Los Angeles

Emilie Halpern, October 26th 2013, 4:03pm, gold leaf, 25' x 15' 6“ x 12' 1”.

Emilie Halpern, October 26th 2013, 4:03pm, gold leaf, 25' x 15' 6“ x 12' 1”.

Emilie Halpern

Pepin Moore

Emilie Halpern, October 26th 2013, 4:03pm, gold leaf, 25' x 15' 6“ x 12' 1”.

Opening on the fall equinox and closing on the winter solstice, Emilie Halpern’s third solo show at Pepin Moore seemed more in sync with cosmological rhythms than with the mundane cycles of the art world. Halpern took her show’s title and tripartite arrangement from the shōka style of ikebana, which symbolizes the balance between ten (earth), chi (heavens), and jin (human). Each monthlong “phase” of her exhibition took on a stark, elemental character: The first consisted entirely of rough rocks with fluorescent properties, placed on the gallery floor. A blend of daylight and black light lent many of the rocks a pale UV glow, and at night the gallery became a neon Zen garden of yellow, purple, and orange blotches. For “Heavens,” Halpern applied gold leaf to those areas where a moment of direct sunlight struck the gallery’s walls and fixtures—an index, titled October 26th 2013, 4:03pm—which was illuminated by subsequent passing rays that grew increasingly misregistered as the show progressed. Finally, the artist displayed dozens of ceramic vessels, which were lined up on a low plinth or hung from the ceiling with monofilament: This “Human” phase, embodied by an age-old art form, concluded a show otherwise supposedly guided by planetary phenomena.

Yet Halpern’s exhibition was handmade—indeed, “human”—from start to finish. The stones were quarried, broken into manageable chunks, and distributed on the gallery floor, not randomly but tastefully, with an even pathway around the perimeter. The radiant gold leaf spilling over the door handle, window frame, standpipe, and corner represented not simply “light” but mediated sunlight—a particular beam already shaped by the glass-and-aluminum architecture. Throughout, the question indicated, and performed, was that of the relationship of man to nature, or to physics, or, more generally, to abstract systems, discovered or developed: geology, cosmology, and aesthetics. Mitigating natural phenomena with human constructions, Halpern nods to a post-Minimalist tradition, wherein the artists’ interventions highlight their own frailty. An interesting “phasing” occurred, for example, between cosmological and gallery rhythms when, on November 3, daylight saving time expired and night began to fall an hour or more before the workday’s end, leading the gallerists to light the gold leaf with fluorescents. Time thus took on a role similar to that of the gallery space itself—as an indifferent setting within which the exhibition was arranged.

Rather than demonstrating a sincere connection with nature, Halpern’s installation mimicked the tendency of art to gain its gravity by association with transcendent forces. Framed as it was within extra-human parameters, the exhibition invoked some grand, even universal significance while revealing the hubris and inadequacy of such a gesture. The monofilament and acrylic hooks used to levitate the ceramics, for example, were obvious, just as the installation of each previous stage made concessions to the physical limits of the gallery and to the circulation of viewers’ bodies. Halpern’s show produced not illusions but effects: of cosmological alignment, of pleasing forms, of art. The rocks were less Smithson-like non-site than simply rocks on a concrete floor, pointing nowhere but to the immediate idea of “rock” or of “concrete.” This understanding, at once elegant and contrived, extended to Halpern’s literal, elemental use of time; the evocation of shōka suggested a spiritual order underlying the show’s arrangements, but what exactly this might mean remained a mystery. Such echoes of the cosmic intimations of Land art provided the New Age-y texture against which Halpern’s objects and phases were set. By part three, however, with the gallery full of comically “hovering” pots, any suggestion of metaphysics proved less interesting than the way the exhibition undermined its own mysticism. Rubble, gold flakes, and fired clay stood in for earth; tasteful decorations parodied the monumental excavations of the 1970s. Investigating such expansive concepts at the scale of ikebana, Halpern’s glowing, shiny, floating show called on the timeless magic of art until even beginnings and endings read as human notions—not time, but temporal.

Travis Diehl