Power Plant Gallery's 'Reflections Within the Transitioning Grid' combines technology with nature

"Reflections Within the Transitioning Grid" opens at Power Plant Gallery Sept. 15 with an artist talk and reception.
"Reflections Within the Transitioning Grid" opens at Power Plant Gallery Sept. 15 with an artist talk and reception.

When you read the title “Reflections Within the Transitioning Grid,” an image undoubtedly forms within your mind—of mirrored surfaces, perhaps, or of the countless “reflection” papers your seminar professors have surely assigned throughout the course of your study. For me, the title invoked a sense of curiosity. Grid as in electricity? Grid as an artistic element? As in what modern cities are built on? I would soon learn that the interpretations I dreamt up all spoke to one of the fundamental themes of the exhibit: change. 

Merrill Shatzman and libi rose, the artists behind the exhibit, met at Duke three years ago, when rose was an M.F.A. student in one of Shatzman’s classes. As a joint initiative between the Center for Documentary Studies and the Master of Fine Arts and Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke, it made sense that the Power Plant Gallery would host the exhibit.

“We’ve known each other for almost four years, and I think we really work well together—our ideas play off of each other’s,” Shatzman said. “Once we started talking about doing this, the ideas just kept growing and growing, and continue to grow. We have to stop sometimes, and say ‘no more ideas!’”

The inspiration for the exhibit began to form after rose completed a project for Shatzman’s class in which she 3-D printed typography, making something we’re traditionally used to seeing on a screen into a tangible object.

“I work as a printmaker, and I was really interested in how to bring technology into printmaking but not have it appear as if technology is the driving force behind it,” Shatzman said. 

“[We wanted] to make the technology an organic part of the work, rather than like ‘Look at this technology!’” rose added. 

This concept of the blending of the natural and technological worlds is at the base of the exhibit, which utilizes more traditional prints (all previously shot by Shatzman) but portrays them through a technological lens. As a result, most of the pieces in the show have been either laser-cut or laser-etched.

“That’s a driving factor of my work, that there’s a separation between the natural and the human-made,” rose said. “There’s this continuum of what we perceive as natural and what we perceive as unnatural.”

Perception, too, is a key theme throughout the work, which challenges the traditional ways we view prints by presenting them in an unexpected way.

“Almost all of [the exhibit] is drawn from the same body of imagery, but they’ve just been broken up into different methods of viewing, different methods of transmitting that image back to the viewer,” rose said.

This idea also correlates to the exhibit’s subject matter, reflections.

“The narrative behind it is looking at imagery and being able to see it in a variety of different ways,” Shatzman said. “If one looks at reflected surfaces, they’re often held within a boundary. … They’ll reflect what’s around them, to some point, but at the same point they take on so many other different types of characteristics that they could be seen as a variety of things, if you let your mind see them that way.”

These themes of change, as well as the transition of the natural and organic to the unnatural and strange, speak particularly well to the changes that Durham is currently going through.

“We can see these images in the buildings that are going up in downtown now, and think about how these buildings change how we move through space, and the ways that grids force us to move through space, and the way that the Durham grid has been disrupted so many times,” rose said.

Shatzman also hopes that the exhibit will speak specifically to Durham’s burgeoning tech community.

“There always seems to be such a good joining between technology and art, or engineering and art, or city planning and art,” Shatzman said. “You can really look at old and new in Durham and see these different types of relationships. It would be my hope that someone coming to the show…[can] get caught in something new that they’re seeing, and aware of that, rather than just ‘Oh, that’s another building!’” 

Shatzman and rose’s exhibit, “Reflections Within the Transitioning Grid: Merging Structure, Form, and Design With Technology” will open Sept. 15 at the Power Plant Gallery at Duke University in the American Tobacco Campus with a Third Friday Durham Opening Reception and Artist’s Talk from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibit will run until Nov. 22.


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