Valerie Snobeck at Simon Lee
By Sam Phillips
Published 8 April 2014
We visited the Valerie Snobeck exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery, where a new series of the American artist’s ‘peels’ are on display.
Valerie Snobeck appropriates found photographs but presents them more like sculptures. Prints are transferred to plastic or presented behind acid-distressed glass and sheets of gauze stretched on a wooden structure. The original images are either degraded or obscured, and in the process their meaning becomes ever more complicated.
A new series of the American artist’s ‘peels’ are central to her first show in Britain, on view at Simon Lee, nearby the Academy. For these works Snobeck sourced images from Documerica, a project by the US Environmental Protection Agency that catalogued the country’s changing environmental circumstances during the 1970s.
She selected a small and enigmatic group of these images – a plant, of a person panning for gold, a wife taking something out of the eye of her husband. Each was ink-jet printed and then covered by hot plastic. The plastic was peeled off, leaving a thin sheet on which the image was transferred. This was repeated, with the original ink-jet slowly degrading and the transfers, in turn, picking up less and less ink. In the Minimalist tradition, the peels are presented in grid arrangements on the wall: the different degradations of each image are displayed alongside abstract colour-field-esque peels, which the artist produced after blowing up a detail from one of the photographs.
The artist has described these works as ‘skins’, and if one is to take the metaphor further, Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas comes to mind, in which the artist’s skin is stripped by the wish of Apollo. If there is an echo of this painting in the exhibition, it comes in the form of a different series of sculptures. Here Depression-era vessels have been filled with water and then frozen, with the expanded liquid cracking the objects; Snobeck then reconstructed them with piano wire. Sitting on piano stools they evoke the hope of a musician about to play, or an artist about to create.
Valerie Snobeck: LE MONDE, LE CONTINENT, LA FRANCE, ETC..., ETC..., LA RUE DE BIZERTE, MOI is at Simon Lee Gallery until 16 May 2014.
Sam Phillips is Editor of RA Magazine.