Haylee Ebersole's Porous Sediments entices | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Haylee Ebersole's Porous Sediments entices

The effect is that of stumbling upon a beach at low tide and discovering a universe of organisms.

Organic artifice: Haylee Ebersole's Porous Sediments (detail)
Organic artifice: Haylee Ebersole's Porous Sediments (detail)

There is a complexly provocative element in Porous Sediments, Haylee Ebersole's installation at 707 Penn Gallery. This isn't just the aesthetic appearance of the works, although the pieces that squat and perch within the space are certainly laden with their own elusive allure. For while her creations are visually stunning, the nature of the material used to form them can boggle the mind as well.

Ebersole, an internationally exhibiting artist based in Pittsburgh, fashions her works primarily with gelatin. Gelatin is an organic substance, rendered of collagen produced from skin, bone and tissue, predominantly byproducts gathered from pigs, cows and horses. Derived from once-living materials, in Ebersole's hands this now-insensible material is transformed, permeated with artificial color and molded into dynamic shapes — shapes that elicit thoughts of organic, living, natural material. These sculptural forms, though man-made objects, further mimic life by perpetually changing as a result of age and response to their environment.

And they do so in physical forms that, while appearing to remain still, bestow a sense of the animate temporarily caught and frozen mid-motion. A line-up of geometric vessels rests alongside one gallery wall, all similar in figure, displaying a range of juicy, translucent pastel hues. They suggest a swarm of jellyfish floating in still waters — seemingly fragile, outwardly insentient, but crackling with activity and impulse deeper than our vision can measure.

Shapes cling to the walls, barnacle-like. Solid, muscle-like globules cleave to the surface, their grasps stubborn and secure. More ethereal membranes caught in the midst of slowly being peeled away cling determinedly with the slightest of connections. Smaller formations crouch on small pedestals like geodes, or like seashells whose imagined occupants watch the watchers while safely hidden within.

The effect is that of stumbling upon a beach at low tide and discovering a universe of organisms standing in wait until the water rushes back in — or biding their time until the viewer moves on and they can again be set in motion.

And they are indeed in motion: These manufactured organisms are reforming themselves slowly and surely, mutated by the touch of the air, the temperature of their environment and the mere presence of other life. From our perspective, this installation might not seem interactive, but from the other side it's undeniably so.

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