Erin Harmon makes her work in a green garden-shed-turned-studio, a location that seems fitting for an artist whose dioramic painting/collages often depict botanical cabinets of sea-anenome-shaped neon plantlife. Harmon’s botanicals are, for lack of a better word, “oogly”— full of acidic dots and undulating yellow lines; seductive and poisonous-looking.
In the past, Harmon’s work has been mostly small-scale and confined to the page. She breaks this habit with her latest project, a collaboration alongside choreographer and dancer Steven McMahon, of Ballet Memphis. McMahon’s original ballet, (working title) BIRDS, premiers in mid-October as a part of Ballet Memphis’ River Project. Harmon designed the set, per McMahon’s request, with “not a feather in sight.”
When I saw the in-progress model for the set, Harmon was in the process of developing two 18-ft tall, movable, Mississippi-Delta-inspired “arbor shapes” (“like a pair of abstract bird wings…[they] create this channel through the middle, so it is kind of an open flyway”)
Here is Harmon talking about her set with a slideshow of sketches from her studio:
“I knew I wanted floating shapes so that it kind of related to my work and collage work... I wanted it to be real and unreal. This piece is influenced by, or inspired by the Mississippi flyway; the route of migration that birds take along the Mississippi. It is a very luxurious route for birds to take; it it kind of like a vacation in that there are no mountains; there's not a lot of resistance, it is fertile it is fruitful, there's water.
“I am constantly trying to move the landscape away from the real. So things like: I started with an X shape that is kind of like a cactus, but that just continues in the work to evolve. I like how graphic it is, and how awkward. [Steven] is really interested in the kind of weirdness of birds, how kind of awkward and sometimes disturbing these things can be.”
River Project, October 18-26 at Playhouse on the Square