IN ILLO TEMPORE – Emily Link’s *Tumulus* at Rice’s EMERGEncy Room


This Latin phrase, familiar to those who attend Catholic Mass, is often translated as “Once upon a time…” but translates literally as “in that time” — that “other” time, that time outside of time — the olden days, those golden days — the time of myths and fairy tales, the pre-human era of gods and Titans, Amun-Ra and the Spider Woman, and epic heroes like Gilgamesh, Beouwulf, Lancelot, and the Trickster coyote. But space is implied “in illo tempore” as well — the transcendental space of archetypes and Platonic ideals — and it’s a parallel space, unfolding concurrently, an alternate universe reflecting our own present moment, though in a dimension imperceptible to our limited, fallible human sensory capabilities. This is the space that Emily Link’s work offers viewers a peephole to peer through. This is you. This is your journey — on one level.

On another level, the grotesque, phantasmagoric figures populating Link’s series are on a journey of their own. These “soft sculptures,” which she thinks of more as 3D drawings made of fabric, are nomads who have fled their latest encampment to escape some unknown danger — perhaps a plague or a predator. They have been forced to abandon the old and the infirm, leaving three characters remaining — a malicious young male; another male, a passive, archetypal Fool; and a female shamanic figure. Link’s fairy tale has been unfolding over the past two years (as if time matters in illo tempore) beginning at galleryHOMELAND in Portland, OR, before moving on to Salt Lake City’s GARFO Art Center. From there, her nomads moved on to Houston’s BOX 13 ArtSpace and then to the University Galleries at Texas State University in San Marcos. Each stop depicted one tableau, one moment in their ongoing voyage, which brings us to their latest stop, at the EMERGEncy Room.

Here viewers see first a Nordic funeral mound — the malicious young male has murdered the shamanic female character. Next, we see her risen from the ashes of the funeral pyre in a transitional Bardo/Purgatory phase, a demonic, decapitated head inspired by folkloric Japanese gaki — ghost-like beings forced to wander the earth consumed by extreme hunger and thirst. Finally, she is reborn, androgynous and indifferent, neither malicious nor particularly compassionate. Where she will go next, whether she will rejoin her tribesmen — the one who murdered her and the one who failed to protect her — remains to be seen.

Link was born in Syracuse, NY and raised in rural Pennsylvania, surrounded by wilderness and Native American, colonial, and Civil War histories. Her current series of “3D drawing” soft-sculpture tableaus are directly inspired by the dioramas she saw as a child at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and represent her attempt to bring that sense of mythical lore to this ever-shifting, disposable strip mall landscape which “exists only for the future.”

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