer during her childhood, Fine and her sisters journeyed a familiar path to a beloved oasis – her grandmother’s home, which rested just down the street from her own. Fine escaped scorching summer afternoons in the coolness of her grandmother’s swimming pool, diving into an intoxicating world of childhood wonder with each splash. When rain came, Fine’s grandmother – a geography teacher at the local community college – gathered them underneath an umbrella and wove enthralling tales of historical events, recounting stories of human experience in wars, different countries and unusual, but captivating places. After the clouds drifted and the sky cleared, Fine returned to the water with these striking images planted in her mind.

“Slipping into the water was like slipping into our imaginations,” said Fine, who shared her grandmother’s stories kindled her own creativity that remained active even as she dreamed at night. “Synchronized Swimmers is somewhat of a reoccurring dream from my childhood.”

Synchronized Swimmers adopts the mirroring dreamlike state of being underwater, channeling Fine’s childhood into a world audiences explore. As viewers enter the gallery, they walk along the bottom of the swimming pool, moving from section to section, floating from the deep end to shallow waters. Fine lifts intriguing concepts from the depths, bringing narratives of memory’s relationship with inheritance, aging and cultural identity to the surface. Regardless of each audience member’s personal background, Fine hopes individuals connect with the installation, recognizing a sense of familiarity or considering their respective histories as they step inside the photographs.

The installation also features live performances, which will take place on May 27 and June 3. Fine and Wetzel partnered with CharACTers and Jacksonville State University to provide performers and dancers, who act in costume and weave in-and-out of the audience as they observe the exhibit. While previously shown at Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan, GMA’s installation was funded by the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

Synchronized Swimmers is one of multiple shows Fine hosted in Gadsden, with her previous interactive multimedia exhibit Flat Granny and Me: A Procession in My Mind debuting at The Walnut Gallery, where she first met Wetzel. While Fine’s solo exhibitions were displayed in Ohio, New York and North Carolina – her talent even traveling to Germany – she shared Gadsden harbors a special place in her heart.

“To me, Gadsden has always been a place where there’s a lot of imagination,” said Fine, who considers Gadsden a welcoming and receptive area intrigued by the arts. “I think Gadsden is primed and at the point where they are really excited about possibilities. It’s a really special place in Alabama, where the environment, scenery and outdoors opens up your mind. Gadsden is one of my favorite places to exhibit in the state of Alabama. [When it comes to the arts] it’s a collaboration; it’s an investment from the community.”

Fine hopes audiences rediscover a sense of pondering and curiosity through Synchronized Swimmers, while the installation proves a representation of that same wonder that fuels creative professional fields. Through positive partnerships and the manifestation of installations like Synchronized Swimmers, audiences recognize the value in the arts and its purpose in communities worldwide as a resource for broadening perspectives and generating understanding – inspiring future artists to take the plunge and voyage toward other meaningful destinations.

“What we’re doing is creating possibility for the future – a model for the next generation to see what is possible,” said Fine, who hopes to garner more accessibility for artists seeking to pursue creative fields. “The more we can open up people’s minds, the larger and more connected our world becomes. Every time someone comes in and participates in Synchronized Swimmers or other exhibits, I feel like it opens up their possibilities. That is my greatest hope – to create a space for larger thinking and dreaming.”

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