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Images and Things

Emily Newman's Sightings, FLUXX Gallery 

February 2013

“Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it’s caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself.”

― Maurice Merleau-Ponty

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Close up of “The Misperception of Objects On Carpet" Photo: FLUXX

Review by guest contributor Benjamin Gardner

March 5, 2013

My first experience with Emily Newman’s exhibition at FLUXX could be taken as a simplistic read, though I think that it is actually a poignant one; it feels like Newman is invested in making work about what predominantly happens in our peripheral vision—the fleeting moment that you think a brown paper bag is actually a small mammal, the perceptual mixing of images (what is reported to our brain), objects (the three dimensional-ness of that image in how we can navigate within it), and meaning.  If there is a rabbit in my periphery, I might walk more slowly as to not scare it away.  If there is a brown paper bag, my reaction is obviously much different, and hopefully I walk over to it and pick it up for proper disposal or reuse. 

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Close up of "I Thought It Was a Bunny' Photo: FLUXX

The way that Newman’s work does this, however, is by asking the viewer to look on an instinctive level that is counter-intuitive in the gallery setting.  More often than not, we are forcing meaning and understanding upon work in a gallery.  Newman’s work in the exhibition unfolds infinitely when one can look at them with normal cognition—the looking and thinking that we (within Merleau-Ponty’s "fabric of the world”) accomplish while driving, walking, and multi-tasking.  This unfolding is found in the meaning located within the context of the ways that we see objects and assign meaning to their form.  In the piece Misperception of Objects on Carpet, for example, not only do the three sculptural forms sticking up from the carpet have their own image/objectness, but their cast shadows also create an additional image of each; were the viewer looking only at the shadows, those shadow-images could reference an entirely different form.   What we anticipate would make a shadow on a carpet (which is domestic and familiar) is undoubtedly different than the crab claw or jawbone and teeth that are actually casting the shadow.  The piece is both familiar and out of place; quite stunning and ephemeral, and creates a sort of loop of perception and interpretation. 

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Installation shot Photo: FLUXX

Photography, too, is an added complexity to the relationship between image and object; the camera pretends that it understands the three dimensional space which we inhabit but it only does so by an averaging of light and shadow.  In the installation of photographs titled Pilgrimage and the single image Mistakes on Salt Lake Newman is working with the image as a signifier of reality in a physical manifestation.  It smoothly takes some of the cognition required for the three-dimensional work and applies it to the material of photography.  Additional image-reality relationships are formed in Pilgrimage by using two images, separated by a border, of the same scene and different manifestations of symmetry throughout the piece.  In most places the gold and silver leaf work perfectly—snapping the viewer out of a believable space, but in a few areas it was more difficult for me to make the leap and see it as more than material addition. 

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“Beauty In The Daily Pick-up" Photo: FLUXX

Newman’s exhibition is incredibly well thought out and transforms the gallery space in a way that many artists yearn for—by asking us to be cognizant of the work in a different manner.  The pure ephemerality of the exhibition is incredibly fitting; we don’t always see Beauty in the Daily Pickup of dog feces, but aesthetic moments, images, and objects are a standard structure of our understanding of reality.  

Benjamin Gardner is an artist living and working in Des Moines, Iowa.  He is also an Assistant Professor of Art + Design at Drake University where he teaches drawing classes as well as courses that explore personal identity theories, existentialism, and ideas of place, space, and living.  Additionally, Ben spends a lot of time growing food, looking at the sky, and reading about folklore and superstition.  He maintains a website that collects artist’s writings (Methodsofbeing.com).  You can see Ben’s studio work at benjaminagardner.com