Shotgun Review

Look Out

By Shotgun Reviews, A. Will Brown March 11, 2013

In her newest exhibition, Look Out, at Eli Ridgway Gallery, Elisheva Biernoff delivers the delicacy, nostalgia, and execution we have come to expect from her. Between the small photorealist paintings—copies of decades-old found photographs—and the work House of Cards (2012–13), which references both painting and famous cultural icons (less celebrity and more historically significant), Biernoff impresses with her penchant for the miniature and the meticulous.

As one moves through Biernoff’s installation of tiny images, an intermittent and slightly mechanical rustling sound floats up from the lower gallery, drawing one down the stairs and into the dark. The lower gallery is divided into two spaces. The first is dark and round with a central projection, titled Hide and Seek (2013). A mechanical arm swings from the center of the ceiling, projecting images of a forest at night. One quickly discovers that the rustling sound, heard from the upstairs gallery, comes from an invisible creature of the night that disturbs the brush in Hide and Seek.

Elisheva Biernoff. Mountains of Instead, 2013; DVD player, glass, and diorama in wooden enclosure; 66 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Eli Ridgeway Gallery, San Francisco.

After experiencing a few rotations of the mechanical arm, one is compelled to move to the second room, a small, well-lit, square space with the multimedia installation Mountains of Instead (2013). Facing the viewer at a 45-degree angle, nestled between two walls, is a 66-inch-tall white box. The only indication that there is more than a vacant podium in the room is the small round eyehole, placed in the center of the box. Mountains of Instead evokes aspects of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, a permanent installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both works have a peephole through which a diorama with an unexpected subject is visible: in Duchamp’s, the torso of a nude woman, rendered in wax and plaster, resting on a mat of hay; in Biernoff’s, static figures of horses and a digital projection of a unicorn. While the comparison is humorous, the shared effect of the two works is what resounds most strongly—capturing the imagination in a moment of suspended, almost quixotic, belief. As a viewer peers through the peephole, Biernoff’s tiny unicorn stamps for attention but receives none from the horses that graze in the foreground of the diorama. The bright and crisp image of the unicorn is almost confusing as it connects a motif from the mimetic Internet culture to an archaic form of display, the natural history diorama.  

The works downstairs are not entirely resolved technically. In comparison to the paintings, the video installations read as experimental, as though the presentation and medium may change as Biernoff moves forward with this type of work. However, the exhibition and new works, particularly the video installations, are inspired, as the artist decodes what it means to see the mythical go unseen and unheard (that is, the unicorn) and to simultaneously see the movements and hear the sounds caused by an unseen presence, as suggested by Hide and Seek. Most notable is Biernoff’s continued exploration of visual culture and its mechanisms of production—photography and video—through paintings and dioramas.

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Look Out is on view at Eli Ridgway Gallery, in San Francisco, through March 9, 2013.

A. Will Brown is a curator and writer living and working in the Bay Area. Brown holds a curatorial fellowship position at both the Kadist Art Foundation and the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts.

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