This past fall, Maspeth’s Mrs. opened Outs & Ins, Sarah Palmer’s first solo exhibition at the space. Now extended through January 18, 2020, the show explores a charged territory of human and environmental vulnerability. Palmer’s new body of work colorfully stratifies a veritable collection of vernacular nudes, portraits, and catalog images. Through recontextualization, Palmer interrogates her chosen and constructed subjects and the nature of performance that is intrinsic in all photography.
With printed wallpaper and habotai silks, large dye-sublimation prints on aluminum – sharp and focused – float amidst the delicate fabric, creating a sheet of abstraction and expanse. The custom wallpaper, fantastical and grotesque, sources its images from the rare book Historiae Naturalis de Quadrupetibus Libri, 1650’s by the Polish scholar Jan Johnston. The artist digitally metamorphoses these drawings of quadrupeds both real and mythological as she transfigures them into ever more impossible creatures. Her silk prints waft through the exhibition, ghostly and strange, transcending the medium’s possibilities. Through these discordant textures and materials (hard and soft, matte and shiny), the tension between flatness and depth in this work is highlighted.
Palmer’s tableaux are deliberately sourced from photographic diagrams of the body, rape-prevention manuals, historical photographs of dance, Sears catalogs, found amateur erotic photographs, and images that the artist herself has captured. Here, feminine bodies are chaotically juxtaposed with textures of rugs, clenched fists, and heavy baroque drapery, often fabricating surreal and reimagined contexts. Within the process of repetitive printing, rephotographing, and modifying, holes are cut into the print’s substrate, forming apertures, while subjects, objects, and images recede into assemblage. Considering the poetry of H.D. and Emily Dickinson, the “textual” space created between these images acts like language. Flatness and depth play through these arrangements as dimensionality expands and contracts back into a tight picture plane. Utilizing certain images to hide and reveal others, Palmer composes these layered vignettes, altering them slightly throughout the process via the use of light and shadow. Foundational to these compositions is the feeling of or comparison to text, which relates directly to the artist’s process. Like language itself, Palmer’s work creates veins of communication and conversation, in the way that poems in a larger body of text are linked yet separate. There is a theatricality in her gestural narrative; a derived new context, highlighting an ambiguity of dissemination in an era of anonymity, whether a woman gazing at her image in a mirror, another looking coquettishly at the camera over her shoulder, or a disembodied hand grabbing a crotch.
Within this presentation, Palmer’s work resists the inherent truthfulness and grounded representationality of photography while remaining rooted in the lens, camera, process, and photography’s history and varied modes. The narratives presented in these images push back against convenient interpretation, with ideas folding out within and atop one another, as a series of found, incomplete stories.
Sarah Palmer’s solo exhibition Outs & Ins is on view at Mrs. through January 18, 2020.
All photos courtesy of the gallery.