Sarah Palmer: As a Real HouseOctober 25–November 17, 2012
2011 Aperture Portfolio Prize Winner Sarah Palmer’s series As a Real House is rife with partially submerged tripwires that unsettle the usual process of reading a photograph. Each image contains something—an element or the juxtaposition of elements—that works to trigger an internal pattern-recognition scan of mental databases, in hopes of locking their meaning into recognizable form. Her photos are populated by seemingly inconsequential discards: haphazard collections of wine corks, incomplete puzzles, oyster shells resting on newsprint, bone shards, wishbones, nicked-up “self-healing” cutting mats, scuffed and empty buckets, over- and under-exposed Polaroids.
This roster of sad and desolate objects could easily be read as a fairly bathetic set of still lifes. However, the work is also spiked with details that send an energizing quiver through the individual images and the series as a whole. Offsetting the abjectness of the other materials, flashes of wild neon, cool 1980s-era geometric patterns, and even the luscious pink of a sliced-open watermelon give the work an unexpectedly taut, if uneasy, equilibrium.
In today’s ecology of signs, a passing jet plane functions on par with the proverbial lonely seagull. Palmer’s work accomplishes a careful balancing act, giving the viewer enough to feel the currents of meaning underneath the surface of each image, yet leaving enough up in the air so as to withhold a quick and easy read. One is left with the sense that the key to whatever it is that the artist has intended to conjure is left intentionally, tantalizingly just out of reach.
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Sarah Palmer (born in San Francisco, 1977) received her MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in 2008, where she was awarded an Aaron Siskind Scholarship, and her BA from Vassar College in 1999. Her work has been exhibited in the United States and in Europe, at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, Like the Spice Gallery, satellite exhibitions at the New York Photo Festival in 2009 and 2011, and Foam_fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, in summer 2011, among other galleries and museums. Her photographs and writing have been published in print and online journals, and in exhibition catalogs, and she was recently featured on Women in Photography, an online archive and exhibition space. She contributed an essay and visual dialogue to Foam‘s What’s Next project and in Spring 2012, wrote the catalogue essay for the Portland, Oregon exhibition Gazed Upon, curated by Amy Elkins. In late 2011, her work was published in Foam Album 11 and a feature story appeared about her work appeared in China’s VISION magazine in early 2012. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Wild Project in New York City in Spring 2010. She is a member of the full-time photography faculty at Parsons The New School for Design and a member of the Board of Directors of Rooftop Films.