"Shōka," the title of Emilie Halpern's recent three-month-long show at Pepin Moore (which was the gallery's swan song), reflects the artist's minimalist sensibility and attention to composition: shōka is a 15th-century style of ikebana, or Japanese floral arrangement, in which three components are combined to symbolize the union of nature and humanity. In keeping with the theme, Halpern's show was a series of three installations, beginning with 地, or "the earth," for which she exhibited a rock field. The second, 天, or "the heavens," consisted of a gold-leaf drawing of sunlight cast across a gallery wall, and the third, 人, or "humanity," comprised an assortment of stoneware vessels.
Starting with the autumnal equinox and lasting until the winter solstice, "Shōka" made clear Halpern's debt to Post-Minimalist Land artists like Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt. 地 opened at 4:03 p.m. Pacific Time on September 22, 2013, a few hours before sunset. Halpern imported 2,600 pounds of medium-size fluorescent rocks from various countries and placed them on the floor, in a rectangular shape proportional to the gallery space itself. During daylight, the beige, white and gray rocks betrayed nothing out of the ordinary, but as night fell they glowed an eerie combination of bright pink, purple, gold and green under a black light. Ironically, for the bulk of the installation's run, gallery visitors were not privy to the rocks' secret life, which was reserved for people passing the glass-fronted space after closing time.
For 天, Halpern used gold leaf to fill in the exact area first hit by light coming through the gallery's front windows on October 26, 2013. For the rest of this installment the gold leaf was either out of sync with the actual sunlight or an unusually moving representation of the sunlight's absence, covering a portion of the floor and part of one wall in the gallery.
Finally, for 人, Halpern created a series of small stoneware vases and bowls. The vases hung from the ceiling at about shoulder height, dangling from fishing line, all of their bases even so that they appeared to be sitting on an invisible table. Eight bowls occupied a long plinth placed directly on the floor, as though ready to receive the contents of the vases. Each ceramic was dipped in a simple matte-white glaze, and then decorated with hand-painted patterns in light purple. While the designs were essentially geometric (such as a series of diamonds), the wobbly nature of Halpern's brushstrokes gave the vessels a sense of organic fragility.
As much as Halpern is indebted to earth artists, "Shōka" is a product of a contemporary art moment that values works and ideas at a human—rather than landscape-scale. Each of the installations could be viewed at a glance, in the enclosed space of the gallery. Moreover, while "Shōka" included references to the passing of time, it did not suggest an interest in entropy or in the sublime. Rather, the focus seemed to be on the viewer and his or her participation in noticing and fostering the union to which the word shōka refers.