Halifax, Nova Scotia
Sheilah ReStack’s current exhibition, “Control is Cassandra” (on view through July 2, 2022), features a series of sculpture/photo hybrids bracketed by 174 gold-leafed polaroid photographs (displayed on an angle-iron shelf running down one wall) and a seven-minute, looped video, both made in collaboration with her partner, artist Dani ReStack. Cassandra, of course, is a figure from Greek mythology, a Trojan prophetess doomed to be always right but never heeded. In this context, “control” is presented as something to be both sought and avoided, something that when believed present, is always, in fact, absent.
The exhibition appears to be laid out almost as a book, with an introduction and a conclusion that revisit the themes of the main text. “Control is Cassandra” veers from this familiar textual strategy, however, since each “bracket” highlights one of two thematic poles, which are fully integrated in the central photo-sculptures. Those poles, as I understand them, are about how we perceive photography—as object or as image—and the lenses, or roles, through which we perceive ourselves. For ReStack, “control” is the chimera that we reach for in the face of uncertainty. As curator Emily Falencki writes, “ReStack explores the way her identities—mother, lover, artist, friend—are filled with the anxiety and wonder of being (and not being) in control of connection and outcome.”
In May you choose your own recognition (for SE) (2022), the group of polaroids, each photo is covered—fully or partially—by gold leaf. Most are scratched into, the ragged lines suggesting both drawing and writing without cohering into either (they are actually drawings by Dani ReStack). Here, photographs, normally so eloquent, are muted; they have become things.
The Sky’s in There (2022) occupies the opposite end of the spectrum from these silent objects. The short video depicts a series of intimate moments, between a couple and between a parent and a child. Snatches of conversation play, sometimes directly related to the scene on screen, sometimes seemingly incidental, like ambient noise. This work is all information—sound and image composed to highlight the wonder, anxiety, and enduring connections of human relationships.
Between these two bracketing works are 11 wall-mounted photo-sculptures. Each one incorporates a concrete “shelf,” a polished, triangular wedge that supports and frames the photo construction itself, worked with inks, graphite, paint, pastels, or chalk and layered with textiles, acetate, felt, and plant material, all sandwiched between Plexiglas sheets. Pinned and sewn together, each construction has a front, back, and sides, compressing the photographic source material into dense form that conveys information across planes, much like shallow relief sculpture.
Goldenrod and Anna’s reins (2022), for instance, is layered with multiple photos, sprigs of dried goldenrod, and images of braided reins. The back features an obscured figure and indecipherable texts that function more as pattern than communication. It is a suit of armor (for Dani) (2021) takes its title from a note incorporated into the construction; silver leaf applied to the image of a female figure suggests the eponymous suit of armor. In each of these works, as with the other photo-sculptures, the images seem to advance and recede as one’s attention is drawn first to the photographic snippets and then to the letters, notes, plants, pieces of leather and felt, and other materials. The viewer is always in motion while experiencing these works, moving from side to side and peering around the backs, taking them in as three-dimensional objects with no fixed, privileged vantage point. Control proves illusory—the photo-sculptures oscillate between the often poignant content of their imagery and their always engaging formal strengths as objects. Images and objects at once, ReStack’s works push the boundaries of what relief sculpture might be.