nora byrne


thoughts & feelings

Crowing over Kitchens

I mentioned PhoPa Gallery's Inside/Out exhibit in February's post, and I want to make another nepotistic comment that PhoPa has consistently exhibited excellent work the entire time I've been aware of the establishment (also, there's brie at the opening). While the show is sadly over, I attended the artist's talk hosted by the gallery, and it turned out to be one of the most intellectually stimulating events I've attended in a while (excluding the Art History lectures I've been attending at USM, which deserve much more attention, and will receive it). The artists and moderator covered everything from use of photoshop to Maine's penchant for landscapes, but I found the subject of intimate interiors especially fascinating.

At the talk interiors were discussed as an exploration of the ordinary, lending value and contemplation to objects and spaces that often go unnoticed. This was most obvious in the work of Sarah Szwajkos, who photographed others' personal spaces she found compelling, using her photos to inspire curiosity and discussion as to what originally drew her to the space. They explore how we relate to spaces, subjectivity in interpretation calling attention to how spaces unite and divide people in the ways they react to them. Dishes nestle comfortably next to a clean sink, a cupboard cracked to imply another layer to the space, an invitation to look deeper. The ambiguity of these simple interiors captures something remarkably personal to each person who views it, and the artist loses some control over the meaning of their work.

Sarah Szwajkos, Apartment Kitchen with Clean Dishes, Moving Out, Personal Space Series Copyright Sarah Szwajkos
Sarah Szwajkos, Apartment Kitchen with Clean Dishes, Moving Out, Personal Space Series Copyright Sarah Szwajkos

I was struck by this notion of control looking at my roommate Sarah's collaged interiors. In the photographs at PhoPa we see how people inhabit spaces, indicators by which people establish identity and confirm it physically in their personal sphere. I see a lot of this in Perea-Kane's work. Birds in the Kitchen shows comfortable angles and confident lines of perspective of the dormers and counters, studded with individual elements in friendly pinks and yellows. This semi-orderly scene is set with a familiar hand, the sketchiness of the lines lending a sense of the personal. The kitchen is a glimpse into the privacy not just of the space, but of the close relationship of mind to hand.

Perea-Kane, Birds in the Kitchen, 2014
Perea-Kane, Birds in the Kitchen, 2014

The birds in question are cut roughly from black paper. They scatter in the space, lending a malevolence of the uncontrollable. The window looms in the background, but the artist gives no reason to believe the birds entered the room from there. The shapes are superimposed on the painting, born from the perspective of the viewer. They stand tribute to the subjectivity of interpretation inherent in the viewer. While Szwajkos seems to entice the viewer into any attempt at interpretation, Perea-Kane forces them to confront their own voyeurism before they examine the space depicted. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two Sarahs is not medium or surname, but rather that the photographer documents spaces not necessarily her own. 

There's a comfort as a viewer in performing the same function as the artist - we're not alone in our voyeurism when the object is born of it as well.  Perea-Kane depicts her own space being encroached by wild elements outside our control. She reminds one that, in the attempt to grasp at clues of identity and meaning in another's private space we're rarely nothing but another animal fluttering on the surface.