Elizabeth Atterbury’s work is scattered across low surfaces in her studio, a disorienting landscape of sculptural forms carefully arranged. Each mysterious object is presented with clarity, reduced to an icon of itself — a pair of clay feet, a necklace made from peach pits, two sticks riddled with regularly spaced holes, a signature chop carved from stone, a ball made of sand, paper perforated like postage stamps, the list goes on. Many forms are shifted in scale, enlarged recreations of original objects that sometimes undergo a material change. The objects never touch. Each occupies a space, each arranged with the deliberation of a museum display.
On the walls hang lengths of thick white paper — a series of scrolls — seemingly without image. At close range under raking light we find a field of blind-embossed shapes: the profile of a man, the outline of a child’s drawing, the number 2020, refrigerator magnet letterforms, a sock, a curlicue, a hand. One has the impression of a cross section, like geological strata, exposing objects trapped by mud, the fallen and lost remnants of a previous time but without nostalgia.
Four wall-hung mortar pieces hang alongside the scrolls, their white raked surfaces amplifying a patchwork of interlocking abstract forms. Like puzzles, they are pieced together, cut from a single rectangular plywood board. The image is whole but with voids and cracks where material was lost, like a ceramic bowl broken and glued back together. The pieces never fit exactly again. These spaces form a drawing, a playful and complex composition of intersecting shapes. Like the scrolls, the image is not drawn but made visible by shadow and light playing across a low-relief surface, telling the story of its own making.
As viewers, we understand implicitly that the objects and symbols contained in Atterbury’s work hold significance as memories or traces from her life. Some are artifacts from her Chinese ancestors, some are mundane objects from daily life disembodied and seen through a new lens, others still are playful and invented abstract shapes. Together they form a constellation, free from the imposition of narrative, and without romance.
And herein lies the power of Atterbury’s work. From the imposed clarity of her arrangements, curiosity can flourish. A sense of wonder overtakes us, unsure why each object seems unknown. Are these not familiar things? The sculptures are given as offerings, fragments of experience and memory gathered and presented. Are they intended as a form of divination? Is this what it looks like to gather your life and lay it out — to lay yourself bare?
Elizabeth Atterbury (born 1982, West Palm Beach, FL) lives and works in Portland, Maine. Recent solo and group shows include Mrs., Queens; Kate Werble Gallery, New York; The Portland Museum of Art, Portland; The Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville; kijidome, Boston; DOCUMENT, Chicago; Western Exhibitions, Chicago; The Luminary, St Louis; Et al. Etc., San Francisco; Pulaski Park Field House, Chicago; Able Baker Contemporary, Portland; Ida Schmid, Brooklyn; TSA, Brooklyn; Bodega, Philadelphia/New York; KANSAS, New York; and The ICA at Maine College of Art, Portland, among others. In the Middle, An Oasis, a monograph of her work, was published by Bodega Press in 2013. She received her BA from Hampshire College and her MFA from MassArt.