Shannon Ebner: A Language of Exposures @Wallspace

JTF (just the facts): A total of 6 black and white photographic works (including 1 diptych and 1 set of 18 prints), framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. All of the prints are Epson prints, individually sized between 24×20 and 75×43. The show also includes 1 single channel video (29 seconds long) displayed on a screen. All of the works are available in editions of 5 and were made between 2009 and 2013. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Shannon Ebner’s new show continues her ongoing investigation of the intersection of photography and language. Her constructed images shuttle back and forth between legibilty and abstraction, parsing language into letters and symbols and arranging these objects into diagramatic systems that can be both “read” and enjoyed for their formal qualities. Cinder blocks, cardboard, and wood are at once sculpturally textural raw materials and linguistically representative signs.

The largest work on view (covering the better part of two walls) explodes the words of a poem (itself stitched together from phrases found in the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat) into an array of single capital letters, which are then arranged in spaced grids that can be read with some attentive effort. The organization of the letters frustrates easy understanding, pushing the work back toward repetition and black and white pattern, like a code to be deciphered. Ebner breaks this idea down further with a photograph of elemental shapes made of cinder blocks (squares, circles, triangles, and other angled forms) that seem like they should be readable in some way, but retreat into graphical linear symbols. The image in the back room captures a black and white peg board tool template, where silhouettes of chains, hooks, and dangling pulleys become their own kind of workshop hieroglyphics, while the video work interleaves male and female torsos into a jittering, spinning combination of fleetingly identifiable parts. In every work, symbols are constructed that take on multiple, layered roles and meanings, sometimes legible and sometimes obscure.

Ebner’s high contrast photographs smartly test the limits of visual writing, unpacking and reconsidering how forms become systems and systems become representative language. They ask for and require from the viewer a puzzle maker’s cerebral curiosity, continually breaking down and reconnecting while looking, searching for arrangements that fit together and texts that can be decoded.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced based on size and number of prints in the work, starting at $8000 for the smallest single image and ending at $75000 for the 18 image piece. Intermediate prices include $12000 and $16000, and the video is priced at $10000.  Ebner’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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