New York

Teresa Bramlette

Althea Viafora Gallery

Banality is a powerful drug, certainly one that has not been thoroughly explored. It can make certain objects completely invisible. In this show, called “Traces of Use,” Teresa Bramlette attempts to make us see what banality obscures. The artist’s emulsion-on-wood images of bowls, cutlery, grapes, and so forth recall those pieces of wood with images of tourist attractions shellacked onto them that one finds at souvenir stores. The exhibition, while earnest, falls short of being compelling because the esthetic impact of Bramlette’s work is not strong enough to stand up to the banality of the objects represented.

Bramlette succeeds in showing how every object, no matter how banal, possesses an intractable opacity which defies the gaze. The irony of these images, which rely on the object’s impenetrability with regard to light, is that they end up looking like X-rays. By abstracting simple, everyday objects, Bramlette returns to them an aura that they have lost. But it is a negative aura; the objects possess a haunted, spectral quality. The bowls look like glowing spheres floating in a vacuum; the leaves of plants look ossified or frozen, drained of all life and color but intact in shape. Although the idea of capturing the shadow of an everyday object on a piece of wood using a light source and photoemulsion is inspired, the ghostly quality of these images is undermined by the slickness of the packaging. The objects seem too smug, neat, and complacent. The wooden bowls which have each been carved by a wooden spoon are set a little too fetishistically on pedestals. This effect of alienation only gives the bowls a faux primitive aspect and undermines their intensity. By repeating a banal gesture over and over again on the wooden surface, Bramlette manages to do violence to the object through sheer repetition. She seems to shy away from the intensity of banality, that dangerous and volatile substance, in favor of the thin brew of esthetic distancing.

Catherine Liu