Los Angeles

Kelly Nipper

The most telling photograph in Kelly Nipper’s latest exhibition offers sunlit branches and leaves surrounding a shadowy void. The scene, which could be deep in a forest or in the corner of a backyard at the right time of day, becomes a source of tension and expectation—this is the sort of spot from which a movie tiger might leap out. But the surprise never comes, and it’s oddly frustrating and compelling. Who would have thought a photograph of a dark spot in some plants could be so engaging precisely because it turns out to be just as mundane as it would be in real life? The piece showcases Nipper’s capacity for working against her viewers’ assumptions and expectations, as well as her ability to set off scattershot associations and loops of logic as suggested in the title shared by the works in the exhibition, “shotgun and a figure 8” (all works 2000).

Four images depict pears standing on end on a wooden table against a white backdrop: first three pears, then one, then four, and two. With no obvious ascending or descending order at work, one at first assumes randomness, but then it becomes clear the four images are made with only four pears. It’s a simple matter of exhausting the possibilities within a very lunited system: One pear was added for each shot, and then the images were sorted in a descending order, first with odd numbers, then with even. Moreover, the images take on the quality of a study in body language and social dynamics. One pear holds its ground. Two pears couple with stems touching. Three is a crowd, with two touching and one seemingly left out, and in the group of four, each seems independent.

Another collection of four images also plays with our expectations, this time of continuity. All have a wood-paneled wall for a backdrop, in front of which hangs a sheet with a hole in it, through which one sees the face of a gagged boy in one photo, the face of a gagged girl in another, and the wood paneling with no figure in the other two. One gets so caught up in the play of dualities—boy/girl, left/right, foreground/background, presence/absence—that it’s easy to miss that the hole in the sheet changes position, that the apparent constant turns out to be another variable.

Other images tease at assumptions about photography and particular types of images. What from a distance appears to be a picture of a flock of flamingos against a white backdrop turns out to be a photo of a cluster of photos mounted on sticks, each picturing a scarlet ibis (like a flamingo with short legs). Two images play with ideas about photography’s capacity to capture action in a freeze-frame. One shows a red fox that appears on the verge of leaping right out of the photograph, until it becomes clear that the animal was suspended in motion by a taxidermist rather than the photographer; the other, in an absurdly static composition, documents a dull natural history display illustrating the ultraslow phenomenon of shifting land masses beneath a headline reading “Continents in Motion.”

What Nipper touts is less the crisis of representation than the playground of representation and misrepresentation. Her project is not a battle but a game. As far as meta-images go, this is a refreshing option.

Christopher Miles