Gina Osterloh expands perceptions in 'Mirror Shadow Shape'

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Gina Osterloh expands perceptions in 'Mirror Shadow Shape'
Gina Osterloh, Mute Rash, 2008. 30 x 38.5 inches, archival pigment print. Image courtesy of the artist, Higher Pictures Generation (New York) and Silverlens (Manila and New York)

COLUMBUS, OH.- The Columbus Museum of Art presents the work of Gina Osterloh (b. 1973, San Antonio, TX) in the artist’s first major museum survey, Mirror Shadow Shape, on view Feb. 24-Oct. 8, 2023. Osterloh’s studio-based practice uses photography, film, performance and drawing to examine the preconceived ways we understand ourselves and others. The exhibition is organized by the Columbus Museum of Art and guest curated by Anna Lee, photography curator for special collections at Stanford University Libraries.

Mirror Shadow Shape is comprised of roughly 40 works created between 2005-2020, showcasing large-scale photographs and video. Camouflage, erasure, assimilation and replication are recurring themes across Osterloh’s work. In her photographic, moving image and performance-based pieces, the artist’s body traverses, traces and punctures photographic space, interrogating the boundaries of a body and its identity.

Osterloh’s art urgently asks the viewer to pause and reconsider larger questions of perception. In her early works, she experimented with brightly colored, meticulously constructed photographic tableaus and repetitive patterns using symbolic themes such as the void, orifice, camouflage and the grid.

Osterloh cites her experience growing up as a mixed-race Filipino American in Ohio as a formative experience that led her to both photography and larger questions of how one perceives difference. Exploring the dynamics of visibility, identity and power, she challenges the viewer to think about seen or unseen social experiences within the photographic image and consider how people are defined as alien or outsider.

"I am inspired by abstraction and portraiture working together – how the body may adopt forms of visual blocking, such as camouflage or being wrapped in shiny reflective tape, to address preconceived notions of identity," explained Osterloh. “In many ways I am intrigued by how vision informs our creation and understanding of categories, such as race and gender.”

Osterloh’s photographs often depict constructed environments created largely from paper. In the artist’s series Drawings for the Camera (2014-2017) and Zones (2017-ongoing), she creates drawings on photo studio backdrop paper that she then photographs. Utilizing visual metaphors from the core of her practice, the images help expand the viewer’s understanding of portraiture and photography.

"Two things about Gina’s work immediately stood out to me: her meaningful use of photographic series and the unique tone of her imagery — incisive, critical, sad and also humorous,” said exhibition curator Anna Lee. “Although it’s common for photographers to work in series, for 15 years Gina’s series have functioned by following each other, each pushing its premise into a new question. It felt like work from this period needed to be presented together to show the extent to which questions and fantasies of identity and representation have been driving her practice."

The exhibition includes three photographs purchased by CMA to inaugurate the Wayne P. Lawson Prize, which Osterloh was awarded in 2021. Each year, The Wayne P. Lawson Prize recognizes an Ohio artist who represents excellence in their practice. The series of images – Grid, Eyes; I am image and Holding Zero (all 2020) – are set inside Osterloh’s signature rooms constructed from paper. In these works, an imperfect grid marked out in black tape delineates each room and plays with the intersection of illusion and reality, presence and absence.

Gina Osterloh is an assistant professor of art at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Her work is represented by Higher Pictures Generation in Brooklyn, NY and Silverlens Galleries in Manila, Philippines.

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