Multifarious: Place, space, symbolism and form, an entity is never a singular object, and objectivity is subjective. The development from within movement, and unequivocal significance comes into question as the natural and architectural play off of each other in Amy Stephens’ concurrent shows: Land | Reland [Portland] and Land | Reland [London]. The exhibitions are held in Portland, Oregon’s Upfor Gallery and London’s William Benington Gallery. While a thread of binary elements runs through the simultaneous shows, Land | Reland extends far beyond an idea of duality, and rather fractures connections and similarities into multitudinous perceptions like an image rippling in the waters of a stream.
Focused on the idea of new and changing narratives attached to elements of nature, Amy Stephens explores the ideas of transferability and the importance of recognition for these terrestrial wonders. Spotlighting Oregon feather rock and Italian marble, both Land | Reland [Portland] and Land | Reland [London] offers a deserved reverence for materials, which are often relegated to a forgotten space in the background. “I found the feather rock in a roadside yard,” Stephens said, and “the marble was an off-cut from a 10-ton piece … which was a waste for the company because it can’t be sliced into something beautiful. It was a beautiful thing that couldn’t be sold.” The artist explained that looking after objects inhabited a key role in her practice with much of her work being like a layered creation from her previous shows, an ever-present respect for histories characterizes the work. “For me, it is a way for artefacts to reconnect and reconstruct the past.”
The idea of respect is what inspired her to create The Landing, and place the feather rock on towering yet non-domineering architectonic steel column. Allowing the rock to inhabit a new vertical impression without appearing in a hyperbolic monumental position. The Landing exists in both Portland and London shows with two pieces of feather stone; the steel structures are informed by the specific gallery spaces. At over two meters high, a new vertical impression is created without appearing overly monumental. As a volcanic rock, the piece had once sat at a high place but was found by the artist eons later on the floor of a non-descript yard. The capacity of the white cube itself experiences expansion in this moment, as “a series of objects, sourced from the landscape, are elevated to a mode of archive within the gallery spaces.”
The descent of this feather stone inhabits both a physical and psychological space. Set upon its modern pedestal, there is not only an air of admiration for the entity itself, but a blending and dissolving of the divisions of reverence placed between the natural and the constructed. Architectural elements, like a stainless steel diamond, intersect the beautiful volcanic and metamorphic rocks. Cobalt nylon rope connects the marble to the steel, suspending the latter outside of its previous practice. This piece, Statuario, brings the artist’s own former and current practice together in sharply contrasting yet bound imagery. An amalgamation of the artist’s work, the modern world, and the ceaseless choreography of growth, destruction and rebuilding develops piece to piece, slowly but surely.
Social theorist Henri Lefebvre described the appropriation of the hallowed space built from nature and applied to the built or urban environment in his work on the social production of space. Although often left to the wayside of his points on symbolism in the built environment and social structures, the theory begins with the transference of symbolism and veneration being effused from one place to another. But while Land| Reland [Portland] and Land | Reland [London] materialize this exchange and development, they also highlight the idea on a more basic and expansive level. The exhibition as a whole shows a dichotomy of movement and a static nature—a stillness and a migration. Illusory in a way, migration’s forms and effects are innumerous and nearly impossible to define. The exhibition delicately alludes to both a simultaneous and dichotomous existence, the presence of something in two places at once and the various angles by which it can be viewed. In each moment … it is and it is not. As a metamorphic rock, marble changes its nature through intense outside forces, the exposure produced deep below the surface, yet the exterior bears the signs of experience. Materializations of migrations, movement and change offer a temporal tangibility, but the evolution takes place in mind, community, systems, the objects simply an embodiment.
Both exhibitions use the same materials, and are undeniably connected, but different pieces of feather rock sit in the Upfor Gallery and the William Benington Gallery, and images of the marble exist in both spaces. Stephens also discussed the beliefs that people will make on their own, the affiliation they will create such as in believing that the pile of salt, Salt Mt., had come from Mt. Hood in Oregon, regardless of its actual source originating from Ibiza. “At the heart of my practice is a concern with the reclamation of natural objects and the transferability of form via appropriation,” the artist has stated. It is a reclamation of the pieces, but moreso a reclamation of and transformation of significance. “I’m fascinated in the idea of reclaiming a new narrative,” she said, “Why can’t it be viewed like this?” While highly susceptible to influence, people inevitably produce their own unique versions of a narrative, each version differing ever so slightly… or extremely. Our world and our existence and qualia are not based on the purely physical, an idea introduced to the world through analytic philosopher, Frank Jackson, in his thought experiment of “What Mary Didn’t Know”. In her black and white room, Mary, who cannot understand the color red until she sees it, will not recognize the idea and the nuanced existence of color until she has experienced it for herself. Knowledge of certain things, including physical entities, is obtained through elements other than the physical qualities. The versions of the narratives, the changing significance due to location and form of the chosen pieces in Land | Reland [Portland] and Land | Reland [London] are built out of familiarity, unfamiliarity, and the visceral experience in the juxtaposition and freeform choreography between the natural and architectural—a space of life, which cannot be explained, and will not yield to hegemony.
Photographs of places and the pieces themselves amplify the concept of fractal perceptions and interject and emphasize the internal colloquy of the exhibition. While some of the photographic images are abstract, others capture the rocks or part of the rocks, freezing them in time and manipulating their understood form. Yet another philosophical turn in the shows … what constitutes the reality of the entity? An abstract archival presentation of the existing pieces standing either nearby or across thousands of kilometers of land and sea connects ideas of the pieces to themselves.
Physical being, an idea, and the agency of perception are erected into form in the liminal space between reality and understanding. The artist describes it as “a series of conflicting geological textures suddenly take naturally to each other as they are forced to adopt a new habitat on both sides of the Atlantic.” In this moment of transformation, a new facet of character appears, a new face is formed, and another ripple in the aqueous image of object emerges, neither more nor less true or false.