Webster Fine Arts adjunct professor and mixed media artist Emily Elliott held her exhibition “Speaking Objectively” at Cecille R. Hunt Gallery at Webster University on Nov. 15.
Former Webster Art History Adjunct Professor and Director of Duet Gallery Daniel McGrath invited Elliot to do her own solo show at Duet. McGrath also introduced Elliott to Art History Professor Jeff Hughes, who invited Elliott to host an artist talk at the Dadah Friday Lecture Series. At the talk, Elliott became friends with Sculpture Professor Brian Zimmerman who offered Elliott classes to teach at Webster this semester.
“She’s doing stuff with mold making that I’ve never seen before, with different materials, and different processes that I’ve been aware of,” Zimmerman said.
Elliott’s work discusses themes of childhood nostalgia and identity.
“Half of my work is always leaning into this idea of a time gone by, but we still have this affinite for it,” Elliott said. “Maybe it’s comfortable to think about the way things were rather than the way things are.”
Born and raised in Columbus Georgia, about 2 hours south of Atlanta, Elliott spent her whole adolescent life and undergraduate degree at Columbus State University.
Elliott went into undergraduate studies as a photographer. After she took her first sculpture studio class, she felt immediately hooked.
The show has elements of topics and pieces that caught Elliott’s interest when she was an undergrad.
“It’s nice to be able to return to them after all these years and take those ideas and those materials and do them justice.” Elliott said.
Webster student Colleen Jordan assisted Elliott on her installations as an intern and sculpture technician. Jordan and Zimmerman saw the whole process of Elliott’s molds.
“When we weren’t working with the demanding parts of the material, she was really fun, open and unafraid to talk about her personal struggle,” Jordan said. “I think that’s very important with an instructor or teacher, being able to be open about, ‘Yeah I’m still learning, and I don’t know everything.”
The idea of the exhibition came from Elliott’s application for the Great Rivers Biennial, created by the Contemporary Art Museum. Elliott’s application had a similar idea, but after time went by, Elliott shaped that idea into a new form.
The exhibit is split into two rooms, one where the viewer must experience the art under a black light and the other room filled with reflective material where the viewer sees a “life-like” figure wrapped in metallic material.
Elliott has been trying to find new ways to diversify ‘the figure.’ She said she wanted to play on the idea of the audience looking and being looked at.
“I’m interested in this idea of using installation as a means to make the viewer or audience become the figure,” Elliott said.
Jordan helped Elliott cast the figure “You Know Where to Find Me”, which is made of resin, expandable foam, the metallic insulator mylar, and plaster feet and rolled in metallic bubble wrap.
The figure wrapped in the bubble wrap hides from the viewer and the viewer is forced to see a distorted reflection on the Mylar walls.
“That metallic bubble wrap, I’ve been looking at and trying to figure out how to put that in artwork since I was 19, but I’ve never been able to do it,” Elliott said.
In the room of “You Know Where to Find Me”, the lighting is more traditional. Whereas, when the viewer walks outside the room and into the main space, the viewer must look at the art under a black light. The black light causes a distortion of color in the pieces “Sometimes” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You.”
The wall text “Sometimes” are vinyl stickers, pressed onto the wall and shined under the black light. All the phrases are based on one word, “sometimes”.
Elliott said the reasons that the phrases on the wall are polar opposites because she wanted to show the whole spectrum of how people feel and think because human beings are not consistent.
“We’re going to go from one end to the pendulum to the other, sometimes in a single day or sometimes in a single hour.” Elliott said.
In the piece “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” Elliott created molds of vintage Halloween masks dating back approximately from the ‘50s up to the mid ‘90s, onto the boxes. The boxes are primarily are made of resin, fiberglass resin, various woods and various trim stocks.
Elliott said she created these boxes based on the idea of how children are given a certain set of polarized choices while growing up.
“It’s like, ‘Here are all the girls’ masks,” Elliott said. “Here are all the boys’ masks. Here are all the good guys. Here are all the bad guys. Are you going to be a witch or are you going to be a barbie doll? I wanted to create this world where you could choose whatever you wanted without reprisal.”
Webster students have the opportunity to discuss more about Elliott’s processes by taking her mold-making class in the spring. Her exhibition “Speaking Objectively” runs until January 4, 2020.
“I hope students go and see the show, especially outside of our department because it’s more of an immersive experience than they’re typically going to get out of the average show and it’s important to take advantage of that.” Zimmerman said.