This presentation of relief sculptures made in complementary pairs, created by Morrison’s unique process combining both printmaking and casting techniques, brings to the forefront a conversation between artifact and replica. Referencing Etruscan frescoes, early Puritan Gravestones, and more directly the gestures of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s dynamic figurative works, Morrison recasts these symbols with the industrial material of gypsum cement, alluding to the way artifacts are imitated if not outright looted — their original purpose and significance lost or misinterpreted. Through this process of dislocation, artifacts or replicas often take on a new kind of cultural significance where their possession and display is meant to indicate status and wealth. Do these objects that imitate artifacts become kitsch when a “faux” material meant to imply this sense of value fails to do so? Imitation gold and silver, for instance, are often employed in this effort and are featured predominantly in the exhibition. Recalling a piece of jewelry Morrison had in the 90s, two large panels depict evil eye chains in gold and silver leaf. The evil eye, originally a talisman considered to have magical powers of protection, is depicted with broken links, revealing its artificiality, refuting its symbolic properties and transforming it into a cheap trinket.
Morrison further mines this moment of failed expectation. The Letdown, sharing their title with the exhibition, are two panels of milky-colored recurring wave patterns. The works are named after the physiological response that occurs during breastfeeding; the letdown involves the release of oxytocin (the “love” hormone) strengthening the bond of mother to child. The works recall a memory of simultaneously experiencing the letdown breastfeeding her son while feeling extreme despair watching Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign concession speech. This bittersweet moment triggered a heightened awareness of injustice so profound that it called her to action, altering her sense of place and duty in the world. Turning the waves into guilded flames, she carries this experience of complicated emotion into Ecstasy, two panels depicting gesturing hands.
Though hands are a repeated trope in Morrison’s work, here they specifically reference Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Teresa, (one of the few female saints) accounted to have experienced a love of God with a pain “so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.” This conflation of the body’s letdown while feeling emotionally let down, waves of euphoria and waves of pain, inform Morrison’s understanding of high and low, unmet expectation, false narrative, and the power of imagery and symbolic gesture.
Despite the cynicism required to grasp the concept of kitsch, Morrison nevertheless strives for a level of repose in her pieces. In two final panels Morrison recreates a souvenir pendant that depicts a landscape. She recognizes that while it may have sentimental value it is not a piece of fine jewelry. Interrogating and transforming the souvenir into art object through her labor-intensive process, Morrison seeks a sincere means of making something well-crafted and whole.
Erin Morrison (b. 1985) received her MFA from University of California, Los Angeles in 2014. Her relief paintings have been included in several recent group exhibitions including Sonia Dutton, New York, The Pit, Los Angeles, C.E.S, Los Angeles, Chimento Contemporary, Los Angeles, Samuel Freeman, Los Angeles, UPFOR, Portland, and James Harris Gallery, Seattle.