by A. Will Brown
Emma Spertus’ work can be found just around the corner from the Lake Merritt Bart station at “Real Time and Space,” a studio complex housed in an open, almost barn-like building. The building was once a printing facility, which is eerily appropriate as Spertus began her art practice making prints. Originally from Berkeley, Spertus spent three years in New York while enrolled in Hunter College’s MFA program. Upon returning to Oakland, she founded Real Time and Space, which promotes dialogue and community among local artists. Fostering this small but thriving community of artists, curators, and writers is only one of Spertus’ contributions to Bay Area arts and culture. Recently, she completed a two-month residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts.
Spertus’ work is primarily based in sculpture, installation and architectural intervention. One could describe her practice as an ongoing investigation of the interplay between the notions of image as object, and object as image. When looking around the studio with Emma, I noticed a work titled, “For Wall or Floor”, resting, appropriately on the floor and immediately asked myself if it was a work or a part of the space? By placing an image of a power chord on the floor in lieu of an actual chord—taped as though purely functional and part of the trimmings of an exhibition space—Emma intervened in my viewing experience, offering me the chance to evaluate both how and what I was seeing and to think about why she had done this. Strikingly, she did all of this with an elegantly simple maneuver. It is as if she is always one step ahead, offering more with every step one takes. In her words, she is primarily concerned with “unhinging the viewing experience and accepted conventions of objecthood” not just in the gallery, but throughout the spaces in which their lived experiences take place. A series entitled “Fake Books”, which was originally made for a group show at the Apartment Gallery in Vancouver, is as the title suggests. Spertus took real books and made fake covers for them, often incorporating imagery and themes from within the books themselves, but altering them with subtle humor and a conceptual rigor that made the texts appear not as art or beautiful objects, but as engaging reading material (what any book, at least traditionally, is meant for). The artist described the process of working with book cover designs, or graphic design pre-computers as an unusual layer, especially as she re-designed the covers with such software. In addition to her interest in images and objects, her work often plays with the subtle differences between digital and analog.
It is remarkable that Spertus makes her work—refiguring complex image-object relationships into readable and thought provoking forms—look simple, clean and effortless; all the while using incredibly simple and inexpensive materials, which one would normally deem of little significance—cardboard, gaffers tape, recycled wood, and photocopied images.
There is a discernment with which Spertus works, that, once you meet her and discuss both her interests and projects, becomes deeply complex and remarkably accessible. The non-pretension and deep fascination with the world of images, ideas and materials with which Spertus works is refreshing to say the least.
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