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 another 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