At the end of “Dragons of Iceland,” a video the NYC based multi-media artist Elizabeth Riley made throughout her SIM residency in Reykjavik, the dragon protagonist is determined to escape the societal constraints and limitations placed on women when the artist was growing up. The dragon flies into a gushing waterfall which for Riley symbolized finality. But later-on, after she returned from the residency, Riley has both deconstructed and reconstructed this video into a sculptural installation, and throughout the process of art making, the dragon’s route shifted from a fall into the abyss to a portal into a different artform. Elizabeth Riley’s solo show, “Ribbons Become Space,” at SL invites us to experience an exuberant journey. The journey starts as you enter the front gallery space with a 2011 video installation “Dragons of Iceland,” continues throughout the back gallery space with two related large-scale wall works made recently for the SL Gallery, then loops back as you exit, leading us back to the video installation with a new perspective.
Riley’s work is placed at the intersection of video and sculpture, pixels and material, with the notion of time as a cohesive element. In her original video, disjointed fragments such as patterns from the lace-like curtains she saw in in Reykjavik’s apartment windows and printed video-still pieces from her studio, were transformed into moving psychedelic abstract shapes which altogether amalgamate into an intense internal landscape of streaming, hallucinatory, enigmatic actions. Superimposed on still backgrounds of neon colors, the moving forms drift around with alternating rhythms, their motion alternates from violent spasms to gentle vibrating or gliding motions. It took me a while to shift my attention from the hypnotic movement of saturated color to the underlying narrative of a dragon escaping a hellish terrain, which overall compelled me to stay longer with the work.
“The Dragons of Iceland” Installation that Riley later based on this video, includes six live videos on small monitors, three upended tables, and inkjet prints made of video frames. Stacked one on top of the other, the three tables are loaded with open-ended histories – a child’s table she found on the street, a table from her parents’ house, and a table from the dumpster in her studio building. The 14 strips of videos-stills hanging from the 8 ft plank atop the three tables consist of every frame from the original video, printed consecutively. Time as represented in the movement of images is captured and turned into a concrete object, a sculptural installation which altogether creates a dysfunctional architectural structure resembling an odd totem, relic, altar, or a modernist furniture gone array. It is convincingly disorienting. Riley says that what mostly struck her in Iceland is the paradoxical fusion of traditional culture where time has stopped in the past, and hyper contemporary culture with a distinct focus on virtual and digital media where time and space are mostly fluid. It may be helpful to keep this observation in mind while viewing this installation.
Large-scale with bold colors, the two additional wall reliefs, “Structure from Light”, and “Configuring Video” are made of long inkjet-double sided prints of video stills from her video “The Life of a City” and they are both nothing but majestic. In honor of SL Gallery’s commitment to supporting art made with light, Riley chose for one side of these prints orange and yellow as metaphorical colors of light. Looking at the irregular bold and vivid overlapping shapes of these monumental pieces in context of contemporary art may remind you of a Frank Stella relief or an Elizabeth Murray painting, but Riley’s impetus is utterly different. The materials she is using, video and paper, as well as her diaristic approach, channel the rigor in her process into crisp yet highly fluid forms, keeping the history of her series of actions very much alive. Riley’s work is largely about these series of actions, the DNA of her process. She invites us to join in her ride, her experience of recycling light, time and motion into objects of monumental scale which we normally tend to associate with public art, but here are made of paper and pixels. Video inherently gives life through light and motion. In their still format these characteristics assume new life in the physicality of Riley’s printouts: through rolled, waving, and suspended paper, light and motion become a bold and fresh spatial manifestation.
Ribbons Become Space runs Thru August 9th, 2019
SL Gallery, 335 West 38 St, , NYC, NY, 10018
Artist Talk: Tuesday, July 23, 6:00-8:00 P.M.