In ‘Garden’ by Ebony G. Patterson, dangers and hidden pleasures
Central images can only be resolved by alternating the point of view between a larger point of view and close inspection. Embarrassingly slow, I isolated the trio of female figures that appear in different poses throughout the pentaptych; they are almost masked by the flora and fauna that surround them. In an approach that is repeated elsewhere in the show, Patterson erases their necks and heads from the photographic image, rendering each figure anonymous, a mixture of the visible and the invisible. It’s a strange effect, compounded by the jagged-edged holes that punctuate the center of each composition. For Patterson, the garden harbors great beauty, but also great violence.
Or … and the dew splits the earth just stops spilling out of his deep frames, Patterson gives in to gravity in two assemblages that incorporate jacquard-woven photographic tapestries, embellished bird statues (roosters and a peacock) and all manner of dazzling things (sequins, beads , gold leaf), tassels — the list goes on).
In when the earth is in plumage … a peacock is in moult, a sculpture of a peacock covered with delicate white flowers stands on a pile of golden conch shells from which two hands extend, palms up. Instead of paying attention to what might be a pleading gesture, the peacock returns to its own adornment: a trail of pearl-like beads that stretches across the floor and the wall behind, connecting to the jacquard tapestry. The peacock ‘train’ is covered in sequins and jewels, images of vines and dangling arms, and is simply dripping with a sense of opulence.
The materials of this room (and its companion populated by roosters, … they were wondering what to do … for those who testify) can overwhelm the senses. Like with … and the dew splits the earth …, tapestry installations benefit from close sweeping, as if they were hunting objects in a I spy delivered. A braided hand emerges here, a jeweled spider brooch there. Patterson’s work is teeming with life. The light that sparkles on the glittering surfaces imbues these pieces with a kind of vibrant movement.
The most melancholy and ever-present work of the series is also the most colorful. In I dug it up II, a mixed media photo collage from 2014, Patterson again erases the figure photographed in its center, leaving only the suggestion of a reclining body, a shoe removed, the fingers of a gloved hand clutching a golden flower. In several of her works, she reconstructs media images of scenes of violent death, scenes in which victims and passers-by, often young black men, are degraded, their dignity erased by the intrusion of a camera. Something terrible happened in I dug it up II, and the juxtaposition between decorative imagery and the horizontal body is deeply uncomfortable. The figure’s floral-patterned clothing almost completely blends into the floral-patterned background, perhaps a nod to the flowery memorials that spontaneously appear at the sites of someone’s death.
Humans, even when their bodies are fragmented, or only suggested by the form of brightly patterned clothing, are at the heart of all work in … when the cuts burst. If this garden is overgrown, Patterson’s work asks, who once maintained it? And why are they no longer present? Surrounding his characters with creatures that transform, moult, and shed their skins, Patterson immerses humanity into the natural world, where we could learn to transform.