Consider the quiet, young artist in this confusing early part of the millennium. Her name is Emilie Halpern, and she is in her mid-30s, and she is holding a pillow to her freshly-showing pregnant belly. Her art is quiet, too: millennial Minimalist black oblong shapes strewn across her studio floor and encoded (perhaps a Kyoto rock garden). They are emu eggs, $10 each, eBay. “The idea,” says Halpern, “is that people may step on them, or they’ll get kicked. Total fragility.”
Consider the eggs, the pregnant belly. Consider motherhood. A photograph of a reclining young woman hangs on Halpern’s wall. It is Halpern’s mother, the daughter of a successful Japanese painter named Takanori Oguiss who painted Parisian street scenes, pregnant herself—making it a sort of found self-portrait. “The piece is actually the same image twice, so it’s shown in the first gallery [Halpern’s gallery, Pepin Moore in Chinatown of Los Angeles is split into two small rooms] and the connecting wall in the second gallery, back to back. And it’s titled ‘Mother (Happy)’ and the other one is titled ‘Mother (Sad).’ My mom’s coming to town, and I’m like, ‘Am I going to tell her?’”
Consider that Halpern, as she prepares for motherhood, is anxious about this next show, which opens on January 14th, 2012, right around her due date. “From what I hear,” she says, “when you first have a kid, you lose your mind a little. So it’s like the last moment of clarity before I turn crazy. By the time I make the next show, so much will have happened; I’ll have such a different point of view on the purpose of art. There’s this real fear as an artist that when you have a baby, do you continue to be an artist? I don’t know why those things would ever be a conflict. I think, for most women, it’s career or family—is it too much to maintain both? Well, of all the careers, being an artist, it just seems like you can just fit it in. It’s not like you have to be the CEO of a company. But, it’s interesting to me that there could be some kind of a change in your life that art wouldn’t have the same meaning to you.”
Consider motherhood, gestation periods, scientific facts. Halpern, while enrolled in UCLA’s undergraduate arts program, took biology class. But, it wasn’t for her. She didn’t want to study the migration habits of cephalopods in the lower Atlantic. She wanted pop biology, and she wanted it broad and abstracted. Consider a cut piece she’s doing at Pepin Moore, through the gallery, entitled “Octopus.” “Little eye-sized holes,” describes Halpern, holding up her thumb and pointer finger in a ring and raising it up to her eye. “It’s the size of an octopus eye, because octopi can fit through any hole that’s the size of their eye.” That’s the interesting side of science, the easily digestible bits found in hardback science books, relatable to the human condition.
Consider the bit of biological feedback imbued in each of Halpern’s pieces, be it procreative or otherwise. A length of green metal hangs in the corner of her studio. Used, oxidized lightning rods from Virginian barns. Consider the black-and-white photograph of a cresting whale she captured while on a whalewatching trip off the coast of California. Consider the carefully placed beach rocks, stacked simply on the floor of the gallery. Consider the sound piece playing in the gallery when you walk in, consisting of three heartbeats, representing the three hearts of an octopus (if one fails the fat stored in it can sustain the other two hearts). And finally, consider the four gallons of seawater that will be poured on the floor of Pepin Moore each day of her show. “It’s four liters, which is the amount of water that fills your lungs when you drown. Since it’s seawater and the floors are porous, I’m hoping there’ll be some kind of crystalline effect that happens over time with the salt. A permanent installation.”
And after you’ve considered all this, take a step back, and look at the black oblong shapes, the hanging length of metal, the portrait of a woman, the big photograph of an oceanic scene, the crystals on the ground. Consider the beauty of saying a lot with a little, and keeping bits of those things close. Consider art in a microcosmic moment, this quiet artist, her gestation period coming to an end, both physically and meta-, at the beginning of the millennium, this confusing time.