SHERNA TEPERSON: The Poetics of Materials
Sherna Teperson's practice could be described as a poetics of materials. The objects and installations that incarnate her thinking invite us to imagine the secret life of matter, including that which constitutes our own bodies. And in that imaginative space we have the chance to connect, however momentarily, with the profound continuity of the material world.
Teperson's investigation is grounded in openness to the serendipity of materials, and in a labour-intensive process. Drawn to the stuff that makes up our everyday—including plastics, cardboard and fluorescent tubes—Teperson is always alert to possible connections between what is seemingly unrelated. Unlikely conjunctions may awaken us to what we have overlooked in our material environment, surprising us into shifting perspective. Looking beyond traditional fine arts materials, however, does not mean that Teperson's practice abandons traditional skills. Many of her works rely on long hours of meditative crafting, as in her exquisite balsa carvings of disposable water bottles, or the legion of hand-made paper truncated octahedrons that are capable of endless reconfigurations. The time invested in these objects is palpable and invites us to reciprocate: Teperson's works slow us down. They propose that we re-constitute what she has revealed as building blocks of matter (for example, FUTURE PERFECT, 2011), or that we extrapolate from her hypothetical microcosms to wider concerns (for example, Snow Domes in The Age Of Retreating Ice Caps, 2006—).
Teperson approaches language like any other material: it too is pushed and pulled and scrutinized at cellular level. She makes the word flesh through sculptural treatment of letters, and like flesh, these basic units of human communication wobble or limp in a literal allusion to the inherent instability of language. But to underscore the materiality of words is also to remind us of their malleability, their relationship to our bodies and the sounds our particular morphology is capable of. And to urge us to take pleasure in playing with meaning as we take apart and recombine fragments of language in a way reminiscent of poetry.
Teperson inflects her objects with whimsy, humour and tenderness, balancing formal experimentation with conceptual inquiry, while always grounded in a commitment to sustainability. Whether in the juxtaposition of waste and finished artwork in Carving my own thirst (2011)—made in keen awareness of the human body's heightened need for water in times of drought—or in the evocation of beautiful but fragile worlds at our mercy in Snow Domes, Teperson makes evident her environmental concern. She underlines this through her ethical way of working, recycling materials in an effort to tread lightly.
Teperson gets inside her chosen materials, investigating them from within, such is her curiosity. Through her own drive to know and to experiment, through her poetics of materials, she creates opportunities for us to feel the materiality of things and the interconnectedness of organic and inorganic matter in enhanced ways.