On the top floor at the ICP-Bard studios lives an experience. As I walk up the stairs to the exhibition from Marla Hernandez, the expectation (seeing how this is a program in advance photographic study) is to see photographs. But Hernandez invites the viewer into a space that immediately throws that normal expectations out the window. Initially confronted with a small a photograph lives inside an envelope, the work starts to play on the viewers physical distance to the work. For this piece demanded I look closer — and soon I found out that much of the work demands a specific interactions.
Familiar objects appear. The material that her photographs are printed on recall for me the softness of fabric. I know how this feels and I want to touch it. But should I touch the work? I decide to step back and fight my urge and give my full attention to the piece. The photograph simulates what I want to feel. The photograph of a cloth mimics its softness but yet its disrupted with high contrast. The work is pushing and pulling my senses in an interesting ways. Is that the value of a photographic work that lives off the wall?
To my right a bright color is glowing. A florescent pink calls me to it, but it rejects me. In neon, the words ‘Fuck You’ appear. I move on. There is a room that is guarded by a black cloth, similar to the photograph. I push through, for my immediate reaction is get the cloth out of my way so I can see! On the other side lives a dark room. There are several pieces glowing, and in the center is box shape. The darkness is still and quiet. As you sit in the space your eyes change and so do the pieces.
I notice there are some stairs in the space leading up to something. My initial reaction was to walk up the stairs to view the work presented at the top. The vertigo I feel when being up high while looking at that piece that is pointed down reminded me of my position in within the space, which was not a normal one. This brings forth the ideas of illusion and power through out the work. What better way to talk about these things then through other senses then your eyes.
I had a chance to sit down and talk with Marla about her work:
Jacob Garcia: I often times find the show title to be somewhat of a key to an exhibition. Can you talk about what the word Revisit means?
Marla Hernandez: I wanted to pick a title that suited the somewhat elusive nature of my work. Revisit came up as it represented both the immersive nature of installation and the ritualistic aspect of objects coming together. I chose the title also because it’s relative to the aspect of haunting. A haunt typically is a place someone comes back to again and again and likewise, for a ghost, which represents a replaying of a historicized moment. When the installation is together it manifests a presence.
JG: Following up on that question, the word visit tends to be a way for a person to position their body. We visit this place or I am visiting you.. Can you talk about your work in relation to the bodily experience?
MH: I absolutely agree, visit or visiting is a specific action that talks about bodily presence. I call upon the viewer’s experience of art to be one of both touch and sight. The materials and sculptural elements call upon a sensuality that is both tactile and seductive. The level of bodily experience is activated on a spectrum throughout the works. At it’s height of sensuality is within the darkened room in which I remove the better part of your sense of seeing in the exhibition. In this space I think that the darkness helps to create a deeper sense of fluidity of bodies in an ambiguous space. In addition, the darkness maintains a certain level of anonymity between the viewers to maintain intimacy.
JG: How do materials function in your work? The work has photographic elements, but a lot of it blurs the line between photography and sculpture.
MH: At first, the curiosity of working with plastic and metal netting, plexiglass, silk, chain, and found objects had a direct relationship to the lens and the camera, as I’d construct environments with the materials for photographing. The materials began to take on an allegorical meaning in my work, exemplifying other themes of seduction and concealment as they began to stand on their own rather than for their depictive quality in a picture. In this way, the objects have a flexible relationship; they are either at the will of photographic abstraction or have the authority to subvert simply being a photograph. This push and pull of photography and sculpture is demonstrated by my piece Silk Palm, a photograph printed on silk that subverts photographic presentation by being draped on a chain so that it is not wholly visible and irreverent to the rectangle.
JG: I am always curious how one starts to bring the photograph “off” the wall. When did you start making pieces that were more sculptural?
MH: I must first acknowledge, this was a scary moment for me as a photographer and I wanted it so bad. There is always a kind of “filter” or “safety” in presenting objects and sculptures as photographs compared to presenting the things themselves. Once objects are in the room with you, a whole world of relationships opens up between the viewer, the architecture, and history of a space. However, it seemed like an important natural progression for my work because I was equally concerned with the viewer and spatial relationships within my pictures. My first sculptural pieces were these shadow boxes that contained images of staged environments I photographed then placed florescent orange and hot pink plexi glass inside that served the spatial planes of the pictures themselves. They are very special pieces to me and it is evident in the kind of magic and preciousness they contain.
JG: Lets talk about your “Shrouded Sculpture.” It is mentioned in the press release and it seems to be an important part of the show. Can you tell us more about that piece?
MH: There are many layers to this piece, both the relationship of photography and sculpture that I am blurring and point to mysticism and allegory that is part of the installation. Conceptually speaking, I am covering a sculpture with a large silk sewn shroud that contains a collage of chains I photographed. In this particular situation, I am talking about the mutability and relationships of the materials; a pliable fabric that conforms to the shape of the sculpture while still concealing what exactly is underneath with image. The “sculpture” itself has a direct relationship to size of a body. That much is evident but, what I am concealing, or restraining, or protecting is never revealed.
JG: You speak about demonstrating power and seduction with your work — specifically through the materials you use. I have two questions concerning this:
What is your fascination with these ideas of power and seduction?
Are your uses of particular materials that suggest these dynamics derived from a historical context or a personal one?
MH: The materials definitely relate to both a historical context and have some personal decisions. Importantly, I think that my ideas of power and seduction are related to confounding understandings of power and that seduction in itself is a form of power. Things like hypnosis and enticement have the same type of draw compared to direct forms of power. So in that way, some of my smallest pieces, like the security envelope, suggest a kind of power that seduces and brings you closer, to have an intimate relationship with the art, unlike the experience of power one may feel when looking at a large scale piece by Richard Serra or Michael Heizer in which I feel more distance is created between the body and the work through it’s sheer scale. And as for the context of materials, historically speaking, vision’s relationship to materials and the body, especially in the context that Michel Foucault wrote about the panopticon in Discipline and Punish or in Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer in which he described the “tangibility” of vision as an integral part of classical theories of optics in the 17th and 18th century. Drapery became a focal point of painting in its ability to describe a realness in which one might reach out and touch the fabric to reveal the photograph behind it but only to find that it was apart of the painting itself. Aside from the historical aspects of vision and touch, my own aspect of seduction is apparent in the choice of materials I use and sometimes their particular personal relationship to my own body and experiences.