Now Featuring Emma Spertus

Artist Emma Spertus concerns herself with how we produce and view images.  Often taking architecture as a starting point, she uses framing, mounting, and printing to shift and disrupt our expected, rote methods of reading a space and its boundaries.

Exclusive Print, Tunnel on Entry

Exclusive Print, Tunnel on Entry

Exclusive Print, Big Spot

Exclusive Print, Big Spot

Exclusive Print, Mashup

Exclusive Print, Mashup

Exclusive Print, Dust on Texture

Exclusive Print, Dust on Texture

MH: Your work plays with how images are created an displayed; for example, presenting images of objects near their real-life referent, displaying images almost as part of architecture, playing with flat images as sculpture and vice versa. Can you talk about how this way of working started for you, and about the familiar-yet-destabilizing effect on perception this kind of work can have?


ES: This work originated from the urge to recreate experiences of time and space found in film and architecture. In college, I took an influential cinema studies course that opened my eyes up to the structural nature and synthetic meanings produced by film. I have never wanted to make films myself, but I am drawn to the challenge of mimicking some of these cinematic qualities in sculptures, prints and installations. I found that by using the film still and the photo documentation of architecture as a starting point, I could make unusual versions of space and visual experience that undermined the visual consumption habits we all have. In the past few years, my sphere of inspiration has expanded considerably to include many more forms of visual culture; simultaneously the sculptures are becoming more modular and architectural in form, allowing me to press forward illusionistic qualities while handling diverse themes. The next frontier is creating my own imagery to manipulate and give an architectural treatment to.

MH: What films and cinematic traditions triggered you in the class you took? I can think of so many potential starting threads, for example the open outdoor spaces and cramped interiors in classic ‘70s American cinema, or the way POV views of architecture play into a movie like Vertigo.  But what was your experience?


ES: Well, this cinema studies class took a novel approach, comparing science fiction films to Nazi propaganda films through the lens of critical theory. So, even though there were some great films like Videodrome and Alien, it was the reading of Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema One, which was particularly eye opening. Deleuze unpacks the structure of film and the film watching experience into cellular components, which was an entirely new and exciting idea for me to grapple with.


MH: How do you select your subject matter in terms of images?  I’m curious how your work monumentalizes really mundane items, a duffle bag, a crappy office chair, in a very deadpan but very funny way.


ES: Like most artists, my subject matter is usually drawn from obsession. I’ll find myself photographing, researching, and pondering at all hours topics like the currently unfashionable architectural style of late corporate modernism found often in civic centers, conference centers, auto dealerships. These observation/thought circles rotate until they find an outlet in a visual re-interpretation such as my piece for Important Project’s called 0% or at the Dorsky Gallery, Spirit of the age. The humor may come out of two things, one an interest in the overlooked, forgotten, and banal of our daily life, and a proclivity for noticing odd relationships between disparate things.


MH: Can you talk about how the theme of framing runs through your projects? I like how it becomes challenge to find where the “edge” of the work is… images that represent frames or contain frames become a sort of conceptual game.


ES: Once I moved into the 3D world of sculpture and installation, it became a natural extension of the new dimension to reframe and modify the typical viewing methods. I found exhibition territories ripe for engagement that have been historically underutilized including: where the ground meets the wall, the ceiling, the floor, and the frame. By activating these unexpected areas, the viewer must move and see differently. The privileged center of the frame and eye level area of the wall is discarded, creating an raw awareness and uncertainty of what the piece is and how it supposed to be viewed, which further propels the subjects like unpopular architecture, found objects, and ubiquitous visual culture. With art, the slower the viewing the more you see.

negative space

MH: Tell me about your residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts. You planned research into the site and some types of architecture and image-making associated with the site (a park, a military base).  How has that project gone?

trade secret

ES: The Headlands residency offered me two months of focused time in amazing conditions. I had use of a 2000 sq. ft. studio inside the neocolonial Fort Berry, surrounded by the spectacular Marin Headlands. I had come with the goal of expanding my work beyond the photographic image. I knew that this was precious time and space for complete experimentation, which it was. Working inside this building with its balanced proportions and clean lines had an enormous impact on me. The more things I tried in my enchanting studio, the more I wanted to do. at the end it was a little maddening to have a space call to you like a siren, your fulfillment just beyond reach.

