“I don’t really like going on trips,” said Laura Snyder, standing among half-painted maps and other travel miscellany in her second-floor studio at The Haven. “When I go somewhere I like to be able to just stay. I’m a one-way ticket kind of girl.”
A New City Arts’ artist-in-residence, Snyder was in the midst of preparing her upcoming mixed media exhibit “Souvenir.” Her “meditation on how memory operates” features objects from the artist’s years in Latin America including gold-washed botanical prints, colorful drawings of abstract swirls, and paper maps overlaid with intricate blue brush strokes.
Though she’s originally from Charlottesville, Snyder hasn’t lived in town for more than a few months since she left for undergraduate studies at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2001. She travelled to Mexico several times, following her intuition to new experiences and eventually receiving her Masters in Visual Arts from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. After two years in Colombia—“a place I went because of another person”—she looked for a reason to return to the States.
“I’ve lived so many places where I’m not in contact with those people any more. There are experiences that maybe they happened, maybe they didn’t,” she said. “Who was I? I spoke a different language. I’m a chameleon, so I totally adopt the accent and am never around other Americans. It makes you question a lot of things.”
Snyder’s graduate thesis focused on cartography in the arts, but her post-travel experience demanded a different level of introspection. She obsessively patterned maps, for example, to obscure their functionality, using blue paint to recall physical distances and the horizons that separate truth from fiction.
“This work is a lot about the value we put on images. We instill meaning in objects when living in other countries because that’s what we do,” she said, pointing to several vials of seashells arranged like zoological specimens along the windowsill.
As a whole, “Souvenir” functions as a “counter atlas,” each drawing and map a page from an explorer’s journal. But unlike the work of colonial naturalists, she said, her discoveries were necessarily fictionalized.
“Think of Humboldt in the early 1600s. He was all over the Latin American continent, and he detailed all these things he found, these plants and these animals,” she said. “I kind of think I’m doing the same thing with my memories, but I’m not creating knowledge. I’m creating something different.”
Picking up a blue-tinted photograph layered with repetitive patterns of gold, Snyder said, “These are from a place outside of Bogotá, an ecosystem called a páramo, that was a refuge place for me.” She photographed flora in the páramo’s shallow lakes and used paint to merge this personal experience with a Colombian legend. “It’s true that the indigenous people would make offerings of gold in certain high altitude lakes. [There is] a myth that there was so much gold in one lake that the Spanish, English, and Germans tried to empty water out by various means.”
Memory and myth converge inside the explorer, too. “I connected to offering statues, figures that have a hole in the center to put offerings,” Snyder said. Her abstract drawings reflect her body as the seat of all experience. “Drawing like that is a thing I’ve always done in journals while I travel. I’ve decided that if you were to cross section me, this is what I have inside. All this layering of lines.”
A reception for Snyder’s exhibit “Souvenir” opens on Friday at WVTF and Radio IQ Gallery. The show runs through July.