Elizabeth Duffy’s hallmark environments emerge from an obsessive focus on atmospheric design—in particular, certain demure compositions that, like a Bauhaus chair, manifest pure, understated functionality. The purpose of these compositions is to obfuscate other images; self-effacing and banal, they disclose their textures only via the cellophane window of an empty billing envelope. Since 2007 Duffy has been appropriating the “data protection patterns” printed inside envelopes to conceal sensitive contents, casting their simple red, grey, and blue geometric permutations on textiles, glass, wallpaper, and even food in immersive installations modeled after private spaces. Her exaggeration of overlooked and ultimately disposable prints subverts their purpose to conceal and secure tokens of wealth and credit—instead they morph into omnipresent decorative motifs. dm contemporary’s location in an upscale residential building has given Duffy the opportunity to create her most extensive installation to date: the implied dwelling of an aspiring collector aptly titled Apartment 2B. Whereas in a conventional gallery setting, Duffy often amplifies the patterning within her constructed sets to produce a monotonous and claustrophobic tone, in Apartment 2B she implements a subtler (yet no less insistent) approach, echoing the reticent visibility of the envelope designs in their intended habitat. Spanning a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and the hallway that connects them, a combination of found, altered, and hand-made furnishings cohere into an elegant interior with an ulterior pulse. Duffy’s patterns gently interfere with the modernist simplicity of the apartment’s central space, where a scrambled logjam pattern is incised into the leather seats of Le Corbusier-inspired sofas, and recursive diagonals are etched into a coffee table’s glass inset. Two-tone prints further abound in the adjoining bedroom, on upholstery and linens, wallpaper and lampshades. As the artist describes, the figurative palette these institutional patterns span is surprisingly diverse and evocative: “There are literally thousands of variations, from corporate logos, to patterns that depict water, wood grain, text and symbols of every imaginable kind. Some of the designs are the same that can be found in Greek temples (and the NYC coffee cup) and on Victorian cushions.” As such, Duffy’s interventions vibrate with other ready-made collectibles and housewares in the installation, from latticed coral in a curio cabinet to a cross-stitched throw and houndstooth wicker chair. Some items—like a doctored specimen drawing of a butterfly’s wings, or an overprinted cushion made of speckled animal hair—modestly rework appropriated natural patterns. Apartment 2B’s expansive tableau has enabled Duffy to evoke another icon of her source material: the curved-edge rectangular window of a billing envelope. In the living room, the trademark circular aperture in the marble base of an Arco lamp is extended to this subtle yet distinctive form, which is reflected again in a silkscreened accent on the natural cowhide rug. The emphasis on this shape extends beyond the artist’s orchestration to the gallery itself: suddenly oblong windows begin to appear in unremarkable infrastructural details like the metal covers of heaters and electrical breaker boxes. Duffy’s choice to accent the window shape—especially in an urban space with floor-to-ceiling windows facing an adjacent high-rise—enhances her installation’s allusions to veils and screens, and more broadly the surveillance of private space. In tandem with Cheryl Yun’s concurrent installation in dm contemporary’s project space, comprising handbags and lingerie whose printed patterns are abstracted from news media imagery, the latent commentary of Duffy’s work on today’s pervasive and highly controlled transmission of information through images imbues an otherwise comfortable space with a paranoid unease. Kaegan Sparks is a NYC based curator and writer
Do you see a pattern here? Patterns and colors from protective envelope liners inspire artist Elizabeth Duffy’s home decor insallation ‘OVERLANDER’ BY JESS BRALEY A full-sized horse carriage in the middle of the room seizes your attention upon entering Salve Regina University’s Hamilton Gallery. When you realize it’s more or less parked in a stiflingly patterned living room, you find your­self searching for more answers than you’re readily given. The more you look, the more you realize, you’ve seen these patterns and shapes before. Checks, dashes and grids line the inside of the carriage and the couch on the far wall. Birds and envelopes line the wallpaper covering the walls. The shapes on the wall, in the frames are so familiar without being obvious. Finally it all clicks. The patterns on the walls, the fur­niture and the clothing, even in the lining of the carriage, are the same ones found lining the protective envelopes containing the bills you get in the mail. Part installation, part restoration project and part exhibition of her technical mastery in textile manipulation, Elizabeth Duffy’s “ Overlander” show at Salve is an amazingly well thought-out, coherent exhibition that is truly a one-of a kind, can’t-miss show. There is an