Born New Haven, CT, 1977 / BA, University of Chicago / Ed. M, Harvard Graduate School of Education / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Prints, performances, drawings and zines: Emmy Bright’s work emerges from an organic process of notational delirium. Post-It notes fan out and curl, bridged by scribbled lines, insistent arrows, underlining, highlighting, and circled text fragments—thoughts redacted and reclaimed. The smell of a Sharpie lingers. A palimpsest of equations forms. Pages are taped together to expand space for addenda. Much of Bright’s imagery begins as something she terms “stupids”—diagrammatic jottings that employ slapdash methodology to disrupt normative thinking and jumpstart philosophical inquiry. For her, profundity can reside beneath that which we dismiss as idiocy. When examined, a moment of stupidity may reveal latent, meaningful instincts. With humorous schemata that collide the rational and the irrational, Bright fleshes out the absurdity of the behavioral structures we rely upon to govern our relationships with ourselves and one another.
Loner/Lover (your choice) (2018) is a piece that in Bright’s words “flickers between pessimism and optimism.” It relies on a small, absurd gesture in which the cursive script of its caption wavers between two readings, altering our perception of the image above it. Bright regularly employs abstraction in forms that are ill-defined and misshapen. For her, this allows a viewer to psychologically project onto the image. In Loner/Lover, the minimal shape confounds, and the instability of its label mischievously frustrates interpretation. A lover can be a loner. The identity of the subject is both things, as it can neither be one nor the other exclusively. Bright touches on Deleuze and his argument that categorical concepts of identity ultimately fail. No two things are alike regardless of categorical distinction.
At first glance, Tragedies of Desire (with Instruction) (2014) echoes the diagrammatic logic of the Swiss linguist and semiotician Saussure: arrows point to the left, to the right, up and down, going everywhere and nowhere. There are three shapes in two shades of pink—a cultural signifier that is often associated with femininity and the romantic and that has, with the addition of white, been used to signify chastity and innocence. In Bright’s map, the intent of desire is undermined. Romantic love is thrown asunder as the missteps of desire are considered. In On Love (2016) we are given a set of signifiers that are indeterminate and once again allow for more questions than answers. What is that “something” and who is that “someone?” If neither exists, then how is it that each is crucial to the exchange of love? What then is “love” within this context? The answer, Bright seems to acknowledge, is unknowable. Stupidly unknowable. She takes the complications of the heart, the ego, the essential insecurities of living, and compresses them into small, empathetic comedies, charting the ways in which the head and heart can work against one another.
Emmy Bright plays to the whole room, telling philosophical jokes as a stand-up semiotician and an improvisational metaphysician by delivering the set-up and hitting the punchline before undoing the punchline and reversing the setup. Drawing a line that ends where it began, she acknowledges the heartache of relationship-building by representing the constellation of futile trajectories to which we adhere. She locates the flawed binary strictures governing those trajectories and then upends them, choosing to wander away from the conventional reasoning that complicates selfhood. In her work, the categorical is denied and alternative spaces between polarities are opened. Bright’s tendency to collapse the binary into one and the same thing is an act of queering. As a reaction against the failure of the categorical, her work values that failure as a queer sensibility. In Things As If They Were Otherwise (2018), amidst the futility of containment, an alternative, fluid form takes shape. Reflexive Praxis (2016) is a two panel comic strip that poses a question and proposes a response. It is about the self, taking into account itself. The space is fast, compressed, free of elaboration. And yet, the question is not really answered. This is action, not theory. But following the action of reflexive declaration could be a cycle of asking and answering the same question, never moving closer to a singular truth. The truth, Bright suggests, is the unending circularity of the proposition.
Ryan Standfest, May 2019