Apophenia is definitely my new favorite word. It’s one very efficient way to describe how we assign order and meaning to otherwise random and chaotic occurrences. We see patterns in the clouds, big dippers in the stars, and our fortunes in tealeaves. It’s easy to see patterns or representational figures within completely random sets of symbols.
Susanna Coffey’s exhibition Apophenia features a wide range of work that balances abstract and representational imagery to challenge our basic perception of self.
By using the notion of Apophenia, Coffey’s work asks: “What does ‘self’ look like? And what are it’s boundaries? In what ways can it be seen?”
During most gallery exhibits I am easily able to pick up on the basic theme of the work; however, I was refreshed to find that I needed some of Susanna’s assistance in tapping into the real meaning of her show.
“My work is meant to side step. So in that way it’s good that you don’t know immediately what to think or articulate.”
Coffey’s series of portraits disguised by abstract layers demonstrates the main theme of her show: we must question our overall perception of identity.
“So the show is called Apophenia, which about is looking at faces or things in abstract phenomena. There’s the idea that we pretend to see each other and we are actually projecting into an environment”
Much of the work depicts clear and recognizable figures of the face in abstract surroundings. However, some require a much deeper look in order to detect the occurrence of a face. These less obvious pieces force us to “project into an environment” that Coffey has created.
“This one seems like a landscape, but as one might or might not identify, there are layers and a face under the layers. It just seems like a landscape, but it only offers clues. So the symmetry is a clue of some human presence.”
“Another thing you wouldn’t know unless I told you is that this camouflage is constructed from the same shapes as the face. So the camouflage is the same thing as the face but it’s just redistributed so the idea that the face is its own camouflage being made. This also sets up a correlate in meaning about identity.”
“We often confuse ourselves about who or where we are. Sometimes there’s a sense of confusion about who others are and about where they are. And when you don’t know someone, it’s hard to see who they are under those trappings. This idea underlies most of the work.”
And a lot of what’s underneath is not something you’d get just looking at the painting. We do “get confused about the person and if they’re even a person at all.”
In order to fully investigate identity through abstraction and portrait, Coffey’s subject matter ranges from the inner most layer (the skull) to the outermost layer (the mask).
“This is the fox mask from V for Vendetta and occupy Boston. Originally it was literal and I worked on it until it wasn’t.”
“So the skull was an individual, but then the bones emerge. The idea that it is still an individual even as a skull is there. Since we live in the cult of the individual, there is a struggle with the general, and that is kind of what this whole group is about.”
A subseries of pieces stray away from the portrait motif to consider identity in a different way. They are abstract landscapes that are not necessarily as they appear. Susanna explained that they are different angles of a certain influential series
“All of these are based on the Monet Water Lilies. And the location of the landscape is in the painting. And I wanted to find a way to paint this from my own angle.”
“The idea is to depict the artists inside of another artist. It’s kind of like how you find yourself inside of other people’s music. You know when you hear someone sing you’re listening to them sing, but also listening to every past singer that has influenced them. They are it and it’s not even as removed as an influence; you become it. You know what is moving you and you become so close to it.”
The water lilies are a way to understand how outside influences can construct identity. The idea of the original or individual is dissected and dissipated because every piece of art exists in relation to another.
APOPHENIA @ ALPHA GALLERY
37 NEWBURY STREET
BOSTON MA 02116
HRS: TUES-THURS 10AM-5:30PM
ENDS WED 10.3.12