Artist to Artist

Inside a Domestic Setting-Turned-Gallery Space

Mother’s Day, 2008, Sharon Koelblinger

Sharon Koelblinger uses painting, drawing, photography, photo as object, and sculptural forms to explore parallel worlds and spacial relationships. I’m particularly interested in the way she deconstructs the photograph, a medium inherit with authenticity, to reveal a new way of understanding it as object. Sharon asserts in her artist statement: “When seen together, photographs resist representation and sculptures embrace trompe l’oeil affects to emphasize the disconnection between seeing and comprehending while negotiating the boundary between illusion and authenticity.”

I visited Sharon’s exhibit, Auspicious Arguments, at Black Oak House, Catherine Pancake and Miriam Stewart’s contemporary fine art gallery in West Philly, and developed a series of questions based on the work.

-Julianna Foster, curator

Julianna Foster: The Black Oak House is a gallery space in a domestic setting. How did you approach this space differently then you would have a more traditional gallery? In particular, can you speak about the piece Figure-8’s on Your Body and how it was installed?

Sharon Koelblinger: Showing my artwork in a house gallery initially presented a few challenges for me in thinking about how the content of my work relates to the space. Ultimately, I decided to embrace the domestic setting and draw upon my own familial history and consider the objects that my grandparents collected over the 60 years that they lived in their home. These works constitute the bulk of the exhibition.

In the past, the Figure-8’s piece was installed in the corner of a white-wall gallery space. I really liked that I was able to re-present that work for Black Oak House in a domestic setting. The piece references a paper chain that children often make and it seems more natural to be installed within the context of a home rather than a gallery. It greets viewers when they enter through the door as if they are arriving at a celebration, like a welcome to the exhibition.

There's Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy, Sharon Koelblinger
There’s Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy

JF: There’s Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy, installed in the dining room of the gallery, is isolated on the wall. I actually feel it commands the space, it’s quite a powerful image. Tell me about the choice of placement. Was this work made for this exhibit?

SK: Yes, it’s so interesting that you mention that piece, because it was in fact the artwork that was the impetus for the whole show. I had taken the blanket, seen in the photograph, from my grandfather’s house when he passed away. It was a wool blanket that I had never seen while he was alive and I had no personal connection to its history. I struggled with my lack of emotional connection to the blanket and other objects taken from his house. The mark-making on top of the photograph is a way of claiming the blanket as my own and ultimately turning it into something appreciated for its aesthetic value rather than for its utilitarian function.

Feathers From Your Wedding Hat, Sharon Koelblinger
Feathers From Your Wedding Hat

JF: I’m curious about the intersection between your use of photography, mark making, and sculptural forms. Can you speak about your focus on materiality? For instance, in the two works Feathers From Your Wedding Hat and Torn Pages, there is a delicateness to the feathers—pigment-printed on tracing paper—as opposed to the graphite-covered aluminum of Torn pages.

SK: Materials play a huge role in describing metaphor in my work. I was initially trained in sculpture before I worked in photography, so I often think about the form alongside the image. In my photographs, I create unexpected relationships to materials in an effort to ask the viewer to consider the images as objects that exist in the present rather than depicting moments of the past.

Torn Pages, Sharon Koelblinger
Torn Pages

In the works you mentioned, the forms reinforce the image: tracing paper serves as a substrate for delicate feathers and aluminum adds weight to a carved wooden journal. By placing these pieces next to one another, they engage in a dialog about duality: lightness and heaviness, revealing and witholding, ephemerality and permanence.

JF: Your titles, such as Mother’s Day, 2008, Your Coat Collar on Christmas, and There’s Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy, seem to refer to someone or a specific event or narrative. Does this body of work relate to your personal history?

SK: Yes, I do rely on titles to add a hint of personal narrative to my work. The artwork doesn’t necessarily reveal itself as intensely personal on its own, therefore I utilize titles as a way of creating a more intimate conversation between the works. All of the titles in this show address specific people that I have been in an close relationship with in some way, some who have passed away and some who are still living.

JF: What is your studio practice like?

SK: My process of working is heavily studio-based. I view my studio as a place of refuge where I can seek solice and quietly work on my projects. I typically work very slowly and many of my artworks are made through repeated gestures, therefore my studio practice often assumes a meditative tone.

Mother’s Day, 2008, Sharon Koelblinger
Mother’s Day, 2008

JF: What are some things you are currently reading, listening, to or viewing that are relevant to your work?

SK: Serendipitously, I began reading The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit at the time that I was preparing work for this show. The book touches on a few transitional moments in Solnit’s life, including her mothers declining health due to Alzheimer’s, and considers how she and others narrate their own story. In Auspicious Arguments, I was thinking a lot about the objects that connect me to other people’s histories and how my own present is intertwined with their past.

JF: What are your plans for the summer—what are you working on now?

SK: This summer, I plan on experimenting with video in my practice. I foresee that the inherently ephemeral nature of video will similarly share the tension between the temporal and the enduring that already exists in my work. Using video, I intend to explore the process of human perception through capturing subjects that are transformed throughout the duration of the piece by shifts in subtle nuances. What the viewer anticipates at the beginning may not be what they see at the end.

Sharon Koelblinger

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