flow freely / downspouts

In continuation of a long standing tradition the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, known for its support and promotion of regional contemporary art, selected Haylee Ebersole, from a group of nominated artists, for the emerging artist of the year for 2017. Her work appears on the second floor in the back three exhibition spaces of the facility. For the exhibition, entitled New Works, Ebersole has included all non-representational work including: a preponderance of free standing and wall mounted sculpture where she used a method of casting and dehydrating gelatin transformed into hardened crystallized structures augmented with a small grouping of framed monotype prints.

One of the most engaging sequences of work occurs in the second exhibition space. Here we see what looks to be ten otherworldly, brightly colored, rust embedded, very large snake skins on the wall, at times reaching and touching the floor in what is entitled flow freely/downspouts, dehydrated and crystallized gelatin approximately 108” x 5” x 2”. We know that they are not snakeskins based on their coloration, however once the connection is made it can’t be broken. Also, in this space are seven framed monotype prints entitled cosmic dandruff. In these prints Ebersole‘s mastery of the medium carries the day. There is a dialogue here, referencing some of the sculptural tendencies – flattening out what looks to be skin or tissue of some kind but yet they also feel like they could be overhead shots of floating island topographies. The control that she exerts in these prints is missing in most of the sculptural pieces with the exception of some of her larger floor works. She combines a delicate line sensibility, creating a webbed like structure which resembles fishing net with one small opaque area trapped within it. The combination of these pieces, their respective placement and the more sparse arrangement within the space is very effective and induces a feeling of tranquility. She mentions in her statement that the process she used for the sculptures entails using the cast gelatin molds which are somewhat volatile and where the process dictates to some extent the outcome. I prefer the prints. We get a much better sense of her hand in the outcome and her delicate, graceful, nuanced approach to color, line, and form provides the viewer a rich and deeper experience.

Too often, she crams the exhibition spaces with work arranged haphazardly and this takes away from the pieces that are visually interesting. The sculptural wall pieces in the third room look like they could be paintings on slightly skewed surfaces and are clunky in comparison to her crafted prints. We do see evidence of her sensitivity to materials and craft in some of the floor sculptures, which possess a light, airy, quality but only sporadically. Perhaps this incongruity is connected to how Ebersole applies meaning to her work. Instead of letting the work speak for itself, which at times it does very effectively Ebersole’s heavy handed overreaching emphasis on an elaborate meta narrative about what the work means best illustrates and or reflects the art world’s subservience to our language dominated culture and its preoccupation with attempting to legitimize itself because of its perceived inferiority complex. And is all of this somehow a by-product of our art educational system? Why can’t we just respond to the work without being directed? After all it is non-representational.

Again, I think we have to reconcile as artists, art educators and art audiences what we can truly expect from our collective visual output in regard to how we attempt to frame it in writing. Are we establishing unrealistic expectations via our heavy handed language centered constructs for our visual output? In her statement Ebersole opines, I view my work as a metaphor for empowerment and resistance by revealing the links between the multiple, the body, and capitalism through use of gelatin and the forms of serialized manufactured goods. Huh, well there you have it. How can the work possibly live up to these lofty heights?

Scott Turri, Pittsburgh Editor

Volume 32 no 4 March/April 2018 pp 27-28

3 thoughts on “Haylee Ebersole at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

  1. “I view my work as a metaphor for empowerment and resistance by revealing the links between the multiple, the body, and capitalism through use of gelatin and the forms of serialized manufactured goods.” That is a bit lofty for what looks like stretched out balloons! Scott I totally agree with you; this sounds like how they used to write about art in the 70s.

  2. Hi Neil — thanks for reading and responding to my review. In person, the work’s physical presence can be felt much more than a small photographic image can provide and I felt that there were some visually interesting pieces in the exhibition. That being said, yes, in my estimation the work couldn’t possibly live up to the language used to frame it. Perhaps the emphasis on language and its connection to art grew out of the wellspring of MFA programs around the country during the 60’s and 70’s and this influence has had a lasting impact.

  3. Neil and Scott:

    You are both on target. As to the origin of this type “artist statement” I’d go all the way back to the 60s when the audience for art expanded to include, eventually, just about everyone with a college education and beyone. It seemed to answer the question, “How can I understand your art?”, a question that is not really a matter of taste, cultivated or otherwise, but a question that is addressed to the intellect, which is best satisfied by an intellectualized concoction. That, combined with the general assumption that art is about extra special things, seems to have granted permission for the explanations to wander around like tumbleweeds in a vast field of lofty academic artspeak jargon, as well as the “temper of the times” stuff that appears on the same pages as restaurant reviews. The simple answer – you have to look for yourself and enjoy if you enjoy – does not seem like “understanding” to most in the expanded audience. Many, myself included, think the expansion took place mostly in the middlebrow section, especially those with a college education.

    That said, artists should be grateful when anyone likes their work, including those who like it for all the wrong reasons.

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