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PENELOPE UMBRICO @ BERNARD TOALE GALLERY

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“The false color in the original source material reveals the constructed notion of romance through marketing. My horizons are a kind of global travel through the absurdity of the marketing of love.” --Penelope Umbrico, 2003

The first thing one encounters is a horizon. A horizon of pop-colored, heavily pixilated horizon lines which (suggesting that game where one focuses on the “beyond” of an image while waiting for another, 3D, image to emerge) situate the viewer nowhere so much as before an image of their own reflection, sharply skewed amidst an array of framed and reverberating horizon lines. The digital C-prints (seventeen of the forty images that make up Umbrico’s “Honeymoon Suite” series are exhibited here) are extractions from honeymoon resort brochures. Immersed within a color-field reminiscent of Lichtenstein’s ben-day dots, we are asked, it seems, to examine the cartoon construction of our social sublime: the fantasy honeymoon.

Umbrico’s signifier of choice for this examination, the horizon line, functions both as image and metaphor. It is a fitting element on which to pin her central concern: the production and manipulation of desire surrounding the American marriage industry. For what is a ‘horizon’ but the perception of a forever elusive, yet central, point in the organization of a visual and social field? “The apparent intersection of the earth and sky as seen by an observer,” a horizon delimits heaven from earth, the quotidian from the extraordinary, and dreams from reality. Within the structural logic of the horizon, the dream is always possible, as long as it remains...deferred. Like the horizon line, the dream must recede into the distance as we approach it if it is to retain its status as dream.

Umbrico turns her microscope towards this lynchpin of the economic machinery of the marriage industry (the honeymoon), and concentrates our attention on a particular signifier of desire (the horizon line of the exotic) as it is naturalized within the landscape of commercial consumer photography. Not content with the mediation of nature offered in the exotic outdoor shot, she multiplies her reference to desire, and its representative abstractions, by insisting on those horizons that are viewed and framed from the inside. The horizon lines Umbrico chooses are, most particularly, those visible through the windows of honeymoon suites. Situated firmly inside the scenario, Umbrico proceeds to zoom out, radically de-contextualizing what we can see, erasing not only any trace of the happily “just married" couples (presumably basking in their various paradises), but all trace of window-frame and foliage. Everything is censored but the gestural mark of the horizon line, with its heavily pixilated shifts of form and color. We are left with a formal field seemingly emptied of contextual signification; a visual texture that begins with a kaleidoscopic weave of “television-noise” and extends through more intimate fields-- evoking nothing so much as the warmth of a Rothko reconfigured through the pattern of pop textiles.

Umbrico offers us a warp and weft of social desire flattened out in the color of cheap commercial photography. Targeting the manifold languages of the consumer catalogue, her expansive body of work (including two brief, but exquisite, forays into internet marketing) focuses on the ways in which, through the mediation of advertising imagery, ideals of social consumption are produced and maintained. Umbrico asks us to examine the loci of our desires, and the machinery through which, willy-nilly, these are formulated.


Penelope Umbrico's "Honeymoon Suite (From Honeymoon Resort Brochures)" is on display until February 14, 2004.  All images courtesy of the artist and Bernard Toale Gallery.

Bernard Toale Gallery
Penelope Umbrico
Natalie Loveless


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