Re-Inventing Architectural Memory

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Re-Inventing Architectural Memory

Krista Svalbonas

“Through its long use as an ideological language, architecture carries within its forms a complicated and often contradictory set of values that are charged with a heritage that has to do with their past uses and associations. It is exactly this aspect that can give architecture its social meaning, for it carries the past into the present.” Thomas H. Beeby


Ideas of home and dislocation have always been compelling to me as the child of parents who arrived in the United States as refugees. Born in Latvia and Lithuania, my parents spent many years after the end of the Second World War in displaced-persons camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. My family’s displacement is part of a long history of uprooted peoples for whom the idea of “home” is contingent, in flux, without permanent definition and undermined by political agendas beyond their control. Perhaps as a result, I am fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the impact of architectural form and structure on the psychology of the human environment.

Photography also plays a key role in this history of displacement: photographs were among the few possessions my family was able to take with them when they fled the Russian occupation. Photographs documented a home and a country that most Baltic refugees, including my parents, thought they would never see again. I was raised on these visual memories, and the accompanying stories of a “homeland” that remained distant and inaccessible — until the unimaginable happened in 1991, when the Baltic states regained their freedom.

Complicated by this family history, my definition of home constantly oscillates between past and present. “Migrants” began with photographs I took in the three locations I have called home in the past eight years: the New York metro area, rural Pennsylvania, and Chicago. Taken with digital camera, camera phone, and point and shoot, each image is a visual sketch of the genius loci of the landscape at a particular moment in my history. I cut and reassemble the images in sets of three, creating hybrid structures that reinterpret and reinvent architecture, disrupting space, light, and direction. At the same time, because the triangle is the simplest stable two-dimensional form, anchoring each piece in three geographical points creates a stability that acts as counterweight to the sense of dislocation. “Migrants” turns an analytical gaze on the architecture of my past and present while offering a personal reflection on the nature of home.


Krista Svalbonas is a mixed media artist based in Chicago. Her studies lead her to a BFA degree in Photography and Design from Syracuse University and an interdisciplinary MFA degree in Photography, Sculpture and Design from SUNY New Paltz. Benefiting from her extensive media knowledge, Krista enjoys experimenting with traditional materials in unexpected ways. She is heavily influenced by her urban environment in her work and focuses on spatial relationships and architecture when developing her abstract pieces and installations. Krista was recently awarded a Bemis Fellowship for 2015. She has had numerous solo, two-person and group exhibitions throughout the United States. Recently, Krista completed a large scale site specific installation at the Ise Cultural Foundation in New York. She has exhibited at venues including the Dairy Center of the Arts in Boulder Colorado; Kenise Barnes Fine Art in Larchmont, New York; Watchung Art Center in New Jersey; Monterey Peninsula Art Gallery in California; Mattewan Gallery, The Painting Center, Trestle Gallery, and BWAC in New York; Tubac Center For The Arts, Arizona; George Segal Gallery, New Jersey. She was also part of a two-year traveling group exhibition in Latvia, Europe, where her piece remains in the permanent collection at the Cesis Art Museum. She is a recipient of a Cooper Union Artist residency as well as a New Arts Program residency and exhibition and has works in numerous private collections. Krista is currently a lecturer in Photography at Columbia College.


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