overwhelming feeling of mis­guided comfort in the room, an uneasy cozi­ness evoked by the evasiveness of the very pat­terns on the walls. “ That’s exactly what I was after — evasive­ness is a good word for it —they are there, but they are hidden and there is something anxi­ety provoking about that, I think,” Duffy said. Duffy became interested in using physical mail as a material because it is rapidly disap­pearing. Security envelopes made to protect individual privacy have become akin to a cul­tural artifact as they become replaced by pass­words on a computer. “Its current profusion through mass mail­ings yet rapid disappearance due to the digital age are indicative of the exponential change that pervades our culture,” she said. “Offers of credit lines and low interest mortgages have provided us an illusory material wealth. Also, what we discard and how much we consume have become topical issues in this increasingly environmentally minded and digitized (non­paper) moment in history. For these reasons, these throwaway envelopes are compelling for both their symbolic cultural resonance and impending obsolescence.” As someone who constantly moved, the idea of security is something Duffy often revisits in her work. In 2010, she cre­ated Insidious Objects, a line of limited edition home furnishings, apparel and accessories with data protection patterning. When presented with the opportunity to exhibit at the carriage house-turned gallery at Salve, security came immediately to mind. “My own experience of dislocation compels me to investigate the per­sistent human need to find comfort and stability, however illusory and short-lived,” Duffy said. “ This opportunity to show my work in a gallery that was formerly a carriage house — a place associated with change — felt auspicious.” For Duffy, the work was neither solely driv­en by the space nor was its progression a cul­mination of her past work. “I saw the beautiful spaces of the Antone Art Center and learned a bit of their history and decided I wanted to make the carriage. I like juxtaposing ideas of movement and change against stasis: the liv­ing room.” The seating area in the far side of the room is painstakingly detailed. Patterned slippers sit on a stitched rug in a different pattern, flanked by a couch and set of period chairs, flawlessly upholstered in yet other patterns. Another pattern adorns a tablecloth covering a side table. On top, sit books and towels, and a tea set, all with different patterns. Even the ceramic teapot and the pastries, feature patterns. A patterned dress hangs on an old dressform behind the table. To put into perspec­tive the lengths to which Duffy goes to replicate her patterns in unique ways, consider the fact that the pastries, albeit surely stale, are real food, made and decorated by the artist. “They are real cookies I made,” Duffy said. “I just frosted and decorated them with securi­ty envelope patterns. I like the way in domestic house museums they leave food out as if some­one just left the room. These are really stale (though) and I wouldn’t recommend eating them.” The wallpaper, which extends across most of the gallery space wraps around behind the chairs and couch, extending between two win­dows, covered in patterned blinds, shades and drapes. Even the side windows are covered in a patterned film. On a high perch, a tiny little patterned toy bird sits watching down on the whole thing, a little toy big brother, watching your every move. On the other wall a “Storm at Sea” patterned quilt hangs in front of a pedestal case filled with a patterned period hat and riding gloves. The beauty of “Overlander” isn’t just the design and execution of its pieces, although the craftsmanship is impeccable. It’s the thor­ough and seamless integration of pattern into practice. Would it work without one of the pieces? Sure, even a big one, but it just would­n’t be the same. With everything going on in the main gallery, be sure not to miss the cases in the hallway, especially the one nestled in the cor­ner facing the entrance to the gallery. Paint chips line clear glass shelves, behind them clear envelope shapes fill the wall held up by red tacks. “It was very subtle, but it’s a new piece that I made spontaneously.” Duffy said. “I cut the shapes of the envelope silhouettes (when opened) out of plexi and then pinned them up with map tacks against the wallpaper. I like the way the light gave a slight shadow of the enve­lope shape onto the back wall, and how the wallpaper showed through. The paint chip parts were the windows, as if fallen out of the envelopes above.”
Elizabeth Duffy's hallmark environments employ a similar disproportion of source and presentation, though to opposite ends, creating an immersive whole from banal source imagery discernable only as the viewer zooms in. Collecting and reproducing a variety of data protection patterns found on the inside of envelopes, Duffy creates intricate drawings and embroideries, furniture upholstery, rugs, curtains and various other objects. The exaggerated amplification of an overlooked, functional, and ultimately disposable print subverts its purpose to conceal and secure tokens of wealth and credit--instead it morphs into an overwhelmingly monotonous decorative motif.