Stuffed crows, bent spoons, a doll house and old photographs are a few of the slightly bizarre ephemera that anchor Carol Golemboski's black-and-white photographs. Like devotionals to dark, bygone days, each of her square, silver gelatin photographs depicts an ornate and delicate scene from a defunct time and place.
Eight of Golemboski's works are now part of 4x4: 4 artists, 4 curators, a new exhibit at GOCA 121. The show features works by four Colorado artists who were chosen by four local curators: Holly Parker of Smokebrush Gallery (who selected Golemboski, of Lakewood); Caitlin Green of the Gallery of Contemporary Art at UCCS; Jessica Hunter Larsen of the I.D.E.A. Space at Colorado College; and Blake Milteer from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
The curators developed the show together, and chose to feature only black-and-white pieces, but in media spanning photography, video art and sculpture. Stacey Steers' contribution, "Phantom Canyon," is a surreal animated short made from Victorian-style cutouts; Kate Petley will fill the gallery with monumental white orb sculptures; and Andrew Beckham, a photographer, will show serene and sometimes disorienting landscapes.
Golemboski, 39, still uses a darkroom to develop her photos. This dying method allows her to scar the prints with webs of scratches and crazed markings, further imbuing them with a sense of psychological unrest. Atop of the negative, she also draws in charcoal on a Mylar sheet, blocking the light during the exposure process and layering the final product with even more images.
The result is her "Psychometry" series, 30 square prints that recall old-fashioned methods of amateur psychology and folk mysticism. Psychometry itself is the art of divination through touching or standing near certain objects, a concept that strikes Golemboski as fascinating but ultimately futile.
"I'm sympathetic to the whole business of fortune-telling and palm-reading, all of that, but at the same time I don't believe it," she says. "I think there's this sort of tragedy about the way that people so desperately want to know things they can't possibly know, and it's so sort of poignant in a way that we invent all of these things."
That schism informs Golemboski's unique aesthetic, but without condescension or cliché. In regard to the latter, the artist says she consumes bad horror movies, mystery novels and children's ghost stories precisely so she knows what to avoid.
"I feel I need to know the clichés," she says, "so that I can play on them but not play into them.
"I feel like there's certain objects that I had to kind of force myself to stay away from," she adds. "Like, I decided at one point, no dolls. I had to find my own language that other people would get, [something that] would still seem unsettling and uncanny ..."
And Golemboski knows language — she grew up thinking she would become a writer. She wrote fiction until college, when she began creating visual art.
"I realized that I was kind of doing the same thing with my photographs, still inventing this fiction," she says. "It's just visual, instead of verbal."
Her roots are apparent in the text she sprinkles throughout the series. One work features a lonely-looking dollhouse with ghostly letters forming the word "safe" hovering above it. Golemboski says the work, titled "Safe," was inspired by a Virginia Woolf short story about a house haunted by a benevolent couple who watches over the new inhabitants. The house itself has a heartbeat.
Kind as that may seem, the eerie and unexplainable are naturally terrifying. It's a feeling Golemboski chases.
"I've always been fascinated," she says, "by the fact that I get spooked."