Written by Kathryn McKinney
To visit Elisheva Biernoff’s first solo show “Look Out” at Eli Ridgway Gallery is an opportunity for a trip down memory lane, to walk through and think and feel for another place and time. The exhibit of tromp l’oeil paintings of photo realistic “snapshots” delivers the near universally pleasurable act of looking at old photos; an act embedded with its own nostalgia in the age of Instagram. The small works, mostly assembled as pairs, speak to the selective work of memory building, that inexact process by which our brains transform people and events into our own personal archetypes and metaphors. The work feels deeply personal and at the same time held at a distance, their assemblage, patina, and ambiguity making them relics of an era neither we nor the artist belong to currently, or can ever return.
It’s easy to imagine a narrative to the group, the man and woman in “Encounter” evolving into the relationship between the pair in “Couple”, or to see a year begin anew as “Snow” leads to “Blossom”. Cleverly separated by their respective picture planes, the painted photos engage each other in a manner deeply meaningful beyond their skilled rendering. Some more loosely associated, such as “Indoor Plants” ask the viewer to suspend the need for such literal interpretations. It’s nearly impossible not to think of Biernoff’s work in the context of Gerhard Richter, who himself did a series of found photo paintings, especially in her literal referencing of art history and other cultural imagery. At the center of the exhibit is “House of Cards”, a sculptural arrangement of 15 painted playing cards featuring historically and culturally relevant subjects, precariously balancing upon each other. The confluence of subjects hints at the delicacy and complexity of cultural iconography – vital to our own understanding of ourselves, but also highly susceptible to the whims of the current era, and ever bordering on the obsolete.
It’s little to wonder that a culture as new as our American one would have trouble with a concept like nostalgia. Often relegated to the consumer realms of Hallmark and Hollywood, we have little depth when it comes to the emotional rigor of remembering. “Look Out” offers an alternative, the long view as it were, of nostalgia and all its associations. Side stepping the saccharine realm of fairy tales (though a unicorn does make an appearance in her video “Mountains of Instead”), Biernoff instead delves into the more complex myth making inherent in our own understanding of the past and its relationship to our present. It’s in this process, of making mountains out of mole hills, and heroics out of simple gestures, that we aggrandize events to keep them near and clear to us, fiction and reality meeting in the beautiful blur of memory.
For more images and the press release follow the link below: