Elysia Mann’s Long Long Game Game at the Wilson Gallery, Georgetown College

Published October 24th 2023
Written By Mary Laube

At the age of 16 Albert Einstein famously imagined what it would be like to travel on the front end of a light beam. Despite the fixed speed of light of 299,792,458 meters per second, he discovered that our perception of time is relative depending on our unique position in space. While illustrating the science of Einstein’s theory is extracurricular for our purposes, it serves as a useful picture for entering Elysia Mann’s current exhibition Long Long Game Game at The Wilson Gallery at Georgetown College. Through a combination of various materials, images, text, macro, and micro scales, Mann considers the biggest questions of life and death through the lens of play. In this regard, play mustn’t be brushed off as mere frivolity, but rather celebrated as a pillar of imaginative thinking, especially when considering the creative capacity of thinkers such as Einstein.

Elysia Mann
Future Sand (Left & Right Hand)
acrylic and inkjet on shell paper

installation view of Future Sand diptych

In her collection of screen-prints, weavings, poetry, and monumental installation, Mann prompts us to contemplate the uncertainty of time, and consequently our (mis)perceptions of our bodily and spiritual mortality. She does so by making visible both coherent forms and their respective building blocks be it pixelated color, gridded networks, or the warp and weft of woven textiles. Future Sand for example depicts two monumental seashells, unreadable as such because of Mann’s decision to significantly crop the images transforming them into surreal, cartoonish landscapes. When nearer to the work, the picture dissolves into a radiant tessellation of color swatches and unintelligible symbolic code. At once, I am made aware of both the smaller and larger picture, reminiscent of microscopic or telescopic imagery. Yet, it is by way of my own eyes and body, without the aid of external devices, that I come to understand the work through multiple vantages. While tethered to a location in time and space, pictorial and optical illusion provides a launch pad for transcending an otherwise binding station point.

Elysia Mann
Flag for the Ruins: Ecco
cotton, polyester, grommets

Long Long Game Game combines both play and humor to deliver a chilling memento mori of her and our inevitable doom to expire. Humor, however, is not merely a flavor to make the truth more palatable, it is a quality that emerges by disrupting the expected order of things, and is essential to one of Mann’s most daring contemplations: is it possible to undo our own mortality by sidestepping time? Breaking order re-orients our relationship to our place in the world. Engaging in meditative actions changes our relationship to time. In doing so our perception becomes pliable. To think of time as anything other than a rigid cadence driving us forward is impossible in a world where the clock is considered the sole vehicle for moving moment to moment, and as sole authority on how we measure progress. Merging both the lighthearted and the laborious Mann unravels our relationship to our own mortality by disrupting our expectations of language and meaning.

Installation view of “Long Long Game Game” with woven flags and handwritten Index to the Present, installed in the Wilson Gallery at Georgetown College.

Mann uses languages of order not as a form of translation but an act of undoing meaning. In doing so, her work skirts on the edge of the political by antagonizing the authority of conventional systems of knowing. By making the legible illegible, Mann makes way for surprising formal intersections to emerge. Index to the Present is a handwritten list of words positioned around the perimeter of the gallery. Viewers are invited to look downward as they read through a contextless list of words. Under the category invasives for example we read in alphabetical order: CREEPING IVY; FERAL SWINE; FIRE ANTS; FOOT-A-NIGHT; LONICERA JAPONICA; PATCHOULI; PERSIAN SILK TREE; PUTIN, VLADAMIR; STINK BUG; WESTERNERS. While my interpretating brain does its work in its usual way as I read from Putin down to Westerners, I am also struck by the musicality and formal joy of reading feral-swine-fire-ants or patchouli-persian-silk-tree. While I know to assume foot-a-night is a common term for an invasive plant, when read in this new context I can’t help but see a vignette of my own feet at night or fire ants journeying a foot a night. Interpreting the in the work in this way feels playful as I am given permission to come up with meaning absent of didactics and without intimidation. To attempt to “read” the work in a literal way would be to miss the point.

Installation view of “Long Long Game Game” with woven flags and handwritten Index to the Present, installed in the Wilson Gallery at Georgetown College.

While Mann’s education and training is firmly placed in the visual arts, Long Long Game Game shows us in its variation of medium and form, that all roads of this exhibition lead to the heart of a poet. Mann slices into the poetic potential of semiotic play by employing the foundations of various “languages,” such as written text, crafting symbology, and the computational foundations of weaving. Mann unravels the coherence of these vocabularies suspending us in a state of incompletion which points to the transitory reality of being in a body. At the same time to be suspended in an incomplete state evades the reality that life has an edge at the end of it. Incompleteness therefore is an indication of our tendency to turn away from our physical and material limitations. Long Long Game Game describes the tragedy of understanding life as both significant and absurd.

Meditative, laborious weavings, grids, and lists of words instill a certain pace in which to take in the work. Pixelated codes coalesce into images from farther distances. Lists of categorized words are reassembled alphabetically, losing their relative meaning through a socially acceptable form of order. Woven textiles are complete with finished edges, and other times purposefully unraveled. Through material and intellectual glitches, Mann travels with us through her every day to discover the unforeseen and seemingly absurd realities of life.

Long Long Game Game, Curated by Aaron Reynolds, is on view at the Georgetown College Galleries. More info can be found on their instagram page @gcartgalleries  

Elysia Mann received her MFA in print at the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 2017. Her creative practice pushes the traditional boundaries of printmaking into the realms of textiles and poetry. Her work centers on issues of environmental attachment. She uses left-right symbolism that is rooted in the body to challenge binary thinking and capitalist pressure to separate ourselves from nature and each other. When not in the studio, Elysia is likely in the woods or at the water’s edge with her dog, Ruby.

@ elysiaallalong


Mary Laube is an Associate Professor at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She received her MFA from The University of Iowa in 2012. Past exhibitions include the Knoxville Museum of Art, Ortega y Gasset Projects (NYC), VCU Qatar (Doha), Monaco (St Louis), and Coop Gallery (Nashville). She has completed artist residencies at Yaddo, the Wassaic Project, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts among others and her work has been featured in Art Maze Mag, Maake Magazine, and New American Paintings.