Patterns of Interference
Emerson Dorsch Gallery is proud to present Patterns of Interference, an exhibition featuring new photographs and video by Felecia Chizuko Carlisle. The exhibition opens on February 6th and is on view through March 27, 2021.
For the series of photographs, Carlisle hired a professional photographer to document objects under bright-colored light. The style is like that used to document an objet d’art or a scientific specimen, close-cropped and divorced from its context. A video, whose sound serves as the exhibition soundtrack, represents material shifts and distortion in graphite dust on the surface of a shaman drum. Again, the frame eliminates context so that scale is ambiguous. The spectacle represented could be geological in scale or it could be dust on a drum.
You can create the story you want about these geometric objects whose creases and planes are disrupted by wrinkles and flecks of matter; these are not ideal Platonic objects.
One story might be
“BB Smith, née Berenice A Barbara K Smith, a precocious child, experimented with making geometric objects in her father’s studio in the mid-1960s. She returned to them years later and found them distorted by age and the pressures of safe-keeping. It seemed right somehow to bring them with her on a scientific expedition to Hawai’i, where she planned to photograph structural formations of the ongoing volcanic eruptions in Kīlauea. Once there, she met Dr. Henri Genet, a scientist who was studying the crystalline molecular structure of lava rock and sound vibrations’ impact on the process of “growing” internal and endlessly varying patterns. The scientist insisted on the veracity of documentation but was frustrated by the residue leftover from the documentation process. Lost now in a reverie induced by the interposition of a hellish landscape and paradise, Smith folded her old papers into forms reminiscent of the molecular structures. She, unlike the scientist, was untroubled by literal veracity. She rubbed layers of graphite over her papers; somehow this seemed the best way to respond to ropey expanses of lava, whose basaltic composition made it dark gray and silvery at times, depending on the light, just like graphite. As Genet drifted off on his own, BB honed in on her new project, finding philosophical and scientific truths in these folded worlds. She left her little sculptures; the lava flows were approaching the town, and she had to flee. These objects recreate her project”.
This of course is fiction.
Pieces of truth, different moments in time, and different stories layer over one another. The process of folding and unfolding leaves scars. Though the fiction may be intriguing, in the mode of an easy-reading novel, the tropes and narrative tendencies enacted here are far less confounding than what comes closer to the truth. Many of Carlisle’s past works and projects express longing, mourning, dislocation, and anxiety alongside the urge to develop and nurture community. In this show, she is brutally concise, giving us a tightly conceived and beautiful critique of the world as she saw it. Remember that at the time of this work’s conception, the administration had decided to pull out of the climate accords, and, the work is marked by the trauma of the pandemic and nation-wide protests. Community building is for another time.
Carlisle’s video, titled Post-Horizon Song, Duet Op.1, was influenced by the work of Dr. Hans Jenny, a Swiss physicist who created hundreds of filmed recordings that demonstrate how sound animates matter and organizes it into patterned structures, and German scientist Ernst Chladni, who was one of the pioneers of experimental acoustics. She filmed particulates’ movement on the surface of a drum. Different materials move at varying speeds in response to vibration. The tightness of the frame around the subject eliminates references for scale, so that the peaks and valleys in the piles of dust could just as easily be on a desolate planet, or on our own before the evolution of plant life or after their destruction. The speed of topological transformation in the miniature becomes horrific when scaled up. And yet, the acid dayglo palette heightens the images’ artifice, holding the terror at bay. The movement of the graphite dust is mesmerizing, even when watching would-be continents disintegrate and form again.
The video casts an acoustic shadow over the show, its sound serving as soundtrack for the photographs, whose style Carlisle relates to Barbara Kasten’s staged images and the scientific photography of Berenice Abbott. To produce her photographs, Carlisle hired a professional photographer to shoot folded paper objects in a straight style typical of documentation. Having planned the compositions precisely, she enlisted the photographer to reproduce the surface with the greatest fidelity. These objects, reminiscent of the flat planes and sharp corners of Minimalist art, fight that designation, for their folds are irregular. Carlisle worried the paper by rubbing graphite over it layer after layer. The paper’s texture becomes pockmarked and grated, far from the industrially smooth surfaces of ABC Art. A vibrant colored hue permeates some of the larger photographs while others are grayscale.
In her notes that accompany the show, Carlisle invokes a shift in pedagogy developed at Bauhaus. In Matter Studies (Materiestudien), both Johannes Itten and Josef Albers tasked students with exploring surface texture with a variety of different materials. In Material Studies (Materialstudien), Albers restricted students to a single material, with the goal to discover its essence.
Carlisle plays with the phonic slippage between the two terms (Materie and Material) with a term of her own,
She deploys the term as a verb to describe the way matter exists and behaves. In her photographs art and time fold and unfold.
Around the same time, her mother was leaving Hawai’i en route to rural Alabama, Bebe Smith and her sisters were making origami sculptures in her father’s studio. The fictional BB Smith would have fled Leilani Estates in 1984, just before the lava flows destroyed the town. The same caldera in Kīlauea erupted again in 2018, when Carlisle returned to Hawai’i, closing a distance wrought over two generations.
Paper objects can be monumental. Their duality in space and time layer geographic and topological shifts. The video also, in its depictions of sound’s impact on matter, emits a thrumming energy into the room. The impact of its vibrations on bodies and the art is, until now, unknown.
The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday 12 to 5 and by appointment. Visit the website, emersondorsch.com, to reserve a time to visit. In what is her fourth solo exhibition for the gallery, this mid-career artist delivers her most incisive project, a tightly and well-researched set of three concepts with exquisite results.
We would like to thank Francesco Casale, Ariel Bustamante, Pablo Thiermann, Elisabeth Condon, and Marcos Cherlo for their roles, large and small, in helping to produce this show. It would not be as much fun without you.