89 Sophie Eisner


Born​ ​New​ ​York,​ ​NY,​ ​1985​ ​/​ ​BA​, ​Carleton​ ​College​ ​/​ ​MFA,​ ​Cranbrook​ ​Academy​ ​of​ ​Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI ​/​ ​Lives​ ​in​ ​Detroit

Sophie​ ​Eisner​ ​is​ ​not​ ​from​ ​Detroit,​ ​and​ ​does​ ​not​ ​put​ ​on​ ​airs​ ​about​ ​it.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​young​ ​artist​ ​who moved​ ​to​ ​the​ ​area​ ​in​ ​2013​ ​and​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Motor​ ​City​ ​in​ ​2015,​ ​she​ ​thinks​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​do​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of listening.​ ​Eisner​ travels ​extensively,​ having ​just​ ​recently​ returned, for instance, ​from Mongolia.​ ​Wherever​ ​she​ ​goes​ ​and​ ​whatever​ ​she​ ​makes​ ​there,​ ​she​ ​brings​ ​elements​ ​from​ ​her childhood​ ​home​ in ​New​ ​York​ ​City​ with ​her.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ notable ​qualities of​ ​Eisner’s practice​ ​is​ ​her​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​familiar​ ​object​ ​in​ ​a​ ​familiar​ ​place,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​pink tiles​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bathroom​ ​of​ ​her​ ​studio,​ ​and​ use ​materials​, such as pigmented silicone, ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​the​ object ​from​ ​a​ ​different perspective. By presenting this same object with different materials and shape, Eisner invites the viewer to recall that they have seen this object somewhere before, and to wonder where. Eisner’s work gives viewers a fuzzy feeling of familiarity.

Consider​​ ​Morning​ ​Routine (2016),​ ​a​ ​sculpture-installation​ comprised ​of​ ​five​ ​elements​ made out of ​materials​ ​ranging​ ​from​ ​silicone to​ ​steel​ ​to​ ​wood​ ​and​ ​house​ ​paint.​ ​It​ ​evokes​ ​the​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​stepping​ ​into​ ​a bathroom,​ ​looking​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mirror,​ ​washing,​ ​and​ ​grabbing​ ​a​ ​towel.​ ​However,​ ​all​ ​of​ ​the​ ​materials normally​ ​seen​ ​in​ ​these​ ​situations​—porcelain, tile, metal, glass, cotton—​have​ ​been​ ​replaced​ ​with​ ​others: steel, wood, silicone, and netting.  A steel “sink” or a silicone “mirror” are not the most common materials for a bathroom. ​Stepping​ ​from​ ​the conventional​ ​into​ ​the​ ​unconventional​—note in particular the two step threshold that invites entry to the room—​allows​ ​Eisner​ ​to​ ​take​ ​the​ ​ordinary​ ​and​ ​magnify​ ​its importance​ ​in​ ​our​ ​daily​ ​lives.

While​ ​most​ ​of​ ​what​ ​Eisner​ ​represents​ ​in​ ​​Morning​ ​Routine​​ are ​objects​ ​of​ ​daily​ ​life, there​ ​is​ ​one​ component ​that​ ​stands​ ​out​ ​from​ ​the​ ​others.​ ​It​ ​looks​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​like​ ​a​ ​painted​ ​fence​ ​and​ ​is mounted​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wall​ ​of​ ​the​ ​installation.​ ​Eisner​ ​has​ ​made​ ​other​ ​versions​ ​of​ ​this​ ​element, and​ ​explains​ ​that​ it​ is inspired​ ​by​ ​the​ ​silhouettes​ ​of​ ​business​ ​signs​ ​in​ ​Detroit. (This one in particular also evokes the white picket fence of idealized American life.) Other​ ​versions​ ​of​ ​this​ ​piece​ ​include​ ​​Detroit​ ​Excerpt​ ​No.​ ​2​ ​​(2016)​ ​and​ ​​Placeholder​​ ​​(2016). Detroit​ ​Excerpt​ ​No.​ ​2​​ ​is​ intended to be exhibited ​on​ ​its​ ​own.​ ​In​ ​Eisner’s​ ​studio,​ several​ ​of​ ​these silhouettes​ line ​the​ ​wall​ ​above​ ​her​ ​desk.  

