by Nancy Kay Turner
(The Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena) Assemblage is the art of reclamamtion--salvaging urban detritus, those objects thrown out, abandoned or just unnoticed--and incorporating them into fresh contexts. Sarah Perry first burst on the art scene a decade ago with the large-scale grouping of gorillas that she fashioned out of scraps of rubber tires gleaned from the Los Angeles highways. These remarkable works were stunning in their verisimilitude, capturing the stance and expressions of warm, living animals with a cold, intractable industrial cast-off.
In the ensuing years, Perry's work shifted to smaller, more personal and poetic works like the 1995 mixed-media altered book piece "What's Underneath Us?" An outdated scientific text is opened to a page about granite, which the author tells us is the composition of the rock which is literally underneath us. Perry collected over thirty tiny, white moth carcasses, which she affixed to the left of the page on top of a black and white photograph of a church seen at night, its steeple lit like a beacon. The moths appear to be flying in formation, as always attracted to the light. Their white, ghost-like transparent bodies suggest a religious or spiritual "reading" of this piece. What supports us in our precarious lives? The literal rock under our feet or the rock of ages--a higher power? On the page at the right is a single black bird perched on a wire, perhaps a metaphor for our precarious lives.
The Miracle is an image of Albert Einstein burnt onto the surface of a tortilla. This immediately calls to mind the famous Shroud of Turin, reputed to be the cloth that covered Christ following the crucifixion, and on which his face was miraculously imprinted. Instead of a major religious figure, Perry imprints a scientific icon of one of the most singular geniuses of the twentieth century.
With this work Perry invites us to ask many questions about religion and science. Religion is based on faith and science is based on fact, yet we know historically that much earlier scientific thought was eventually debunked. So are science and religion so different? Do we deify scientific genius?
The artist's choice of a tortilla is a particularly fascinating one, as this is a food staple for the heavily Catholic Hispanic populations all over this continent, who are particularly devoted and religious. At the same time there is something slightly hokey about this "miracle" tortilla, which evokes a sense of covert critique or skepticism by the artist of this aspect of religion.
Perry comes full circle in this survey as she returns to her earlier, large scale, masculine and aggressive gorillas made out of tire parts. As artists often do, Perry has journeyed back to her starting point armed with greater wisdom, profundity, and, yes, craftsmanship. Her work is quietly provocative as she encourages her audience to consider the origin of creation, the role of the artist in society, and the difference between religion and spirituality. Perry is an alchemist, magician, and poet who combines often mutually exclusive works into a coherent whole that intrigues, stimulates and educates the viewer.
"The Miracle," burnt tortilla/plex/velvet
"Darwin's Portal," thousands of tiny bones/
"Nature of the Beast," book/graphite/lizards/