Shotgun Review

Let’s Change

By Shotgun Reviews February 27, 2012

Mariah Robertson’s installation activates Grand Arts’ gallery space: framed works lean against temporary walls jutting at odd angles, photographs descend from the ceiling and tumble over the concrete floor. All eight of the New York–based artist’s photographs on display in Let’s Change—five framed, one rolled into a cylinder, and two draped from the ceiling and over walls—simultaneously function as sculpture, painting, and photography.

Robertson employs traditional darkroom techniques, such as cutting negatives and exposing chemical-coated paper to light, but to atypical ends. In 13 (2012), her process is akin to an abstract expressionist painter’s: she splatters and drips chemicals, creating splashes and streaky fields of colors. The artist’s controlled exposures leave behind silhouettes of her hands in 100 (2012); they are visual remnants of the work’s creation. Elsewhere, the photos lead a viewer’s eye in a nonlinear fashion from one recognizable image to another, as in the high-rise buildings and beach landscapes in 4 (2011) or the cartoonish skulls and crossbones replaced by male nudes in 11 (2012).

But it’s not always easy to get a good look at those figures and landscapes. The undulating folds of 4 obscure much of the imagery covering the one-hundred-foot-long by thirty-inch-wide sheet of Fujifilm Crystal Archive paper. It’s impossible to see the entire one hundred feet of either 4 or 11 from a single vantage point. Viewers must walk around the gallery and crane their necks, stoop, or squat to take in an entire tableau. Robertson’s photographs are sites of a tug-of-war between two-dimensional image and three-dimensional form—with gallery-goers’ bodies in the middle. Here, photographs transcend their pictorial dimensions, becoming the materials for a sculptural installation that directs a viewer’s four-dimensional movement.


Mariah Robertson. Let’s Change; installation view, Grand Arts, Kansas City, 2012. Courtesy of Grand Arts, Kansas City, MO.

In Let’s Change, Robertson revels in her medium’s process and materials, all the while pushing its limits. Instead of capturing an instant in time or relating a narrative, Robertson’s photographs record the moment of their making and reveal themselves over time and space to the viewer. It’s a revelation worth taking in.


Let’s Change is on view at Grand Arts, in Kansas City, MO, through April 7, 2012.


Theresa Bembnister’s art writing appears regularly in the Pitch.

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