Business​ ​signs​ ​are​ visual cues that ​many​ ​people​ ​walk​ ​by​ ​every​ ​day​ ​without​ necessarily​ noticing​ ​their presence.​ ​But​ ​in​ ​Detroit,​ the art of sign-making ​has been​ ​a​ ​major​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​city’s​ ​culture​ ​for​ ​decades: from​ ​Henry​ ​the​ ​Hatter​ ​on​ ​Broadway​ ​Street​ ​to​ ​Mr.​ ​Fish​ ​on​ ​Vernor​ ​Highway.​ ​By​ drawing attention to these shapes,​ ​Eisner​ ​magnifies​ ​an​ ​element​ ​of​ ​urban​ ​life​ ​that​ ​is sometimes​ ​taken​ ​for​ ​granted.​ ​​Placeholder​​ ​features​ ​what​ ​could​ ​be​ ​a​ ​lamp​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​one​ ​of​ ​these silhouettes,​ ​almost​ ​as​ ​if​ ​Eisner​ ​is​ ​bringing​ ​to​ ​light​ ​this​ ​special​ ​part​ ​of​ ​Detroit’s​ ​culture.

Shining ​light​ on ​the​ ​ordinary​ ​and​ ​changing​ ​how​ ​one​ ​might​ ​normally​ ​see ​​is​ ​what Eisner​ ​does​ ​naturally.​ ​With​ ​​Soft​ ​and​ ​Heavy​​ ​(vignette​ ​2)​​ ​(2017),​ ​Eisner​ ​takes​ a familiar ​pink tile​ ​color​ ​seen​ ​in​ ​many​ ​bathrooms​ ​and​ ​kitchens​ ​from​ ​the​ ​1950s​ ​and​ ​1960s,​ ​and​ applies it​ ​to​ ​what​ ​nearly​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​an​ ​oversized​ ​strand​ ​of​ ​DNA.​ (​Many​ ​people​ ​have​ ​an ingrained​ ​memory​ ​of​ ​a​ ​place with​ ​that​ ​color​ ​inside​ ​of​ ​it​,​ ​in​ what one might call ​a​ ​home’s​ ​genetic​ ​history.)​ There​ ​are​ ​elements​ ​of​ ​this​ ​pink​ hue ​in​ ​​Betty​​ ​(2017),​ ​a​ ​tan colored ​box​ ​with​ ​what​ ​appears​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​gently folded​ ​tongue​ ​on​ ​top.​ ​If​ ​​Betty​​ ​is​ ​a​ ​portrait,​ ​then​ ​her​ ​tongue​ ​is​ ​twisted,​ ​which​ ​indicates​ ​a​ ​lack a​ ​speech.​ ​​Stella​​ ​(2017),​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​piece,​ ​has​ ​another​ ​tongue-like​ contour ​sticking​ ​out​ ​of​ ​a​nother tan​ box.​ ​Both​ ​pieces​ ​suggest  ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​the​ ​tongue​ ​not​ ​being​ ​used​ ​for​ ​language but​ ​instead​ ​for​ ​play:​ ​curling​ ​the​ ​tongue,​ ​sticking​ ​the​ ​tongue​ ​out,​ ​but​ ​not​ ​talking.​ ​As​ ​Eisner​ ​is​ ​new to​ ​Detroit​ ​and​ ​has​ ​mentioned​ ​that she​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​do​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​listening,​ ​these​ ​sculptures​ ​almost​ ​emulate her​ ​desire​ ​to​ ​play​ ​with​ ​materials,​ as well as to see, taste, and hear the city. ​Perhaps​ ​​Stella​ ​​and​ ​​Betty​​ ​are​ ​subtle​ ​self-portraits, evocations of​ ​what​ ​Eisner​ ​desires​ ​to​ ​be,​ ​and​ ​to​ ​listen​ ​for​, ​while​ ​becoming​ ​a new and evolving member ​of​ ​Detroit’s art community.

Allegra Rosenbaum, December 2017

Copyright Essay’d, 2017