Elissa Levy

September 7 – November 18, 2018

Elissa joins us from New York to be a resident under the VisArts/Quirk residency program. Elissa will use her time and access to the studios to expand on her current body of work, culminating in a solo exhibition guest curated by Lauren Ross. Her great appreciation for craft in contemporary art, owed in part to her background work in glass at the Rhode Island School of Design, thoughtfully merges an exploration of male icons and a process of experimentation with the materiality of newspaper. Commenting on the portrayal of power and masculinity in the media, Levy’s artistic process involves reacting to pre-existing materials such as fabric and found newspapers. Levy has made printed media her primary material for art-making, attracted to its physicality and conceptual potential. Levy cuts, plasters, draws, tears, embroiders, and paints pages of newspapers to create flat sculptures that under cheerful neon colors, hide images of powerful men, yet simultaneously, emphasize these figures’ projection of power and influence.

Artist Statement

Taking imagery from newspapers and magazines, I deconstruct the icons of power that populate printed media, such as soldiers, athletes, celebrities and politicians. When their forms are isolated, they become stripped of identifiable cues of influence or fame and reduced to ghost-like apparitions; yet they still retain their posture of authority. Here, soldiers and politicians evoke the two-pronged waging of war from the metaphorical halls of power and the trenches, each isolated from the realities of the other. Athletes and celebrities invoke social hierarchies in which entertainers are cultural idols, and sports matches provide endless dramatizations of the heroic gearing up and going into battle.

The public platform of the newspaper shows us our own fascination not just with glory, but also shame and self-loathing. The shamed figure is remarkably similar in its media depiction, and it is clear that public shaming can bring one fame as well.  What are the differences between glory and dishonor?  Even suffering loss is celebrated in the media, and we can pin our fears on that person, and hope that they will help assuage our own guilt. When we see the president bow his head in shame for a national crisis, he carries that weight for us.

As a medium that is nearing obsolescence, the newspaper is becoming a relic, a found object to be edited and transformed with cuts, tears, stitching, color and plaster into a makeshift future remnant. Some pieces are crumpled and spray-painted as if they are carefully constructed trash and then presented, or in some cases, reprinted on archival papers to add another layer of construction.  Other imagery is cut up and sunk into plaster and hydrocal, evoking fossils or fragments of monuments.

I approach this work with a punk DIY ethos; using craft and everyday materials, I alter not only the shape, but also the context. While aggressively eradicating these figures in their current mass-reproduced form, I am changing them into otherworldly silhouettes that distract from their social constructs and allow us to see the whole of them.