View of “Em Rooney: Women in Fiction,” 2020 at Franois Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Em Rooney and Franois Ghebaly.

For her first solo present in Los Angeles—on view at Franois Ghebaly from December 12 to January 9—Em Rooney unveils a brand new physique of sculpture alongside her pictures. While Rooney is understood for creating sculptural framing gadgets for her photographs, this marks her first exhibition of stand-alone sculptures, virtually all of which assume the type of flowers. An emphasis on tactility and course of has all the time been evident in Rooney’s photographic “containers,” which deftly merge two otherwise valued modes of data acquisition: sight and contact. Focusing on sculptural varieties permits Rooney to proceed drawing connections between materiality, contact, and the ethics of care. The present additionally features a new sequence of pictures impressed by Garry Winogrand’s 1975 ebook of road pictures, Women Are Beautiful. The two our bodies of labor are united below the present’s title—“Women in Fiction.” There’s a small conceptual leap between ladies in fiction and lady as fiction. The title nudges us to think about this building, but additionally provides us permission to show pride in it. Rooney nimbly employs symbolic containers which are all too simply overdetermined—lady, flower—with out permitting them to get backed into theoretical dead-ends.

MAKING A FLOWER SCULPTURE felt like an enormous leap from different sculptures that I’d made, which had by no means actually been representational. The flower form was like a doorway to starting to work with type outdoors of a semantic relationship to its body or container. Its morphology proved to be difficult sufficient that I may use it as a construction from which to make different sculptures. I like that they’re vaginal or female, however that wasn’t the beginning place.

Also, I’ve spent two and a half years in the woods in Western Mass, rising issues. That expertise isn’t not there in my flower sculptures, however I do not suppose it’s essential to their reception. For instance, you wouldn’t know that Lady Macbeth, 2020, appears like a ghost pipe plant except you reside in a hemlock forest or are a botanist or one thing.

The supplies of the sculptures embrace plaster, linen, velvet, tulle, rice paper, and a warmth blanket, and consult with a lineage of artists like Ree Morton, Elizabeth Murray, and Lee Bontecou. There’s one thing in their work that one would possibly name an earnestness and an awkwardness. The first sculpture was the toughest, and after that they have been all made with completely different processes and supplies. I switched from polystyrene to plaster as a result of working with foam is disgusting and plaster is gorgeous and wonderful. I attempted to focus on with the ability to take pleasure in and join with the factor that I used to be making, to have some type of loving relationship with it.

I’ve been considering quite a bit about supplies and their relationship to the physique. Metal has this rigidity, malleability, and—particularly with metal and pewter—fallibility throughout the chemical construction. I like how contact can be linked to darkroom pictures, because the silver paper is a bodily hint of a physique or a factor in actual space-time. Even although I don’t like making frames, I can’t ever rent it out as a result of it’s so conceptually necessary to me that I deal with the {photograph} and create its container. Showing up for my work, standing with it or over it, touching the fronts and the backs, sanding and waxing rigorously, has been an act of kindness to myself.


Em Rooney, Lady Macbeth, 2020, blackened and welded steel, glass, linen, paste wax, yarn, 85 x 24 x 12''.

This means of working—the “to touch is to know” method, to paraphrase Amy Sillman—has to do with embodiment. And it has been feminized, queered, re-masculinized, and re-feminized over the previous century and a half. Without getting too deep right into a historical past of constructing, we will see how care and contact can morph into materials and finish fetish. At the identical time, there are such a lot of sculptural processes that, in their emphasis on floor relationships, disrupt a binary of handmade/fabricated.I’m fascinated about Anne Truitt sanding her layers and layers of paint, creating pristine surfaces on exhausting wooded columns. Vincent Fecteau and the beautiful insides and outsides of his sculptures. Or Martin Puryear, who perhaps operates extra like an architect however has the deep materials data of a carpenter. And Vaginal Davis’s work and drawings with cosmetics, the place the concept of finish is conceptual in the sense that make-up is a completion. And Louise Bourgeois, who dominates finish. Or Simone Leigh’s High Line sculpture up towards the New York skyline.

Of course, there would even be issues that I hadn’t even imagined, and these moments are, to me, the place the magic occurs. It isn’t spill-, or mistake-, or accident-fetish. Rather, it’s the strangeness of translation. Like in the English subtitles of Chris Marker’s La Jetee the place a park is known as a backyard, or just like the methods Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei’s line “evening light slipping through trees” has been expressed as “slanting sun,” “piercing rays,” “a reaching reflection,” “motley patterns,” or just “sunset” by his varied fashionable translators.

I’m additionally in life-cycles with all of their baseness, abstraction, messiness. But additionally their readability. And there’s something in all that that’s exhausting and perhaps retro to explain, which is my very own subjectivity, my very own life, my very own mortality. I’m thirty-seven, nearing the tip of my reproductive years, with no youngsters (an ending of a cycle inside cycles). I’ve lived the expertise of girlhood, and womanhood, and felt outdoors from it. I’ve liked ladies and been in love with ladies, been heart-broken by them, and I’ve pined for his or her hard-to-access elements. I’m married to and in love with a person. I’m white and have had the expertise, many instances all through my life, of getting my whiteness and my femininity grant me entry, approval, and security. I’m queer and generally boyish and have been gay-bashed and excluded and liked wholesomely by neighborhood. So after I have a look at ladies and women there’s awe and disgrace. When I have a look at our pure world with all of its industriousness, after I take into consideration our political constructions and their nefarious roots and blossoms, there is identical.


Em Rooney, Rineke Dijkstra’s Girls at the Rijksmuseum, 2020, silver gelatin print in artist’s frame of poplar, pewter and museum glass, 10 x 13.5 x 1'' (framed).

The place to begin for the physique of pictures in this present—titled “Women in Fiction”—was my concept to remake Garry Winogrand’s ebook Women are Beautiful. Right as I used to be actually starting to work on it, Covid occurred and I assumed I’d by no means be capable to make the ebook as a result of I wouldn’t be capable to trip across the subway taking pictures of ladies. But, in the summer season, I went to protests and the seaside. I took pictures of my mates and strangers in Washington, DC; Albany and Kingston in New York; and Atlantic City and Asbury Park in New Jersey. I thought of how I may make these pictures in a means that’s nonetheless completely difficult and problematic, however a lot extra nuanced than Winogrand’s relationship to his photos.

While I began working on this present, I moved into this big new studio—the primary actual studio I’ve ever had. Incidentally, I additionally bought on a Virginia Woolf studying rampage in early pandemic. The unique title of A Room of One’s Own was Women and Fiction. This present comes out of fascinated about ladies and how individuals depict them in literature and on movie. Women expansively, ladies in closed methods. The title “Women in Fiction” felt like precisely what the present was, but additionally one thing curious and open. In a means, my references to Winogrand or to the type of the flower are simply useful methods to materialize one thing that feels expansive.