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Home Imagined at Metropolitan Gallery 250


[Evan explores a delicate, haunting exhibition centered on what we love most about our homes, by an artist who felt she never had a permanent resting place. — the Artblog editors]

Home Imagined is a solo exhibition by CFEVA Alumni Travel Grant recipient Brenna K. Murphy, currently showing at Metropolitan Gallery 250. Murphy’s work is an exploration of the physical objects and spaces that shape our idea of “home”. In her statement, she expresses how these works were informed by her experience of moving house many times as a child, and how the materiality of her own body came to replace the physicality of an absent geographical home. This replacement is apparent in Murphy’s use of material–the only medium present in the show is her own hair, embroidered onto a white paper background.

Intimate subject, intimate medium

Gallery view, Home Imagined at Metropolitan Gallery 250.

Murphy gracefully avoids an undesirable conversation about womanhood in relation to domesticity, choosing instead to talk about the physical and ephemeral nature of “home”.

Initially, I was drawn to the show not just because of its theme, but because of its medium–Murphy’s hair. Working with such unusual material has the potential to disgust, but more interestingly, it possesses the potential to bridge the space between the work and its maker.

The cleanliness of Murphy’s embroidery contrasts the innate qualities of sometimes-unruly hair; she refines and controls it. This process correlates with the experiences that shaped her work. There is a sense of honesty and connectivity, which would be lost if the work were drawn with pen and ink.

“Domestic Objects (Bathtub),” and “Domestic Objects (Bath Towel),” Brenna Murphy, artist’s hair stitched into paper, 2014.

The gallery space is small, but Murphy uses it well. In the center of the room hangs a large double-sided frame. Within it, the artist presents her largest and most ambitious composition: a four-by-six-foot rendering of a house that appears almost like the dollhouse Murphy says she loved as a child. On the surrounding walls are a series of embroideries of single objects–a chair, a bed, a comb or mirror–that support the central pieces.

Murphy’s is a sparse and minimal aesthetic, as she renders her pieces solely in line work. The absence of shading or definition increases the feeling that these objects and spaces are shells: signifiers for something unattainable, yet achingly familiar. The show is melancholy and reflective, evoking a sense of loss coupled with the assertion that this absence has only made Murphy more self-reliant.

Familiar memories for most

“Domestic Objects (Four-Poster Bed),” Brenna Murphy, artist’s hair stitched into paper, 2014.

The smaller pieces seem like fragments of a collective memory. These items are not personal to Murphy’s experiences, but stand-ins for common objects and places at “home”. The objects depicted also seem to be nonspecific, floating in time as they float on their white backgrounds. The compositions including objects that are common holders of memories are the most successful: for example, the four-poster bed and claw-foot tub. The comfort of your bed; the act of looking out of your bedroom window, or soaking in a hot bath–these are poignant and glowing memories for most viewers, both universally relatable and uniquely personal.

All of these smaller pieces culminate in Murphy’s large central work, creating an illusion of “home” that is idyllic and miniaturized, hopeful and yet false. It’s too pristine and ordered to be realistic, and too ghostly to actually exist.

Detail, “Home Imagined (Dollhouse),” Brenna Murphy, 1,154 strands of the artist’s hair stitched into paper, 2014.

This exhibition, more than anything, seems like a promising beginning. There is ample room for exploration of the elusive idea of “home,” and Murphy has achieved a great degree of finesse in this outing.

Keep an eye out for Home, a three-person exhibition featuring works by Brenna K. Murphy, Kay Healy, and Emily Manalo Ruiz, open until June 20th at the University City Arts League.

Home Imagined at Metropolitan Gallery 250 is on view through June 1, 2014. The gallery is open Saturdays and Sundays 11 am – 4 pm and by appointment.

Evan Paul Laudenslager is an artist and writer based in Philadelphia. He is a recent graduate of Tyler School of Art.