Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College
February 14–March 12, 2014
To “capture” suggests taking, winning over, controlling some thing. It is an apt reflection of our engagement with objects. But, I resist it as description for Devorah Boxer’s exhibit. Its title, Captured Objects, emphasizes those capturing, whereas Boxer focuses on the objects themselves. The objects are literally captured—they have been taken and presented to us. But figuratively, Boxer no more “captured” her objects than Marcel Duchamp “used” his toilet. We become background to what and how these objects are.
In her introduction to the work, curator Sandra Kraskin uses the words “captures and reanimates” to describe Boxer’s engagement with mechanical, electrical, daily objects—but as I move amongst them, I disagree. Boxer’s close-ups highlight the intricate details, as Kraskin notes, but this magnification asks us to consider the objects in themselves, as themselves, rather than as hand tools used to facilitate human action. Many of these objects—laundry rack, drill bit, typewriter case, mason’s sifter, meter ruler, folding screen—are old, bought from French flea markets. They are tools that solve problems, extensions of the hand’s intelligence. Within Boxer’s art, they are also entities of light and dark, angles and lines and spheres. We cannot know them fully, only be open to considering them on their terms, whatever those may be.
And so, Boxer grapples with her objects in a creative process that aims for a different kind of encountering. She finds, buys, takes home, studies, draws, etches, and prints on copper, on found wood, on steel or Japanese paper. An act of translation, Boxer’s art attempts to communicate what can be known in and of these objects; each is treated, under her hand and within her process, as a portrait subject, with all attendant detail and mystery. Lumière pincée (Squeezed Light) perhaps best embodies this duality. We may recognize the object as a vise, and may have even used one before, but spending time with this print reveals one of its secrets: when we are not directly engaged in its use, it continues to act and interact with its world. This sense of play is an inherent part of her work; Boxer allows us to be voyeurs, peeking in on the life of objects as they may play out without our interference.
Most of Boxer’s subjects are tools, objects of use-value (rather than ornamentation or status), but her prints defamiliarize them. Surrounded by objects, we rarely consider them until they make themselves known—usually by being broken. Boxer invites us to consider them out of their use context and as, simply, themselves. To this end, Chassis de photographe (Photographer’s Frame) fills the print space to give us time with its details, its textures and tones, the nuances that make this photographer’s frame unlike any other.
So too does Boxer’s print technique emphasize an object’s alterity. Because her prints focus not on capture but on relation, what exists around her objects informs them as much as what we know, think we know, about them. The shadows and whorls, lines and scratches of negative space in her etching underscore the inaccessible history and full lives of Cactus Needle and Un mètre (One Meter). Necessarily lighter and more slender than their boxy counterparts, these objects exist within a space rendered visually textural.
The object has appeared in art before, not as a way of considering the human condition, but as a means of thinking through what is other, outside our use and beyond our grasp. Boxer’s object prints, which span 30-plus years of engagement and encountering, ask us to do the same.