How does an artist come to grips with the uncontrollable? Filmed over the course of four years, artist Mariah Roberston experiments with photographic chemistry in her Brooklyn darkroom, leading to a striking series of colorful cameraless abstractions. Confronted with a roll of paper that was accidentally exposed, Robertson begins to play with the ruined paper, saying “I always enjoy trying to make something out of the unwanted thing and go deeper into the disaster.” Robertson experiments with developer, fixer, and water at various concentrations and temperatures, creating vibrant images that appear to have optical or painterly effects but instead are the result of arrested chemical reactions. Robertson faces another challenge when she discovers that metallic photo paper no longer comes in precut sheets but only on coiled rolls. Forced to adjust, she responds by tearing rolls of paper into free-form sheets with jagged edges. In contravention of standard exhibition practice, Robertson installs the fully exposed rolls of 100 feet or more as unframed sculptural ribbons, hanging them in looping swathes that respond to the surrounding architecture. Contemplating what it means to exhibit her one-of-a-kind artworks in such a vulnerable way, Robertson suggests that “all your attempts are gonna fail at controlling life, so you should let that go so you can actually see what’s happening.” Featuring the artworks 33 (2014) and 222 (2012) in the artist’s darkroom; 11 (2012) installed in the exhibition XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography at The Museum of Modern Art; 113 (2012) at M+B; 9 (2011) installed at Museum 52 and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art; 88 (2010) installed in the exhibition Greater New York at MoMA PS1; as well as the installation process for the exhibition Hot Tropical Rain Jam (2011) at Museum 52; and the Halloween opening for the exhibition Permanent Puberty (2013) at American Contemporary. Featuring the songs Mavi Sepet (2008) by Hayvanlar Alemi, Divider (2011) and Air Hockey Saloon (2014) by Chris Zabriskie, and Jeremiah Iriemiah’s reggae cover of How Deep Is Your Love (1977) by the Bee Gees.

Mariah Robertson (b. 1975, Indianapolis, IN, USA) grew up in Sacramento, California, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

CREDITS | ART21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Producer & Editor: Rafael Salazar & Ava Wiland. Cinematography: Rafael Salazar. Sound: Ava Wiland. Additional Camera & Sound: Wesley Miller. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Design & Graphics: CRUX Design & Open. Artwork: Mariah Robertson. Music: Hayvanlar Alemi, Jeremiah Iriemiah & Chris Zabriskie. Thanks: American Contemporary, Stardust Atkeson, Matthew Dipple, Don Edler, Roxana Marcoci, The Museum of Modern Art, Lisa Pomares, Kay Reese, Eva Respini, Arno Simar, Katerina Stathopoulou, Mark Williams & Lindsey Winkel. An ART21 Workshop Production. © ART21, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to Mariah Robertson’s Chemical Reactions

  1. Malcolm Koch says:

    The title of the exhibition might say ‘Chemical Reactions’ but it is the membrane and how she uses it that creates the basic structure for her work. The chemical reactions are the relative results of events that have occurred on the surface. This illustrates why I believe the ‘absolute’ aesthetic thought, Membrane Art is a legitimate art movement, as it is the thought itself (whether its subconsciously or consciously derived) that prevails under any conditions or circumstances. So, artists like Mariah Robertson are able to use different mediums, techniques and processes to achieve results that hold Membrane Art principals. Most beautiful work!

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  2. Rosbrielle Dillard says:

    This video was amazing and very inspiring.Mariah Robertson’s work has you think outside the box. The idea of using ” unwanted things ” to create art is brilliant, and having to wait for the results of using different chemicals and water seems like a challenge but the outcome is great. I love Robertson’s work I would have never thought unexposed paper could be used in such a way.

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