Review: Catalina Jaramillo's "You Are Always Here" at Dimensions Variables

Categories: Art
Since the beginning of civilization, every culture has exhibited ways of keeping alive the memory of the dead. The ancient Egyptians believed that statues of the dead, once animated through ritual breathing, could appear at various locations.  Other cultures created wax or plaster death masks and displayed portraits of the deceased in their parlors.

The Victorians, perhaps the most death-obsessed folks since the Egyptians, filled their homes with pictures of the deceased and wore locks of the dead person's hair in their jewelry. Even today, some nomadic Arctic tribes carve wooden effigies of the departed to sleep with or keep them company on family picnics.

Catalina Jaramillo's "You Are Always Here," on view at Dimensions Variables, probes the issues that arise from the death of a loved one, in this case her mother, Yolanda Phillips de Jaramillo.

The artist's mother passed away in January 2010 after battling cancer for nearly a decade. Jaramillo's evocative installation powerfully conveys the obsessive tendencies many mourners manifest when struggling with loss and grief in our culture.

Jaramillo spent the past year working on her poignant project. Queen Victoria, the widow of Windsor, would likely have approved. She wore widow's weeds for 40 years after she lost her beloved Albert. She even had hot water brought for him to shave and had his clothes laid out for him in his chambers every day until she herself died.

But there is nothing maudlin or creepy about Jaramillo's celebration of her mother's life. The artist employs her mother's belongings almost clinically and in a way that suggests a memento mori, reminding viewers of life's impermanence.

As one glances at a Polaroid of Yolanda -- her head balding from chemo treatments, bathing with Jaramillo's son -- while Manzanero's plaintive wail fills the space, it's hard not to fight a rising lump in the throat.

During the show's opening, many visitors asked the artist if they could take one of her deceased mother's possessions as keepsakes. For April's Second Saturday art walk, Jaramillo invites the public to do just that as a reminder that a part of the dearly departed always remains with us.

"You Are Always Here" Through April 23. Dimensions Variable, 171 NE 38th St., Miami; 305-606-0058; Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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