Conceptual artist Shannon Ebner’s work is as much poetry as it is photography. The Yale University MFA graduate has made her name in art circles by producing pictures and sculptures that focus on the power of language and how it shapes our world. The same way words are formed by letters that serve as symbols for sounds, Ebner’s artistic voice is formed by her creative photographs and installations that serve as representations for her witty take on American life.
Ebner first stepped onto the national stage with her 2003 photograph USA. The large uppercase letters spelling out “NAUSEA” are reminiscent of the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign, but Ebner’s black-and-white photo isn’t about idolizing celebrity and fantasy. USA can be viewed as an allegory for the sickness of indulgence and decadence that has contaminated American culture. Despite the uber-patriotic rhetoric of many of this country’s politicians, Ebner’s piece is a reminder that America is still very much a work in progress.
“I guess what I like about photographs of symbols is that they can redirect an image or create uncertainty and indeterminacy and suggest that one thing is two things or one thing is an incomplete thing, an incomplete picture,” Ebner is quoted telling the Paris Review.
An perfect example of Ebner’s reverence for coded messages is 2003’s Landscape Incarceration. Placed in the remote terrain of Joshua Tree, California as part of High Desert Test Sites 3, the installation was barely seen on location since Ebner removed it immediately after photographing the structure. The Ebner twist was that she took the picture from behind the sign giving the already deserted domain an even greater feeling of isolation, confusion, and incompletion.
One of Ebner’s most popular pieces, and, per se and, is another sign of her interest in examining continous construction through language. The eight-foot tall plywood monument was installed in a vacant lot on the corner of Centinela Ave and Washington Blvd in Culver City, California and was Ebner’s first public project in her current residence of Los Angeles County. The giant “&” was also a part of the New Jersey native’s Electric Comma project which included Asterick and Agitate.
Some of Shannon Ebner’s work is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of the Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language special exhibition. The group show highlights paintings, sculptures, sound works, and pieces in various other mediums that draw attention to the relationship between art and language. The exhibit is divided into the historical section featuring work by artists like Ferdinand Kriwet and Bruce Newman, and the modern section which houses Ebner’s Landscape Incarceration and Agitate as well as Paulina Olowska’s Body Movements Alphabet Studies, Tauba Auerbach’s The Whole Alphabet, and projects by other contemporary artists.
For more info about Shannon Ebner click it.
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language will be showing at the MoMA through 8/27. For more info click it.
Check out video of Ebner’s “and, per se and” installation: