Penelope Umbrico

May 9, 2013 | 11 a.m.

News | Mary Polding for The Clarion

Penelope Umbrico

Suns (From Sunsets) from Flickr This series is an ongoing reflection on the ever-growing number of photos on the internet. They are arrangements the artist found when searching the word “sun.” Each different arrangement reflects the amount of photos the search engine found that matched her search. | Penelope Umbrico for The Clarion

“Photography is as much the subject of my work as it is the medium in which I work. I employ traditional photographic techniques and methods of appropriation, extraction, multiple production and intervention, to explore how we, as a culture, make and use images,” Penelope Umbrico said. Now, for non-art folk, this may sound like mumbo-jumbo, but as a fellow non-art-savvy individual, I assure you, Umbrico is an artist worth significant examination and attention.

From April 11 to May 25, Bethel’s Olson Gallery is exhibiting work by artist Penelope Umbrico, an unconventional and experimental photographer who has utilized techniques of re-cropping and filtering images she discovered on the web, mainly using her iPhone. Art students from Bethel, the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design were able to attend various lectures, collaborate on a contemporary piece with Umbrico and attend an artist talk at Bethel led by David Little, the curator of photography for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Umbrico is one of the biggest names to come to Bethel’s galleries in its history. She is world-renowned, having permanent collections in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the International Center of Photography, as well as Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Tampa Museum of Art. She has held exhibitions on nearly every continent and received numerous awards and research grants from places like the Smithsonian and the Guggenheim.

At Bethel, Umbrico is currently showing “Mountains, Moving: of Dr. George C. Poundstone 1926-2013.” The exhibit is composed of images originally taken by a dentist from Chicago who pursued photography in his spare time. Umbrico gathered numerous images from his archives, executing a method of recropping and extracting several new images from one. This allowed her to manipulate the subject in different ways, utilizing over 500 filters from 17 different photography applications on her iPhone.

The subject matter of mountains is a key factor in this exhibit. Umbrico explained, “I steady my focus on the mountain: oldest subject, stable object, singular, immovable landmark, site of orientation, place of spiritual contemplation.” While the mountain may not have been the original subject of the work, Umbrico was able to recreate and re-emphasize the typical subject.

Another key aspect of the work is the fact that Umbrico photographed most of it through her computer screen from her desk in Brooklyn. Some of the work even shows this distance, as the presence of a screen between the camera and the print in cyberspace portrays a distortion in the images. This was exactly what Umbrico was aiming to convey: “I present a dialogue between distance and proximity, limited and unlimited, the singular and multiple, the fixed and the moving … My mountains are unstable, mobile, have no gravity, change with iteration, remastered.”

“Moving Mountains” offers not only an alternative and unique portrayal of an ordinary subject, but it also offers a commentary on how we use media. This view is typical in Umbrico’s work as she continues to examine how an image functions on the Internet rather than in physical time or space. She also looks at how recreating it can alter its perceived value. The showing of her work in Bethel’s Olson Gallery is an exciting step forward for Bethel’s galleries and art department.

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