Penelope Umbrico

Shallow Sun

May 3, 2015, to October 25, 2015

For artist Penelope Umbrico, light, and our changing relationship to it, has become one of the main subjects of a practice that challenges what normally constitutes ideas about photography and its presence in our lives. Umbrico is part of the first generation of artists to have participated in the transition from traditional photography to digital media and its attendant complexity. Rather than just swapping one technology for another, however, Umbrico has completely embraced the world in which photography now finds itself—a world where light is transformed into code and completely disassociated from its original context, and where even the sun has become a digital artifact.

This exhibition presents a ricocheting trajectory through photographic history: sunlight, shadows, apertures, dark rooms, chemical-based photography, photocopies, mechanical and electronic hardware (strobe lights, CRTs, ink-jet printing, pixel grids, LEDs), digital processing (image authoring software, video editing software, smart phone camera apps), and the infinite universe of images on the Internet.

Shallow Sun brings together a series of works that play off The Aldrich’s camera obscura, a feature that was included in the Museum’s new building in 2004. The most fundamental of all photographic technologies, the image in a camera obscura is based on contingency: the sunlit landscape that is immediately outdoors is projected “live” onto an interior wall. Here, Umbrico has subverted that process by placing an enclosure that houses a flat-screen monitor on the outside of the camera’s aperture. Playing on the monitor is a version of Umbrico’s piece Sun Screen, a looped, digital animation composed of still sun images the artist has found on the Internet. Sun Screen (Camera Obscura) has taken the fundamental contingent nature of the image in a camera obscura and replaced it with information that comes from the Cloud: sunlight that was turned into code, uploaded onto the Internet, and downloaded as code, converted into screen light, then “reprocessed” back into an image of the sun through analog technology.

In other works in the exhibition, Umbrico has photocopied images of solar eclipses from the picture collection of the New York Public Library and transformed them both by hand and with cell phone camera apps, expanding and engaging the way that an eclipse inverts the usual roles played by the sun and the moon. In the work Light Leaks (from smartphone camera apps) Umbrico has built a “black box,” a space that references both the camera obscura and the inside of a camera, and used it to house a video installation that is composed of an animated library of fake light leak camera app effects in an attempt to return these digital artifacts to the transcendental quality of natural light.

Richard Klein, exhibitions director

Penelope Umbrico was born in 1957 in Philadelphia. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Image: Penelope Umbrico, Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr, 2006-ongoing
Courtesy of the artist and Mark Moore Gallery, Culver City, CA

Circumstance highlights inspiration and its influence across object- making, through the specifically commissioned work of six multi- generational artists. The exhibitions underscore the intersection of installation art and exhibition design, and show how the convergence of fine art, design, and non-art objects within the exhibition format informs and elucidates creative expression. For six months, the entire museum facility — whose distinctive galleries range from the intimate to the spacious — will be transformed into “rooms” designed by the exhibiting artists, which will “read” as total works of art as they show their own work alongside objects and/or artworks by other artists they have selected. In some instances, works may extend outside of the Museum’s walls, providing alternative ways of perceiving space by offering extended lines of sight across the campus. In doing so, Circumstance attempts to explore the interstices where art and object come together, come apart, and reunify, by examining context, its many shifts and permutations, and tracing the movement of art and objects from the studio to the museum. In the captivating maze of intersecting rooms, craft, found, utilitarian, historical design, and everyday objects will sit beside works of art, informing us as to how artists take inspiration from what is around them. Selected artworks and objects will enhance our “reading” and innovatively offer—vis-à-vis a visual form of storytelling—intersecting and interdynamic narratives about these works of art and their makers, confronting us with larger questions about history, culture, and society. Participating artists Virginia Poundstone, Nancy Shaver, Ruby Sky Stiler, Penelope Umbrico, Elif Uras, and B. Wurtz will take center stage in the development, conceptualization, and reception of their work, as the Museum assists them to reveal never-before-seen aspects of their practice.