Erin Shirreff @Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 photographic, sculptural, and video works, variously framed, and hung against white walls in the entry and back galleries; the single video is shown in a darkened space in the main gallery.

The following works are included in the show:

  • 4 dye sublimation and archival pigment prints, 2018, sized roughly 52×72, 71×60, 88×37 inches, in editions of 4
  • 4 cyanoypes on book page(s), 2018, sized roughly 10×7, 11×15 inches, unique
  • 1 color video, silent, 2018, 45 minutes, edition of 3
  • 2 cyanotype photogram on muslin over panel or canvas, 2018, sized 80×70, 96×96 inches, unique
  • 5 waxed hydrostone sculptures on pedestal, 2018

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: While Erin Shirreff’s sublimely elegant bookplate pairings of elemental sculptural forms are perhaps her best known body of work, her sophisticated interest in the perception of form has always extended beyond photography to include sculpture, video, and other experimental media. It takes a certain eye to see how two halves of unrelated sculpture can come together to become something transformative (and not random), and it is that same eye that then wants to unpack those piece part forms and reimagine them in other ways.

In Shirreff’s most recent show, it’s a bit a hard to figure out the causal chain of thinking that underlies the which-came-first progression of one expression of an idea to the next. It seems plausible that the cycle began once again with the book plates, which she has enlarged here to the point that subject matter recedes into fields of dark and light and the dots of the halftone printing process become visible. From there, Shirreff has sliced and diced the images into strips, arcs, and curved forms, which she has mounted to aluminum and staged inside deep frames. Her results find an intriguing balance between a sense of thrown together leaning casualness and a very specific eye for control, arrangement, and three-dimensional spatial interaction. Make no mistake, these are joltingly excellent works that interrogate the nature of photographic object-ness with intelligence and authority.

If we assume that the process of making these cutouts may have left all kinds of scraps on the proverbial cutting room floor, then perhaps Shirreff’s recent sculptural works are what came next in the aesthetic evolution. Cast in a chalky white material, paper scraps take full depth and volume, changing the flat two dimensional experience into a theater-in-the-round set of moving vantage points and perspectives. Of particular note is the figure/ground dichotomy, where we look through the cutouts to see evolving inversions of form. Shirreff then takes this idea up in a return to the intimacy of the book plates, where she inserts cyanotype backgrounds into plates of more representative sculpture. Her blue backdrops spotted with white marks like stars in the night sky isolate the figures, recontextualizing them against the open-ended timelessness of space. This is a simple idea, but effective enough in turning a textbook into something more expansive.

The sculptures also push Shirreff in another direction, where the white forms become the basis for layered cyanotype “paintings”. In these works, the cutouts are re-envisioned on strips of muslin which are collaged together or arranged in all-over patterns circles and arcs, where positive and negative oscillate back and forth. This cycling motion then takes a new form in a video piece, where a single circular orb shifts through a seemingly endless set of variations and progressive changes, where light leaks, cast shadows, and subtle color movements animate the blackness of the void. In this medium, the meditative transitions become the point of interest, with the central form relatively staying fixed.

Seen together, all of these bodies of work effectively weave into an aesthetic brocade, creating formal back and forth dialogues in nearly all possible combinations and pairings. The leaning halftone scraps are the most innovative artistic expressions on view here, but the others play their supporting roles with grace, enriching the larger conversation about how investigations of form evolve through different mediums. Bringing photography into the realm of three dimensions can often feel forced or awkward, but Shirreff’s contemporary forays into this territory are consistently filled with intuitive refinement and balance, giving pictures, and their formal echoes, an opportunity to occupy space with more physical presence.

Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show are priced as follows. The dye sublimation and archival pigment print works are $35000 or $36000 each. The smaller cyanotypes on book pages are $4500 or $5500 each, based on size. And the cyanotype photograms on muslin over panel/canvas are $45000 or $55000 each, again based on size. Shirreff’s work has not yet entered the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option form those collectors interested in following up.

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