By Lesley Darling

Gustavus Adolphus College

How does one take qualitative human experience and chart it? How does one quantify emotion? After an eight-month course on sustainable living in rural Sweden, I returned to my Midwestern undergraduate career both illuminated and disenchanted. Inspired and actualized through my land-living life in Sweden, I felt disillusioned by the systematic reality I faced here in America. I wanted to be back on the land, living intentionally. At the same time, I knew that no matter if or when I made it back, nothing would be the same; it’s impossible to recreate the past.

To help process my entangled set of emotions, I created this series of paintings as a conceptual map several months after returning to America. They document exclusively quantitative aspects of my life in Sweden. These emotionally distanced, factual artifacts serve as a partial guide, a manual, a list of conditions that, if met again, might provide the necessary environment for an experience similar to mine—not a recreation, but something comparable.

Like memories, each piece is a fragment, a constructed replication of the actual experience. And like our constructed memories, they contain inaccuracies. I graphed these mental fragments as data and hard facts, so I did no research outside of direct experience. If I realized my memory was in err, I chose to preserve the reconstructed quality of the information and present it as fact, regardless of its scientific accuracy.

The pieces may be confusing—not in English, sometimes not in proper Swedish either.  They stand alone, without explanations beyond what the viewer assumes. Their ambiguity reflects, albeit minutely, the bewildering relationship between identity, location, and language. Perhaps they even manage to convey the melancholic nature of nostalgia, the immaculate forgiveness of retrospection, and the inaccessibility of the past.

Lesley Darling ’15
Gustavus Adolphus College
Watercolor, ink, toner on paper


*Click on photos to enlarge.


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