Notes Toward a Statement of Art

Carol Eisenberg’s genre-bending photography blurs the boundary between floral still-life, historically coded as feminine (and therefore lesser), and landscape (traditionally coded masculine). Commanding the terrain of landscape photography, she subversively deploys vivid color, blossoms, texture, tactility, and the equally—though we are less apt to admit it—historically feminine mark of trash. The femininity of trash is the unspoken discourse of the feminine as the abject, the cast-out, the worthless. Women are “discarded” more readily than men (think of the phrase, discarded mistress). Women are cast as the always-already at the verge of discard.

Eisenberg’s photographic surfaces carry the technique of fragmentation, layering fragments of photographs in palimpsestic density, with urgency of vision. This vision reads in layers. One sees initially the complexly beautiful surfaces of softness, color, budding branches, street scene, river, water. Then one notes the marks of trash, and graffiti, the wounds of the images. The effect of layering is to suggest that what is seen—the visible—is never one layer, never one surface but as in the concept of the tell (houses built on top of the ruins of ancient, previous houses) the work shows how the surface of the visible is built of many surfaces, the present moment is built of many histories.

The inclusive and (almost secretly) mournful look of Eisenberg’s emerges from its textural commitments, that is, its commitment to gathering the visible world into assemblages of found objects, forest, branches, river, flowers, mixed with urban detritus. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, assemblage emphasizes fluidity and multiple points of connectivity. In Eisenberg’s Xanadu, the pleasure-dome of Coleridge’s opium dream is reimagined as a place of searingly pleasurable loss. Here, the organic forms of the material world float up to us, they are offered to us, through the watery element of visibility, but each one is already shown as partially dissolving even as it is lifted to our eyes.

That which we see is always a gift and also on the cusp of moving away from us. Eisenberg’s work though painterly of surface is quintessentially photographic not only as medium (her digitally shaped images are photographs) but also conceptually. Photography is the art of loss. Eisenberg’s medium is photography because hers is an art in dialogue with loss and survival.

Eisenberg’s attraction to suggestion, intonation, implication, and softness, is art in the subversive mode of the feminine as Hélène Cixous defines it in Writing the Feminine—the feminine as pluralistic, endlessly hidden and revealed. The feminine work of art is not necessarily created by a woman, though it can be, and in Eisenberg’s case is. Her personal history with feminism goes deep, all the way to the cultural feminism of the 1970s, as she was a signal force in this epochal movement. This activist history percolates through the taut surfaces of her painterly images. Her work is like walking into a house where every detail has been curated for beauty only to find that on a given table is a book of poetry, and within that book is the essential understanding that you need, of pain and loss and resistance, to survive. There is real grit to these delicate tapestry-like visual planes. Water Lilies cohere with the River Styx, in Eisenberg’s work, because anguish and beauty are twins, as are forgetting and surfacing to remember. These are ultimately landscapes of reclamation, reclaiming the feminine, reclaiming trash, graffiti, death, and forgetting, for the purpose of photographic remembrance.

Her influences may be Pollock and Twombly but these color fields, photographic assemblages, are feminist stagings, tableaux vivant of discards, of survival in this 21st century, our most panicked, disordered, contemporary world. They instate beauty in that place of decomposition, at the thrilling edge of falling, they rise.


  • Claire Raymond, February 1st, 2021