Elisabeth Smolarz: Encyclopedia of Things
This week we are featuring projects seen at the Medium Photo Portfolio Reviews.
Every time I explore an antique mall, flea market, or garage sale, I manage to bring home some odd, quirky object that I don’t really need. We all curate our spaces in ways unique to us. We gather and hold objects for aesthetic and sentimental reasons. Photographer Elisabeth Smolarz has created a series of still lifes for her project and book, Encyclopedia of Things. Each collection of objects is selected by the participants for reasons unknown to the photographer. They are, in fact, portraits of individuals from all over the globe.
She visited 200 people in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and spent an afternoon with them talking about the objects they had selected. In dialogue with these collaborators, she then developed an installation of the individual objects—an arrangement that ultimately produces a portrait of the person. The photographic still lifes are accompanied by short texts by a range of writers who share their responses to these portraits.
In 2022, she released the monograph, Elisabeth Smolarz: Encyclopedia of Things (Hardcover). Signed copies of the book are available through her website and through McNally Jackson Independent Book Sellers.
Encyclopedia of Things
For the “Encyclopedia of Things” photography series, I collaborate with individuals in their home environments. Each participant selects personal objects as portals to memory that are both precious and meaningful, such as keepsakes, mementos, or heirlooms. The meaning of such objects gets assigned silently, internally, often without any words being articulated, and yet when we explain their importance, it reveals so much about who we are. I approach these objects as elements in a social and anthropological process. In dialogue with my collaborators, we develop a temporary installation of the individual objects for the camera—an arrangement that ultimately produces a portrait of the person.
Since starting this long-term project in 2014, I have collaborated with individuals in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and, most recently, East Asia. The final result is a series of intricate non-concrete portraits consisting of a prevalent vocabulary made of ubiquitous objects that echo the universality of the human condition.
Elisabeth Smolarz was born in Poland and emigrated to Germany as a teenager. Raised between two cultures affected by communist and democratic systems, and then having moved yet again to the liberal democracy of the US, she creates photography, video, and social interactions investigating how consciousness, perception, identity, and value are formed by one’s cultural milieu.
Smolarz has exhibited her worknationally and internationally for two decades. Her most recent solo exhibition, the Encyclopedia of Things was presented at the Morgan Lehman Gallery from October 13th to November 12th, 2022 resulting from a multi-year project supported by National Endowment for the Arts; the Queens Council on the Arts; and the City Artist Corps Grants program, and featured on PBS on 03/14/20. The German publisher Spector Books published a monograph with a selection of 120 portraits from the Encyclopedia of Things in Summer of 2022.
Additionally, her work has been presented in venues including: The Bronx Museum of Art, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, EYEBEAM Center for Art + Technology, Lesley Heller Gallery, The Sculpture Center, Smack Mellon, The Queens Museum of Art, and Wave Hill, all New York City; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland; Baden Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany; Photography Triennial Esslingen, Germany; Independent Museum of Contemporary Art, Cyprus; Reykjavik Photography Museum, Iceland; Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain; the Moscow Biennale, and others.
She currently teaches Photography at the Pratt Institute, New York, and lives and works in Queens.
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
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