SOPHIA NARRETT: CERTAIN MAGIC
BRIC Arts Media, Brooklyn, NY
May 12 - June 17, 2018
By EMMA HOWCROFT, May 2018
It’s no surprise that Internet culture has lent itself to a runaway experiment in voyeurism. Visual cues are a universal currency, and persona is the gatekeeper of new American dream. To some, this constant surveillance is an anxiety-inducing test of self worth, and the amassing of personal information feels like a bloodletting. For others, there is a fascinating transformation in the way we interact: the taboo has become habitual. Peeping Tom is no longer a shadowy anonymous, he is us, and this is changing the way we think about intimacy and love. Artist Sophia Narrett delights in these grotesque dualities, and her current exhibition Certain Magic, on view at BRIC Arts Media through June 17th, tackles the questions surrounding deviance, voyeurism, and attachment in the age of information. Narrett, a recent graduate of RISD’s MFA program, has developed a medium that blurs the lines between painting, embroidery, and sculpture. Her meticulous wall hangings consist of thread woven over wire, which allows the work to unfurl in all directions including outwards, almost in invitation. Narrett’s use of embroidery is essential to her subject matter. Once the epitome of “woman’s work,” embroidery has traditionally implied rigidity and structure, beauty and simplicity. Narrett has agitated embroidery into a contemporary shade of its original presentation; her figuration is decided and unflinching, and along the edges of these pieces, threads trail off into loose, shapeless waterfalls of material, suggesting that the image is undoing itself from the outside in. In discussion with T Magazine this year, she explained, “Embroidery and its implicit history help specify the tone of my stories, one characterized by obsession, desire and both the freedoms and restraints of femininity.” Acutely aware of legacy, many of the works in Certain Magic are framed by prominent flowers, as if in homage to the original imagery favored by the women who pioneered the art.
Certain Magic is most striking in its narratives, and the disquieting relationship forged between viewer and object intimates a calculated environment that verges on installation. Each piece broaches sexuality, dark comedy, and cultural iconography. In her largest work yet, Right Before, Narrett traces a scene that would delight Anaïs Nin. The work takes a skull-like shape, crowned with Narrett’s characteristic web of petals and diffusing into a tangle of strings, like the dream is crumbling Inception-style. Here, the naturalistic, oblong architecture of Narrett’s work simulates a sort of portal—a secret window into a luminescent other-space. At the heart of Right Before, bodies are tangled in spider-like loops of limbs. Above them, a man appears to be in the midst of proposing to his lover, rose petals falling around them in a Bachelor-esque fantasy. To the right, another man in cocktail attire descends a staircase with a naked woman balanced on his shoulder. And, both above and below, figures watch the scene. Contemplative, they are our company in witnessing this feverish bender. Voyeurism is so central to the work that it even spectates itself, or maybe provides an example for how it might want to be viewed. These ecstatic worlds are absorbing, but the window effect keeps us at a distance. I had the sensation of unveiling something incredibly intimate without trespassing and without judgment.
The figures that people Certain Magic are culled from various corners of pop culture, and they reflect the frenetic mental collage of instantly accessible media. Fractured interaction is at the core of the work: characters screwing, navigating strange engagements, popping out of manholes, or peering out from the background. Some of Narrett’s characters are absorbed in solitary daydreams, as in Afternoon Nap, which renders the listlessness of a lazy day spent in bed, endlessly scrolling in evening light—perfectly Instagrammable. These figures function as discrete islands of activity, not dissimilar to an imagistic newsfeed. They act out the motions of love, sex, and desire, yet they seem strangely untethered to one another, existing beyond the realm of responsibility and connection. This sense of fragmentation and isolation is also mirrored in the installation of the wall hangings themselves, which are spaced in irregular intervals of high and low. On her use of media references, Narrett writes in an email to me, “I think of it as using characters and images from pop culture as the language to tell my own stories in. It becomes a way to interact with media narratives about love and beauty, including the aspects that I'm drawn to as well as those that disturb or disappoint me."
Certain Magic is an enchanting and confident step forward for an artist whose voice, vision, and vocabulary are truly unique. Sophia Narett transforms analog threads into transmission lines: digital messengers revealing the truth of modern life alongside the cyberverse, with all of its triumphs, unease, and multiplicity. WM
Emma Howcroft is a writer and arts administrator who lives and works in New York. She graduated from New York University with a degree in writing and critical theory.