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Creative Research Lab


work by Paul & Turner

Karri Paul & Laura Turner
installation view (detail), 2006

work by Paul & Turner

Laura Turner
above: Attack Bird, 2006
13.75" x 17"

work by Paul & Turner

Karri Paul
above: untitled, 2006
graphite on paper
19.5" x 15.75"

Conversation between two curators:

In one sense, curators have a very privileged viewpoint for looking at the art included in their own exhibition, and this position is often misunderstood, mishandled, and even misapplied. But in fact, we see art primarily as viewers just as everyone else. Andy and I have chosen to share our conversation about Karri Paul and Laura Turners’ works instead of writing a formal, jargon-y essay in the hopes that we can illuminate the process of collaboration a little further.

Erika Cole: Karri and Laura are both working on the concept of the viewer’s place in a landscape. Karri’s drawings are very clearly responses to her summer spent in Italy, and it is easy to see her affection for its beauty in her carefully detailed compositions. At one level, they are memoirs. But, I also see her working with the idea of view point—that where the viewer stands determines both what she sees and what is obstructed from her view. This is one place where her drawings enter into a dialogue with Laura’s photographs, which also seem to be about chance views of the American landscape.

Andy Campbell: I see a shifting viewpoint in Karri’s landscape drawings as well. A viewer is really able to lose himself in these fractured landscapes, even when they seem to only take up a small sliver of the page. They seem to be constructed as memories of Italy, bits and pieces of the landscape that were ingrained into the artist’s mind. What most interests me about Karri’s drawings, and Laura’s photographs as well, is how negative space is imbued with multiple meanings. I find something very melancholic about the gray drawings that seem to drop off into nothingness at points. Sometimes this blank space, this nothingness, becomes a body of water; sometimes it implies a hurriedness or an unfinished quality. This is not to say I think the drawings are unfinished per se, but rather the spaces left blank imply more than we may at first care to admit.

Erika: Actually, it’s good to talk about intention with both artists’ work. Karri’s drawings, with their very intentional unfinished or blank spaces, strengthen their identity as memories—as in, “This is what I saw before the bus blocked my view,” or “I don’t remember what was down the hill from that farm,”—but they also invite the viewer to participate in the imaginative act of filling an empty space. With Laura’s photographs, intention serves a different function. She “finds” landscapes that are ambiguous and familiar at the same time. I think her intention is to make the viewer reflect on their own memories, how what they bring psychically to the viewing affects what they see in the picture. What is “left out” of Laura’s photos, then, is the same thing that is “left out” of Karri’s drawings–the viewer’s perspective. Karri Paul & Laura Turner

Andy: Right, but I think Laura’s photographs are very familiar to those of us who grew up in suburban America. The photograph of the ceramic birds on shelves is one that I respond to strongly because it sets up a relationship between the viewer, the photograph, and the collection being photographed. It’s obvious that the homeowners (or perhaps it was the artist) took great care in arranging the birds. This is similar to the way that we arrange our whole houses, inside and out, for the benefit of ourselves, and for others as well. A collection, I think, is just as much for the collector as for the collector’s set of friends, family, acquaintances, children, spouses, etc. In each of Laura’s photographs she highlights the kind of care we give to our lawns, rooms, and houses. She shows us how we show our spaces.

Erika: Andy, you are right on target. Laura has spoken about her work in exactly that context. She hopes the viewer will see the contrasts between private and public space in her photographs, and how we (we as homeowners, curators, interior decorators, landscape architects, housepainters, or whoever) present different kinds of space in different ways. In the three images, I think you can see she has chosen exactly that differential. One photograph shows the arrangement inside a home of a collection of bird curios inside a private residential space. Here Laura has given us a fairly intimate, arranged indoor landscape that hints at the postmodern analysis of kitsch as an expression of the collector’s personal identity. Meanwhile, the second image shows a fairly typical but anonymous suburban street, designed for public view but still carefully arranged and affected by its occupants. Utility poles and wires interrupt the view of the sky; the lawn is carefully kept. In some sense, this space must have been carefully manipulated not to express too much identity, to blend in inconspicuously with its neighbors. Both of these spaces have been heavily altered to send messages to the public viewer about their owners. The third photograph is different because it shows a tree and other groundcover growing naturally, in a rural, or even completely wild, setting. This space, which may not have an owner at all, is ironically the most private setting out of the three, and it’s only in this image that a human figure appears–taking a private moment, even, with his back turned.

Andy: Yes and I think Karri’s drawings accomplish this as well. I understand them as very private landscapes, even though they are wide open spaces populated with villas and houses.

Erika: One more thing to consider about Karri and Laura’s images is that they have asked us to view them in the context of each other. While the artists didn’t collaborate in the creation of one piece of work, the eight images here can be viewed together as one work. If we do so, we are confronted with a huge amount of variety: different kinds of media, different kinds of subject matter, and different levels of both realism and perspective. Whenever this happens in art, the viewer naturally begins to filter out extraneous information and tries to arrive at whatever shapes and ideas seem most prominent or prolific. In these eight works I think the message is about how we as humans affect and are affected by our environment.