At Interface, Two Photographers Translate Light into Solid Forms

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Elizabeth Bernstein, 'The light of things to happen,' 2017.  (Courtesy of Interface Gallery)

“It was serendipitous.” That’s how Suzanne L’Heureux, founder and director of Oakland’s Interface Gallery, describes the studio visits and conversations that ultimately produced the exhibition The sun shot out from its silver side.

The intimate installation, which pairs photographic work by Gregory Kaplowitz and Elizabeth Bernstein, captures the medium’s foundational tenet -- translating light into solid forms -- and explores its physical, psychological, and likewise serendipitous potential.

Both bodies of work demonstrate the artists' interest in light and its effects, but the methods by which they arrive at those ends are notably different.

Installation view, Installation shot, 'The sun shot out from its silver side'
Installation view, Installation shot, 'The sun shot out from its silver side' (Courtesy of Interface Gallery)

Kaplowitz creates photograms, a process actively explored by 19th-century photography enthusiasts in which objects are positioned on chemically treated, light-sensitive paper -- or fabric in this case -- and exposed to sunlight.

While completing a residency in upstate New York, Kaplowitz, who is interested in the aesthetic resonance between photography and abstract or non-objective painting, explored a nearby cemetery for the physical and spiritual inspiration it offered. He wrapped funerary plants he found there with treated mesh and muslin swaths and, after allowing the fabric to dry, stretched the textiles over frames or small wood supports.


The resulting images, Emanations and Cemetery specifically, convey a painterly quality that reminds me of pictorialist compositions (an early 20th-century photographic movement that promoted photography as a fine art, prioritizing tonality and creativity over hard documentation).

Left: Gregory Kaplowitz, 'Emanations,' 2017; Right: 'Martin Riley (6),' 2017.
Left: Gregory Kaplowitz, 'Emanations,' 2017; Right: 'Martin Riley (6),' 2017. (Courtesy of Interface Gallery)

Like Emanations, in which the curving mesh ground and light passing through the fabric hint at movement, Martin Riley (6) suggests dimensionality on an otherwise flat ground. In it, Kaplowitz stretches a photogram printed on strategically loosened burlap over a printed silk scarf, reflecting the artist's interest in linear abstraction, as seen in the work of painters Agnes Martin and Bridget Riley.

Translated directly, to photograph means “to write with light,” and that visual transcription often strives to transmit experiences that are external, or history-making. Elizabeth Bernstein’s eye, however, is drawn to smaller yet no less significant personal moments -- those that are likely to pass without recognition. Looking at the diminutive, often paired, shelf-bound compositions in which she features a quiet corner or a patch of sunlight progressing across an empty wall, we’re invited into the artist’s internal space, both physical and mental.

Bernstein describes her practice as one centered on human dynamics -- love, fear, vulnerability, and a desire for connection. The close photographic observations exhibited here may suggest that what we see is the space or stage on which those dynamics unfold if, like the artist, we watch for them.

Elizabeth Bernstein, 'Something opened...' 2017.
Elizabeth Bernstein, 'Something opened...' 2017. (Courtesy of Interface Gallery)

Since opening Interface Gallery in 2012, L’Heureux has curated precisely staged installations that maximize the gallery’s limited space and showcase her selected artists' most accomplished pieces. While she couldn’t forecast the content of the conversations she had with Kaplowitz and Bernstein, the result of that happy accident is a contemplative exhibition that instills a sense of calm in otherwise calamitous times.

'The sun shot out from its silver side' is on view at Interface Gallery in Oakland through Oct. 15. For more information, click here.