The Opti-Craft of Devora Sperber
Websites like MAKE and BoingBoing are raising a fuss about Devora Sperber's reproduction of DaVinci's Mona Lisa using 20,736 spools of thread. I wanted to write a more in-depth appreciation of her work. I didn't have a chance to check out her exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, which ended in May, but she IS mounting an exhibition at the Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta next March. On the surface, Sperber's work is easily summed up--appropriated art historical images reproduced in craft-centric materials like pipe cleaners, thread spools, maptacks, and vinyl stickers. The effect is akin to Chuck Close, with large pixilation that only becomes clear when stepping back from the work. Sperber is also as interested in optical effects and issues of sight and perception. She often places optical devices in close proximity to the work that bring the macro-abstracted image into the realm of micro-clarity.
One of Sperber's most stunning works is "After Holbein, 2003-2004", a circular pipe cleaner reproduction of Holbein's "The Ambassadors" with a stainless steel column in the center. The pipe cleaner image is distorted, becoming clear only in the reflection in the center. Viewers are lured into her alternate world, where reality is twisted upon itself like a möbius strip. Sperber chooses her subjects intuitively, then exhaustively researches them, choosing not only the most fitting (and pedestrian) materials to render them in, but also the best optical device to help the viewer to reconsider the image. The Holbein painting was a more than appropriate subject for image manipulation, as the original contained a cleverly manipulated skull. There is a combination of computer processing and handicraft that I find irresistable. Sporer has said that although her pieces are labor-intensive, they are for all intents, finished by the time she even starts physically making them. Conceptual clarity adds to the accumulated power of the image. Scale is also clearly important, with many of the works replicating the scale of the appropriated piece. I am constantly finding out about artists that use craft as a part of their work, but seldom have I found someone who considers all aspects of their work as carefully as Devora Sperber. I wish that I could take a time machine to go back a few months to check out the Brooklyn Museum show. Sigh.