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Amy Schreiber: The Vanity of Memory?
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
What is it that makes the difference between an artist and an appreciator? An operator of a camera and a photographer? A amateur and a professional? Many times the differences that seem to exist concretely break down once one analyzes the context of the final images and objects being created and their intended purpose. In many ways, the work of Amy Schreiber has been an exposition of this series of questions over the last few years. Schrieber's recent body of work, currently on view at Artlink, titled "Material Girl: Ephemeral World" questions the purpose of the manmade object, of what we do with these objects, and what this says about the culture we, and they, exist in.
Being the product of countless trips through flea markets, yard sales, barn sales, and antique fairs, Schreiber's work turned her into as much of a collector as a photographer, and as much of an artist as an archeologist. Like certain master artists such as Mark Dion, Schreiber uses archeology to create a perfect stage for the manipulation of context and meaning to produce historical dialogues as she sees fit. She describes herself as a hunter, using her camera to dig deep into the human material burial mounds which are left after an object's use ends, and the transitional owner's needs for the sale itself. Like any professional researcher, Schreiber is also out to collect her own objects while on her pursuit to capture and create these dialogues. This process gives Schreiber's work a uniquely personal and warm style, not a stark documentation or archiving of objects, but the creation of signifiers which strike emotional and conceptual chords that have some rooting in the artist's own history.
Schreiber's process led her to connect these scenes to the vanitas paintings of the Northern Renaissance, or the precise still-life which shows the viewer the inevitability of life's march toward death and the need to respect this transition in opposition to the excesses which our world pulls us toward through apparent abundance. The faded materials, small dents, worn fabric, and loss of luster associated with any second hand object fits the strict definition of vanitas rather well. "Ornaments" and "Piggly Wiggly" illustrate this point perfectly with their collections presented static, hovering between use and meaning. The images are taken within specific spaces built to organize the items, structuring the vanitas with boundaries and borders, limiting the viewers reach into other meaning.
The work in Schreiber's "Material World" pulls in new directions and speaks to a uniquely American vanitas as well. With the advent of new manufacturing technology where masses of objects, not made by human hands, some rather unused, and precisely displayed to fake their original retail charm, are not exposing the realities of the forces of nature which play upon them. This then furthers ideas complicated by our modern need for the disposable item, designed with full knowledge that it will have no real life at all. This conceptual death of death within and through modern capitalistic retail, illustrated best in "Treasure Trove," an image of a bejeweled mannequin in an open yard, creates an existential circuit that even the metaphysical poets of the late Renaissance would be jealous of.
Again, this depth of conceptual elasticity in Schreiber's "Material Girl in an Ephemeral World" body of work is exciting to see, especially because of her relative lack of exhibition history outside of sporadic group shows.
Schreiber also notes the rather modern concept of the provenance of a material artifact-any object really. This fascination with the personal history associated with an object seems to be something which gains value through history as history gains confidence within a society. As our human timeline fades back, so does any aspect of value associated with the individual outside of very specific royalty. This personal aspect comes out in Schreiber's work rather vaguely, and is more structured through her artists statement which includes, "…now they (photographed objects) outlive those who originally purchased and cherished them… in a strange twist we have become the ephemeral, while our material collections live on." Pieces like "Measure Up," an image of a collection of metallic plumb bobs hanging up above measuring stick, take on a plethora of meanings when placed within the aesthetic matrix of Schreiber's dialogues. This image depicts a collection of specific personal histories, and a visual image of the capacity for measurement within the concept of history itself.
These clever images are surprising for a body of photographs that could have easily fallen short. This topic of aging items, and the general format of these images has been done before. Schreiber as a technical photographer is skilled but still growing. However, the quality of her concept propels the work farther and the work's ability to encompass so much without losing its accessibility, and its roots in the pop, everyday objects, keep its meaning hovering in the viewers mind. Thankfully, when it comes to so many of the questions pertaining to an artists value or ability, we need look no further than the work which they create. Amy Schreiber's relatively young exhibition history, and non-professional pursuit of creating fine art have little to do with the quality of her work, but almost enhance the works and their ability to explore the modern vanitas that we call our consumer industry.
Amy Schreiber: "Material Girl in an Ephemeral World"
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