Artist of the Week (Possibly Fortnight) 3/26/09
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
---William Carlos Williams
A poet I went to college with once pointed to Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" as his epiphany point, the poem he had read early on that helped flipped the switch and illuminate for him what it was that poetry does, what it is about. Poetry remains the art form that entirely humbles me. It's as close as we people get to having any means to convey reality, in my opinion...as close as we get to having just a peek behind us, out into the daylight from where we stand in the cave, before being forced back to contemplate the shadows on the wall. This is a particularly American (or at least not universal) interpretation of poetry, I realize, but I'm comfortable with that.
Nearly every photograph I see by Chicago-based artist Melanie Schiff has that quality to it, a Williams-esque call to see things as they really are but purposely tinged with an admittedly human awkwardness. In that way, Schiff seems to be very generously trying to help us have our own epiphany moments.
Any number of the works in her first solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta's Gallery in Chicago illustrates this, but the one that did it for me...the one that flipped some switch in my head was this one:
Melanie Schiff, Untitled (cases), 2005, digital c-print, 30" x 37", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
Schiff is known for her playful approach to using light. But she's also known, as was Williams, for using everyday objects to make her point. In the press release for her first exhibition at Kavi's they note:
The moments she addresses are quiet and waver on the edge of a constructed poetic narrative and an instant found by chance. Her investigations and use of natural light through windows and objects such as empty CD cases and light fixtures form prisms of color and phenomenon of light and shadow. One might point to magic or alchemy as a starting point of her work, though these moments of chance and mystery infiltrate the commonplace detritus of an event including scattered beer cans, bottles, books, records and personal effects revealing what could be seen as a spiritual happening through a series of mundane objects.
Melanie Schiff, Emergency, 2006, digital c-print, 28" x 19 3/4", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
Bambino and I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Melanie's work in Kavi's storage room a few years back. Seeing these pieces in such a context, amidst all the tools and packing materials commonly found in galleries' back rooms, amplified my ability to understand how Schiff seems to be asking the viewer to see the world around them.
In addition to using everyday objects as her subjects, portraiture is another important part of Schiff's work. Where I find the work particularly irresistible is where she combines the humor and playful use of light with (self?)-portraits:
Melanie Schiff, Spit, 2006, digital c-print, 30" x 33", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
As also noted in the first show's press release, "[t]he eye of the woman photographer is extremely present in Schiff's" work. Indeed, in the text about her work for the 2008 Whitney Biennial, which she had been invited to participate in, the curators tell us:
Schiff was strongly influenced by feminist performance artist Carolee Schneemann, and her vivid, bodily mode of self-portraiture frequently bears the traces of kindred spirits like Ana Mendieta and Valie Export—in Mud Reclining (2006), the artist depicts herself as a muckcovered odalisque stretching languorously in a tropical landscape, evoking both the former’s Siluetas and the latter’s Body Configurations series—or Hannah Wilke, whose body appliqués are jokily reconceived as a pair of raspberry pasties in boobberry (2003).
Melanie Schiff, Mud, 2006, digital c-print, 30" x 30", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
Indeed, humor and a playful spirit seems to win out in Schiff's work over the drier sort of insights you find among some other photographers mining the same veins these days. The level of access that adds to her work is brilliant in my opinion. This piece, for example, always makes me smile:
Melanie Schiff, Neil Young, Neil Young, 2006, digital c-print, 30" x 40", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
According to her CV on the gallery website, Melanie has another solo exhibition coming up in Chicago in 2009 (I assume next Fall). Some of the newer images on her artist's page suggest she's working more in portraiture these days, even when (as she frequently will) the subject's face is obscured and the body is more of a formal device than personality. These two gorgeous and quietly charming pieces are good examples:
Melanie Schiff, Last Lagoon, 2008, c-print mounted and framed, 50" x 60". Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
Melanie Schiff, Untitled, 2008, archival inkjet print, 49" x 40", edition of 5. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.
I'm very much looking forward to the new show.
Labels: Artist of the Week