Magical Realism

Magical Realism

In her first USA solo museum exhibition, Cig Harvey (b. 1973) teases out the senses through dreamy montages that simultaneously evoke memory sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Live plants and flowers populate striking compositions filled with vivid colours. These meditations – incorporating photographs, videos and mixed media – focus on the changing and even arresting aspects of the everyday.

In elevating the seemingly mundane, Harvey dishes out a feast for the eyes. The Devon native, who won the 2018 Prix Virginia for women photographers, lives and works surrounded by the ocean and lakes of Maine. This landscape is often present in her semi-autobiographical pieces, serving as an atmospheric backdrop. Deceptively simple vignettes are filled with a sense that the protagonists are dreaming whilst wide awake. In Devin and the Fireflies (2010), a girl on the cusp of adulthood stands on a rock in a green meadow at dusk with the ocean behind her in Rockland. Gazing directly at the viewer, she holds a small wooden birdhouse and the last rays of sunlight give a glow to her face. Fireflies flutter all about her and are still in movement, Harvey having subtly animated the image with computer programming. The rest of the image remains still, so that only the environment, not the subject, comes alive.

Cig Harvey, Blizzard on Main Street, 2017.

The collected works feature a range of visual metaphors and powerful storytelling. Pomegranate seeds are scattered across a wooden table like bloody specks; miniature red footprints are left around a bowl of cherries; a rainbow cake is set against an all-grey background. These familiar domestic scenes elicit memories from alternative lives. Serene and incredibly quiet as they may seem, the scenes also appear to teeter on the edge of disaster or climax. In Blizzard on Main Street (2017), above, for example, car lights peer out in the background, cutting through a quiet winter wonderland blanketed in snow, disturbing the peace of a woman standing on the edge of the road. In Kendall at Beauchamp, Camden, Maine (2014) – pictured at the top of the page – a young girl looks mournfully, apprehensively behind her. Viewers are left wondering why she’s alone in the woods, or what events have taken place beforehand.

Harvey’s unique juxtapositions can also produce tongue-in-cheek results. In a bed of tulips in the gardens of the Ogunquit museum, located along the coast and linked to one of the earliest art movements in the American Modernist era, a neon sculpture directs the viewer to “Eat Flowers.” At the show’s opening reception, Harvey did just that, serving dandelion sandwiches and edible blooms to guests. Another neon sign near the main entrance inside calls for an active and multisensory experience, to “Suck, Smell, Stare, Scratch, Sigh.” For this mid-career survey, written-word pieces have been printed in letterpress and hung amongst the photographs. Viewers are reminded to “Stare at the Sky.”

Olivia Hampton

Eating Flowers: The Sensations of Cig Harvey is on view at Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Maine until 31 October. Find out more here.

Lead image: Cig Harvey (b. 1973), Kendall at Beauchamp, Camden, Maine, 2014. Chromogenic color print, 28 inches x 28 inches. Courtesy of the artist.