Mary Lum, “Poster” (2021), acrylic, found paper, and photo collage on paper, 30 x 22 inches
Mary Lum’s paintings on paper are based on collages, which are made from things she uses or encounters in her everyday life as well as photographs she takes of the places she visits. Looking at her works in the exhibition Mary Lum: When the Sky Is a Shape at Yancey Richardson (January 8–February 26, 2022), the writings of Michel de Certeau, particularly the essay “Walking in the City,” came to mind. In that essay (included in his 1984 book The Practice of Everyday Life), de Certeau makes the following comparison:
The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered. At the most elementary level, it has a triple “enunciative” function: it is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting out of language); and it implies relations among the differentiated positions, that is, among pragmatic “contracts” in the form of movements […]. It thus seems possible to give a preliminary definition of walking as a space of enunciation.
Using de Certeau’s comparison as a guide, I think a lot may be gained by considering Lum’s works as visual enunciations based on walks she has taken, and the multiple associations each daily adventure can stir up.