Looking into the Lightbox – Arielle Hardy

Looking into the Lightbox – Arielle Hardy

“Her show reminds the viewer of the importance of asserting personal agency in interpreting the media put in front of us.”

-Arielle Hardy  

Art Historian Arielle Hardy on Fantasies of Triumph, by Las Vegas-based artist Kristin Hough. Fantasies of Triumph is on view in the Main Gallery at the Holland Project Jan. 10th – Feb. 14th, 2020.   

Kristin Hough’s work highlights human reception—whether conscious or unconscious— of external stimuli, and probes the differences between those we choose to consume, and those which are pressed upon us or passively received. These pieces also examine whether reality, and particularly the natural world, maintains its authenticity when filtered through various media. To engage these questions Hough draws inspiration from myriad sources which pervade modern life; chief among these is reality (especially survival-based) television, but her work also incorporates elements from self-help or religious leaflets like those distributed on street corners and left on front porches. Drawing inspiration from these seemingly unconnected sources, Hough finds similar opportunities to inquire into the role of autonomy in human interpretation of modern media.

The series Nature Show includes close-up views of animals, plants, and insects in their natural environments, shown as if the viewer were encountering them face to face in the outside world. However, many of these images include framing devices which intentionally reference a viewing experience physically separated from the object of viewing. A painted frame—a “rounded rectangle” reminiscent of a CRT television screen—creates this effect in works on paper, while the clear plastic keychains containing goldfish-sized paintings of fish effect this same division in three dimensions. In a gallery setting, the visitor is forced to come to terms with their additional level of separation from the natural world depicted in these pieces.

Similar references to television’s role in directing viewership are teased out in other works. In How To: A Paradise, ultra-close up glimpses of contestants from “reality” programs are laid out in a grid: an arrangement akin to story-boards. Perhaps this is a subtle reminder of the often scripted nature of these realities. The proximity and cropping of the subjects, however, makes these scenes visually difficult to read and their narratives difficult to ascertain, heightening a sense of drama and challenging attempts to engage and interpret the actors and their experiences. Exaggeration of reality and contrived theatricality—and the role of narrative in this process—become abundantly clear in Hough’s chosen frames.

Text too plays a major role in this inquisition. Hough often transcribes it verbatim from various sources, but in highly curated, often truncated phrases which divest it from its original context and meaning. In the Microcosmic Gods series, text derived from the closed-captioning on programs from which Hough draws inspiration is superimposed over scenes of unpopulated natural landscapes. The words become ominous, threatening, dramatic—at odds with the backgrounds they overlay, which are rendered in saturated, at times electric tones mimicking the luminosity and hyperpigmentation of the television screen rather than the natural world which it projects. The conflicting narratives presented by the text and image in singular pieces force the viewer to be present in their viewership and engage in shaping a personal interpretation of impersonal messaging.

Hough also plays with the relationships between intended versus perceived messages in her work inspired by distributed pamphlets. Some pieces present dry but inspirational directives transposed onto waterfalls and rainbows, where in others, the unassuming gravitas of the messaging is imbued with an unmistakable religiosity, enhanced by imagery including crosses, open doors, and messianic figures. Emotional weight or levity of these phrases is affected by the backgrounds they appear on, and their originally intended messages are left ambiguous, relying instead on the viewer to negotiate the dynamic between text and image.

The questions Hough chooses to engage have far wider applications than the pieces in this exhibition. Her show reminds the viewer of the importance of asserting personal agency in interpreting the media put in front of us. The work resonates with our power of choice in that process.

-Arielle Hardy

Kristin Hough is an artist, educator, and curator, recently based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. She received her BA from Wesleyan University in English and Studio Art and her MFA from UC Davis, where she was awarded the Provost and Margrit Mondavi Fellowships. Her work has been exhibited nationally and has been featured in New American Paintings, Friend of the Artist and Hyperallergic. In addition, she’s been an artist-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center and the ECF Downtown Art Center in Los Angeles, and recently released a book with National Monument Press. She co-founded an artist-run project space, Outback Arthouse, and has co-curated exhibitions throughout Los Angeles, as well as at Carnation Contemporary in Portland, Oregon.

Arielle Hardy is an Art Historian, Classicist, Archaeologist, and Curator. While her primary academic areas of interest focus on the ancient Mediterranean, her professional work has centered around contemporary art. She has been involved with the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Museum of Art, the CU Boulder Art Museum, and several galleries, and has also been part of archaeological projects in Italy and Bulgaria. She is particularly interested in the influence of context—be it social, political, or narratological—on art practice.