Asya Geisberg Gallery is pleased to present "From the Ashes", the fifth solo presentation of Julie Schenkelberg. "From the Ashes" is both a timely response to the moment we find ourselves in, and a continuation of the artist's symbolic excavation and elevation of discarded or decaying forms. While we all hope that the present is but a blip of malaise that will recede in our memories, its anxiety and insecurity speaks to a cultural upheaval that we have experienced numerous times. While Schenkelberg's inspiration originated in her Midwestern Rust-Belt environs and its endless stream of material, from the former auto factories of Detroit to the crumbling Art-Deco banks of Cleveland, her references now scour a vaster visual dictionary of decay, hope, and rebuilding. Combining research in ancient symbols of the sacred across societies with physical detritus gathered throughout the US, Schenkelberg marries ever wider ranging ideas and visual entry points.
Comprised of wall sculptures and a mid-sized installation, "From the Ashes" feels less theatrical than previous iterations of the architectural, vast, site-specific works for which Schenkelberg has become known. Distilled into concentrated portions, the work is more archival, and human-scaled, as if a recluse hired an archaeologist to painstakingly sort through decades of artifacts stuffed in their attic. But rather than the classic hoarder's anguished psychological disarray witnessed in piles of inconsequential rot, we feel a reverential motivation - as if deifying scraps of a saint's robes into a spot-lit relic chamber. Schenkelberg somehow manages to have us both recognize the rudimentary origin of her collections, and also see its crystallized transformation into an ethereal combination of concrete lived experience transformed into the sublimely sacred and universal.
Rusted metal parts, the artist's paintings of sacred or alchemical symbols, natural elements weathered by climate, glass washed up on the beach, keepsakes and their containers all recur as motifs in the exhibition. Jewelry boxes, frames, and curio cabinets give a hint of geometry, with parallel yet not quite methodical arrangements. Fragments are symbolically preserved in clear resin, or anchored in plaster. Enigmatic associations across time and place confound any easy connotations, such as Schenkelberg's inclusion of glass slides with images of ancient art, itself an abandoned technology of an image of a ruin. The show's main installation, "Continuum", suggests a mystical cabinet of curiosities, written in a symbolic ancient language. A strangely precious air to the ruins thus compiled permeates the work, as if the narrator of this story is trying to recreate a portrait, using only dilapidated and fragmented clues as their starting point. For us, seeing the world in 2020, Schenkelberg's simultaneous omnivorous interests and narrative restraint allows for us to import our own story, and to hope for a recovery that will inevitably spring forth.