Critics’ Picks

Spring Hurlbut, Otis and Barley, 2019–20, ink-jet print, 25 3/4 x 25 3/4".

Spring Hurlbut, Otis and Barley, 2019–20, ink-jet print, 25 3/4 x 25 3/4".


Spring Hurlbut

Georgia Scherman Projects
133 Tecumseth Street
April 23–May 30, 2020

During week six of isolation, I heard a man yelling, “Black holes! Black holes!” into a train yard. The following week, I saw Spring Hurlbut’s “Dyadic Circles” in the Georgia Scherman Projects online viewing room, and the man’s cries came into eclipse-like focus.

The photographs in “Dyadic Circles” inevitably read as somber: Each depicts a neatly bisected circle of funerary ash from humans or animals arranged on a square black background that recalls the zero-point energy of Malevich’s Black Square, 1915. The halves of each vertically divided sphere are different tones of shimmering gray or sandy beige. The variations in color reflect the temperatures of the crematory fires in which the material was formed, a contextual detail that lends physical and psychic weight to the works’ geometric abstractions.

The works’ titles—such as Eleanor and James and Logan and Huntley (all works 2019–20)—apparently identify the represented subjects, formerly animate. The alternately delicate and gritty crescents of powder look as though they could easily blow away and, indeed, in several works, the ash has drifted below the circles’ circumferences.

Returning to the man’s refrain, I wonder why a perfectly round disk—whether a circle or a hole—so often suggests both profound presence and infinite absence. Hurlbut’s pieces, with their insistent materiality and direct titles, provide an encounter with mortality that, refreshingly, neither eschews nor affirms rote sentiment. It is ill-advised to stare directly at an eclipse, so Hurlbut slows down the sun; her half-circles invite us to ponder half-lives—molecular, metaphorical, and metaphysical.