A Frolicsome Journey Through Harmon’s Make-a-Do

By Lisa Williamson



Erin Harmon, Aggregate Optics of Make-A-Do, 2019, installation. Photo by Chip Pankey.


The title of a show is our introduction to the artist’s work, the selling point to the end-product, an enticement to tease the imagination prior to entering a space or experience. In the case of Erin Harmon, the title is a loose flap that intermittently reveals hints of a self-generative process that she admits has been years in the making. Trained as a painter, Harmon’s solo show Aggregate Optics of a Make-A-Do is a visual playground that weaves nonsensical language with structural boxes that leave the canvas. Is Make-A-Do even a real word? Just as the audience relaxes into a vague familiarity of semiotics and grids, Harmon breaks the frame with a palimpsest of bubble shrubbery, striped tree trunks and foliage cuspidations. The result is Eric Carle-esque desert scrub brush dancing with pastel color and painterly pattern that physically envelops the audience.


More captivating than the forms stretching across the wall is the eye trickery that invites presence through absence. Empty silhouettes float from the expansive landscape, while remaining true to the drafting table scraps that first inspired their construction. Fragments of the ecosystem of her studio environment serve as inspiration for forms and shapes. In addition to the kaleidoscopic wall piece, Harmon has adapted her x-acto knife skills to video in order to play with after-image. In other words, another element of trickery that is amplified by color, pattern and light. The breaks in the video, black voids that flash intermittently on the wall, provide a blank canvas for the viewer to project the vegetative forms imprinted on their retinas. It is a fun and unexpected element that Harmon uses successfully to, as she says, “turn up the color.”


Separately each micro-environment is an aesthetic experimentation for a figurative painter who labored to divorce her presence in the work. Harmon is not only utilizing video and canvas wall mounts, but ceramics and layers of cut paper that confront the audience at eye level. By placing the autonomous works in conversation with each other, the figure is liberated from the canvas in order to populate the audience while being woven back into the work. The result is a fantasy-like installation that invites us to move close, walk through, blink rapidly and participate in an expedition. An investigative stroll through the work gives more insight into the creative activity behind Harmon’s process, as she explains that although the work is a mixed collection of various media and scale, it was conceived as a singular piece. Framing plays an important role in the optics, not just in the editing process of what is included and excluded, but in how the structures frame each other. The audience can stand from different positions on either side of a descending archway in order to catch glimpses of new terrain. Zooming out to visually consume Harmon’s work as an overview allows the piece to be experienced as an architectural extension of the gallery space. The dichotomies of micro/macro, pattern/void, and geometric/organic inspire imaginative movement that recollects memories of lattices adorned with sprouting spring flora.


Erin Harmon’s Aggregate Optics of Make-A-Do exhibition runs from January 18 to March 6, 2019 at the Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art on the University of Memphis campus.