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Sheree Hovsepian's Decisive Moment | Studio Visits

The art of photography finds its edge in the drawings, sculptures, and assemblages of the Iranian-American artist.
June 6, 2016, 7:52pm
Photos by Charlie Rubin

This article originally appeared on Creators.

On the second floor of an ancient Bushwick factory, a couple blocks from the Jefferson L train station, chemical reactions are taking place. Found materials, draped in patinas, collide face-first with moments as mediums frozen by flashes of light. Time refracts like a prism in Sheree Hovsepian's studio, becoming drawings, sculptures, and assemblages. But, rather than products, Hovsepian's pieces come to life as she discovers them, experimenting and finding truth in the fast fires of physical work.

Hovsepian, with a master's degree in photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, spends long hours here, dialing in on the applied science of capturing decisive moments. Her early works, a series known as Sleight of Hand , involved pushing multiple-exposure photography to its limits: Hovsepian temporarily affixed sheets of paper on a wall, stacking single negatives with different arrangements. The results depict both Hovsepian's physical interactions with material, and document the existence of colorful geometric forms that were never actually there.

Next, she found Haptic Wonders , the results of blasts of light hitting photosensitive paper through arrangements of opaque materials. These camera-less photographs walk the line between abstraction and figuration, Hovsepian often cutting her filters open with a razor to allow slivers of light through, or fixing developer chemicals unevenly, creating what looks like bladework, and its bloody results, in black-and-white.

Her photograms compose assemblages, combinations of sculptures, stands, string, and chemical reactions on surfaces. Everything here is one of a kind; nothing can be recreated perfectly.

"I love the slippage that happens when you can't tell if it's a photograph or a drawing, you know? That there's no copy, because in this method of working, you can only have one original," Hovsepian explains. The same can be said of her bronze columns, which are created using lost-wax casting, and her printer ink and walnut oil dispersion drawings. "You can't remake them."

"When I moved to New York, I wanted to figure out a way to work in photography that would allow me to work in the studio in the way that I'd envisioned New York artists having worked in their studios beforehand. This kind of hyper-masculine idea of working with your hands, putting things on the floor, stuff like that. But that was not the way I understood how I worked in photography or how I did [it]. I'd used the studio before as a place to shoot models, but not as a place to actually physically touch, handle, and make work. I wanted a place where I could touch things and make things with my hands," Hovsepian says. Her studio today is much like she created Raku pottery within, equal parts destructive and gestational furnaces. It draws as much from the surgeon artist, Lucio Fontana, as it does feminist forebears, Marisa Merz, Louise Bourgeois, and Ana Mendieta.

"I have this idea of repurposing and taking from what's around me," Hovsepian says. "I think it's this very feminine sort of thing. It also helps me make decisions. It's like, okay I've gotta make something. Everything I need is in my studio. Now, go." Fittingly, found objects have always been important to her work, both for their physical presence and their forms. In the past, she used to find items to shoot in hallways and alleys, photograph them in studio, and return them back to their original locations. Now, she'll source marble columns from eBay, crochet around aged wooden staffs, and arrange her assemblages with such exactitude that she can re-stage stretched mixed-media wall sculptures as if they were in situ.

"I'm doing a residency at the Drawing Center right now. [The piece I'm working on] is a photogram, a large one that I had in here, and some drawing paper, and some fabric. I've used fabric in my work before, and I had this and was just playing around with it. I love this in the context of drawing, and photography also. I think it has a lot of things to do with veiling, covering and uncovering what I'm making," she says.

Ultimately, what's most striking about Sheree Hovsepian's work is just how organic it feels, how honest, hard- and handworked each and every individual piece is. The painter Haley Mellin, who had dinner with Sheree and her husband, Rashid Johnson, a couple nights earlier, remarks, "To be able to push this platform forward and be persistent with it, and give this language a space, is hugely admirable."

With Johnson, Hovsepian has a child, Julius, who she calls her "greatest collaboration." Otherwise, a collaborator she is not. Her works are singular; process-honored artifacts of a time, a place, and a gesture. For these kinds of photographs, things-in-themselves reborn, there has never been a better moment.

Click here to visit Sheree Hovsepian's website.