The few dozen people attending Claire Harvey’s opening at SECCA last weekend appeared unable to decide whether they were more entranced by the artist or her creations.
“It’s so fragile. It’s like magic!” a woman standing in the middle of the exhibit exclaimed. Still glowing, she turned to her friend. “I love the use of negative space, too. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Harvey’s fan wasn’t alone; other visitors made no attempt to mask their admiration for her or her work. They leaned in, inches from her miniature pieces on the white walls and smiled encouragingly during the artist’s brief remarks.
The adoration is understandable — Harvey’s show Daily Measures is memorable for its minute precision, sense of wit and intriguing perspective. And the London native, who now lives in Amsterdam, reciprocated her audience’s affection.
“I’ll stop now before I cry or something,” Harvey said, clearly touched as she concluded her brief remarks at the reception.
None of the pieces in Daily Measures are labeled, but her stripped-down aesthetic and attention to detail contributed to making various pieces easily identifiable and engaging. Many of Harvey’s miniature constructions of people rely on repurposed glass slides as backdrop, with the white walls showing through some of the media to complement the black human figures.
Sticky tack adheres most of the little slides to the walls, visible through the glass and often sculpted into shapes so as to interact with the image. A set of images drawn onto yellow Post-It notes highlights a range of perspectives, some depicting full scenes, including a well-dressed couple lounging on a couch, while others are studies in detail with atypical framing providing close-ups of various human figures.
On the opposing wall, individuals making up a loose crowd appear sketched onto Scotch tape, all facing away from the viewer and moving casually towards the upper right. The scene elicits a sense of distance, impermanence and exclusion. It embodies the artist statement, which says Harvey’s work acts as a travelogue of her transit to London and isolation in Amsterdam.
“As if simultaneously in aerial and close-up views, she constructs roving constellations,” it reads, describing her work as “microcosms.”
The relative flatness of Harvey’s art is broken as visitors move through the exhibit — Harvey’s first solo museum show in this country — with a series of playful, three-dimensional pieces. In one, a child balances on a nail jutting out of the wall. Next to it, a man on a glass slide stares into an actual hole in the wall as if watching TV, and nearby a figure gazes thoughtfully at a real egg resting on orangey sand.
Shadows play a prominent role in Daily Measures, including one sticky note showing a man making shadow puppets or the actual nail’s shadow on the wall, but none more than an installation in the back of the exhibit.
Six large projectors rest on the floor, two per piece, casting images onto three walls. Visitors meander between the light-emitting anchors, throwing up shadows of their own as they peer closely at miniature people decorating the larger portraits. The contrast in size between people in one calls to mind Gulliver’s Travels while a man studying messily-drawn math equations is somewhat reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind.
The opening coincided with the museum’s Second Saturday series, which doesn’t typically involve gallery openings but includes family-oriented art events. Leftover cake from earlier in the day accompanied complimentary shrimp, sandwiches and lemonade at a reception in the room next to Harvey’s work. Cora Fisher, who curated the show, joked that opening attendees might find themselves in future pieces of Harvey’s work before introducing Mark Leach, SECCA’s executive director.
It’s a rare experience to have someone creating an installation in the space such as the three projected pieces, Leach said, applauding the synchronicity of Fisher and Harvey’s presentation.
“You don’t get to see it in one glance,” he said. “There are little peculiarities in how Claire has interacted with the space.”
Harvey’s work is the kind that requires careful consideration and is worth multiple visits, but it might seem easy to reject Leach’s point as irrelevant for a careful observer or critic. At least until walking out of the gallery after two hours and realizing that a tiny man, clinging to the edge of a wall seven feet in the air had somehow remained unnoticed.
Who knows what else a return trip might reveal.
Claire Harvey’s Daily Measures exhibit is on display through Sept. 15. Visit SECCA at 750 Marguerite Drive in Winston-Salem or at secca.org.