Jennifer Murphy: A Few Words around the Work of
I have a piece by Jennifer Murphy in my apartment. It is a mobile composed of eight elements dangling in a cluster from invisible thread, five to six feet from the floor. The largest of these is a paper cut-out in the shape of a hand. Patches of mint silk make up one side, reflective mylar the other. The rest of the dangling objects are cut-outs of eggs and a rock (all with photo on one side, reflective mylar on the other). This octet is never still; a nearby window and lamp provide constant drafts and air currents. When the sun is low in the west, the mylar surfaces smear rainbows around the room. In less dramatic light, a constant movement of shadows and reflections play on the wall.
And because everything is always moving, each individual element shifts moment-to-moment from one kind of object to a completely other kind. One moment shows a photo-representation of the natural world, the next a nearly invisible line, the next a flash of pure light. You can’t use the same eyes for each of these; your brain renames the object and your vision refocuses.
A lot of Murphy’s work is what you might call drawing in mixed media: a crow in black lace and coloured pencil; a chandelier in bookbinding tape; a skull in pressed pansy flowers. But there are also sculptures: a delicate curtain made of cut-outs of butterflies, horses, and cats; papier maché spheres with oblong openings and mysterious rainbows inside; a circle made of variously coloured ribbon pinned to the wall with photos of hands emerging; a corner installation made from the photo of a fox cut on one side to describe the close-up profile of its face and on the other to describe the distant profile of its body. In every case, modes of representation (usually photography, illustration, or published text) are put into material and representational flux. So while the images may be of bones, bugs, or amphibians and the materials might be velvet, tulle, or trash bags, the final work is more to do with complexities of presentation and perception in form and image.
In other words, Murphy takes illustrations from guides, catalogs, magazines, and other paraphernalia and removes them from their function as illustration. The images no longer subserve the staid conventions of the consumer object they were meant for – they proliferate in swarms of life-in-all-directions.
This work is often called gothic, fantastical, surreal. And yes, it is often some or all of these things. But one thing you don’t always hear it called is psychedelic – at times phenomenologically dazzling, but more important: involved in an open question about material, representation, perception, and consciousness. It is this level of subjective complexity that allows the work to radically complicate image, presentation, representation, and narrative, and yet to take pleasure in it all.
—Josh Thorpe, 2008 (revised 2010)
Gem Skull (2010)
Printed paper, thread and pins; 42" x 24"
Bird Spiral (2010)
Printed paper, thread and pins; 47" x 35"
Nest Skull (2010)
Printed paper, thread and pins; 30" x 26"
Black Bird Skull (2010)
Printed paper, thread and pins; 46" x 28"
Butterfly Skull (2010)
Printed paper, thread and pins; 47" x 28"
Printed paper, thread and pins; 77" x 68"
Gold Skull (2010)
Printed paper, thread and pins; 43" x 31"
Install view of Twenty Pearls with Burgundy God's Eye (2010), left,
and Bird (2010), right