Joy Episalla at Debs & Co, NYC                                                                                       March, 2000


Bill Arning


Joy Episalla takes photographs of things that are inconsequential, unlovely and just plain boring. But by approaching them with the fixated attention of a forensic examiner, she imbues these calculated mundanities with a hushed wonder. Her subjects are details of domestic interiors that show wear, each smudge evincing past occupants and lost times. Often her viewpoint is so close to the subject that the large-scale color photos slip gently over the border into abstraction, an especially pronounced effect in those works that Episalla physically "dissects."


Both of the first pieces we encountered in her recent show (12 works, all 1999), Footnote #1 and Footnote #2, had been sliced into 28 thin, 10-by-4-inch, Plexi-mounted tiles, with each resulting image fragment being nearly monochrome. Some tiles were checkerboarded onto the floor with others stacked nearby as if awaiting our game attempts to rearrange them until they shared their secret, occluded information with us.


Two additional photographs, both featuring less subtle images, were treated to an installation on the floor. Handbag #1 and Handbag #2 are close-cropped views of purse openings so enlarged that, if the openings had been real, we could have hopped snugly into them. We could read them as sexualized orifices--with zipper teeth perhaps obliquely referencing the mythic notion of the vagina dentata--or just as easily fall into a no less Freudian reverie as we remember slipping a hand into Mother's pocketbook, looking for a sweet.


By far the most moving photos were two multipanel images of stacks of bed pillows, some spanking new and some stained and yellowed. Pillow #1 and Pillow #2 were mounted on thick slabs of Plexi and leaned against the wall, one overlapping the other slightly, as if to lend physical weight to the pillows' evanescent glow and dreamy low-intensity color. The stains, whether the result of sexual pleasure, infirmity or merely the occasional drool of deep sleep, evoke the countless Sunday mornings that heads slept late on the older pillows.


The photos bravely acknowledge the famous Felix Gonzalez-Torres billboard of two pillows, which, as one of the great public art works of the '90s, is quite a daunting icon of recent art history to engage. But while the Gonzalez-Torres piece is concerned with how one marks the limited time spent together that defines our intimate relationships, Episalla seems more preoccupied with how to live in the present and move toward the future when the remains of the past are all around us. Her answer seems to be to acknowledge and catalogue those remains, and grant them their rightful power over us so that we can get on with our lives.


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