I recently encountered Lori Vrba’s series Portal at SE Center for Photography in Greenville, SC. On her website, Vrba calls the photographs a work in progress and borrows a passage from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel to poetically describe her intentions on the project, " . . . which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? o waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. where? when? o lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again."
I remember reading Wolfe’s masterpiece and was drawn to the melancholy, the aching, the longing and then to the undeniable realization that one can never go home. When one sees Portal, the connection to Wolfe’s passage is undeniable as are Vrba’s images and installations. There is a constant nodding to the past with repetitive organic symbols, textures and metaphors, moving into distant otherworldly places of memory and mystery.
The exhibition is closely tied together throughout the space. On entry, Vrba's Mind's Eye hangs above her sign-in book (a vintage ledger from Ohio titled Record of Baggage Check Forwarded and Received). Encountering the images and thoughtful installations as you walk throughout the gallery is something that can only be experienced firsthand, given the three-dimensional quality of much of the exhibition. One will not only admire the quality of the silver gelatin prints, but also experience a dimension of seeing through round mirrors and magnifying glasses used as portals to reference another dimension of time and space. You don’t get the idea of the depth of the work from Vrba’s website since websites are a place limited in the ability to demonstrate experience or three-dimensional space. The show at SE Center for Photography is a welcome dimensional surprise. My technical mind wants to know how Vrba managed the reproduction of imagery within or on mirrors, but the aesthetic is consistent and strong enough that I turn off my techno-logical self and think about falling through the space of Vrba's portals.
Handful of Dust was my favorite piece in the exhibit. It is much like looking through the bottom of coke bottles simultaneously into a world where someone is on the other side sending signals back to earth or beckoning you to follow into an unknown world. Vrba’s presentation is extremely unique as the photographs are set in a piece of wood side-by-side and viewed upright as a picture on a wall. The figures in the images don't just lie there, they communicate with the viewer.
I was captivated by Vrba's silver gelatin imagery and the way it fits cohesively amidst the installations. The stunningly striking Wings of Palm and Grapes of Wrath are placed amidst the thought-provoking, ovally-framed Suspended Belief. It's refreshing to encounter a photographic vision that combines installations with vintage photographs, mirrors, magnifying glasses, and different sized frames with meaningful ethereal imagery. A lesser artist could easily overdo it, but Vrba’s organic collection of forms, materials and imagery creates a world of mystery and a portal you will want to step into.
The exhibition is up until August 27, 2016 at the SE Center for Photography in Greenville, SC. The Center is owned and operated by photographer and gallerist Michael Pannier. SEC4P holds juried exhibitions with nationally renowned jurors and presents some of the finest photography in the Southeast. Look for 2017 workshop information at SEC4P coming soon!