I did succeed in broadening my visual tools set, and am now eager to ply this language for future projects. I was also inspired by my fellow residents, in particular a choreographer, a painter, and jazz musician. Through discussions and exposure, my work was cross pollinated with theirs. I am eager to grow these new creative strains, one of which was the embracing of more theatrical and relational elements. The military history, especially the restored, through not armed, Nike Military Base, also impacted me, but if this understanding of local and global history will filter into my work is still to be seen.


MH: I’m curious about the printing techniques you employ for photographic images, both standalone images and images incorporated into sculpture.  Some of your selections appear to echo stock photography, which aligns with your interest in civic/commercial architecture, but the paper, print edges and images-as-objects themselves also have a very utilitarian, provisional feel, sometimes as if they were a first draft run off on a color printer, untrimmed, unresized.

assembly documentation

ES: I use myriad printing techniques, color laser printing from the copy shop, self printed ink jet printing, professional printing on canvas or other materials, to name a few. The printing form is usually dependent on the idea and what properties I want to emphasize. In addition to print type, the process of manipulation of the print plays an important role. I think mixing clean treatment with more ad hoc assembly can be an effective strategy for representing my larger ideas. Another effect of using multiple approaches is that the process can be hard to identify and perhaps slows the viewing of the piece. Lately, I have been experimenting with creating my own imagery from found sources, which are often mediated with collage, extraction, or painterly additions. Sometimes, the made imagery ends up back in photographic form to be used in a sculptural composites. What’s next, I don’t know, but I am looking forward to finding out.


MH: In addition to being an artist you’re also a founder of Real Time and Space, an Oakland studio space, residency program and host of great talks (and barbecues). What impact has this space had on your work and life?

ES: Starting Real Time & Space (RTS) is the biggest leap into uncertainty I have ever taken, but the return has been better then I ever could have hoped. I have always gravitated toward group studio experiences, needing the dialog to help with my own work and the work of others to inspire and motivate. So, when the opportunity to build out and populate a 4000 sq. ft. former print shop in Oakland’s Chinatown came around, my partner and I weighed our options and felt it had many unknowns but many possible benefits. The biggest unknown was who would populate the fifteen studios and could we incorporate a rotating residency–within six months we had the residency going and the studio filled with great artists and writers. Now, we have about twenty people who are members of the space, an annual open call for the residency in place, monthly talks, occasional classes, and other events. It has been great to contribute another pillar to support the budding Bay Area art scene. I am most excited about of the human infrastructure of RTS, and I am already watching the many new outcomes, experiences, and friendships that have arisen from the mingling of studio members, local community, and residents. And, I too have felt and experienced these new outcomes, with new ideas generated and exchanged, new collaborations, and many lasting friendships. Since about half the residents are from outside the Bay Area, the RTS net is wide indeed.

ping pong on ping pong

MH: In terms of what’s coming up for you next, what are you obsessing about these days, researching a mulling over before shaping into a project?

ES: I am developing a new piece with the help of the LOOP Arts Grant (which will provide printing support) for a group show at Romer Young Gallery about photography as a point of inspiration/departure. This July, I am collaborating with Ian Dolton-Thornton for an outdoor sculpture show inspired by the golden hour at S.H.E.D. Projects in Oakland. There a pretty wide range of odd subjects that come to mind for future projects: business park signage, carports, screens/partitions, convention centers, lunch boxes, fan posters, display, and columns.


Emma’s work is now on view in the LPP Shop on Valencia Street, San Francisco!





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