Hybrid in nature, Joy Episalla’s Street View Rear Window, on view at Participant through April 12, is a dynamic repositioning of photography as pushed into the idiom of sculpture. Made up of three discrete but conceptually interconnected works, they create a kind of optic rubric that interrogates perception. Not driven by content so much as lacing the art with it in ways at once poetic and process-driven, Episalla is most interested in creating open-ended situations that engage the viewer in the question of how we see or read things. Allowing a degree of perplexity to linger, Episalla deftly considers the possibilities of abstraction and representation latent within one another.
The show opens with a suit of graphically strong photographs from her Garage series. The stark geometric designs on garage doors she photographed in 1989, visiting the retirement community of Sun City, Arizona, spin out a delightful assortment of unpredictable visual associations. Her large-scale black-and-white pictures of these doors act as a kind of tribute to how the language of modernism could infect even the most crushingly mundane details of suburban Americana.
For all their capacity to tease out myriad associations, the doors themselves are like apertures, drawing direct comparison to the camera shutter and the eye’s retina. This theme is echoed in Episalla’s quirky sculptural assemblage Arial View 3, in which a photogram of moving liquid lies atop a casual construction of Plexiglas panes and canvas. This bird’s-eye view is followed up in the back room installation of Les Psychanalystes et le Marche, a three-channel video projection taken from a balcony window in Paris of a day’s pedestrian choreography.
A trace of melancholia belies the utter lack of sentimentality in Episalla’s work. It’s not always easy to grasp everything she’s telling us, but it is that very slipperiness that matters most, that gap between what looks so patently simple and the mass of complexity that underlies it. Episalla, who has been a member of the queer collective fierce pussy since 1991, first came to attention as an artist/activist deeply committed to ACT-UP in the eighties. With this legacy behind her, it is hard not to read this art as an intervention against the ways we race through life, a demand to slow down enough to be in the present, and to take each moment in time as a kind of Proustian paradigm of reflection.