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Lori Kella (1974-)

Euclid’s Mirror, 2019

Materials: Archival pigment print (photograph), edition no. 2/5, 30” x 45”

Location at Summa Health:  Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, sixth floor, between rooms H6-113 and H6-114

Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

About the art and artist:

This haunting image is from the artist’s series on Vanishing Shoreline, the most recent in several bodies of work, Erie Lost and Found. These images, the artist says, “ … reimagine the shoreline … and its tributaries in visual homage to a horizon that has captivated me for three decades.”

Lori Kella emphasized photography in her education as an artist, and to this she has added sculpture in the form of diorama constructions, which become the subjects of her photographs. This is an inversion of what we typically think of photos doing, capturing a bit of reality; nothing here is “real”, "though sometimes we beholders need a second, more careful glance to register this. And while Kella’s subjects over the years – landscapes, vistas, and now seascapes and shore-scapes – appear to be, quite literally, grounded, they are totally fabricated, made up. What we see in these exquisitely finished photos (“archival print” means the artist has used highest quality paper and fade-resistant ink to print at very high resolution, with an eye to durability) is fictional and ephemeral, the elements long ago deconstructed and repurposed by the time we view the photographic record of their ephemeral and imaginary configuration.

Playful as the construction process might seem (with overtones of a model train set-ups or toy shop-window displays), Kella’s diorama worlds narrate or prefigure environmental malaise, even disaster. Her Vanishing Shoreline series often incorporates into its views tiny figures of threatened native species. Earlier works took the beholder to places we cannot go, underneath mountains to encounter toxic mining practices or deep below the ocean to witness the destruction of flora and fauna. Kella does not permit us to be lulled, misled by surface appearances: She re-creates a landscape or seascape in order to present us with those complex systems underlying what we “normally” can see. 

The scale of these constructions may be small, but the vista is broad, and there are reiterated clues that all is not well. In Vanishing Shoreline, the dream-like first impression comes from the de-saturated color (that is, it is very washed-out, faint), the hazy, suggestive but obviously not quite “normal” atmosphere and plant life. Forms seem fragile, and that is the point: They are. And that is not “normal."

Additionally, the title of this work appears to refer doubly, to the reflective surface of the local Euclid Creek, which the artist and her family have travelled in kayaks and which composes the main element in this image; and also, in a pun, to a late classical text on mirrors and appearances by the Greek geometer Euclid. It is this latter reference which provides the unsettling hint that appearances may deceive.

Kella creates all her dioramas with readily available materials – wool, paper, painted plastic, soap, and glycerin – in her upper-floor home studio space. The studio was designed and built by Kella and her husband, artist Michael Loderstedt, with large skylight and windows to provide bountiful natural lighting. Manipulating that lighting, in concert with artificial lights, allows Kella to simulate atmospheric conditions for each world she builds and then for each photograph she makes of it. You can note how important the lighting is, in this series, for creating a mood, a feeling.

It’s not unusual for us, at first glance, to think we’re seeing a photograph of a natural landscape. But Kella deliberately uses, in addition to lighting, what we cannot fail to recognize as props and objects from model-building or things she has fabricated herself, to reveal her artifice. These create an uncanny moment, when what we might have at first taken for a highly stylized landscape photograph reveals itself to be entirely the product of the artist’s imagination and manufacture (in the sense of the hand – Lat. manus – made). This is the position of tension and contradiction – the manufactured vs. the “natural”, the enduring landscape vs. the ephemeral – that the artist wants us to contemplate.

Kella describes herself as a Great Lakes native, having been born in Michigan and later living on the shore of Lake Erie in suburban Cleveland. After completing an undergraduate degree at the Cleveland Institute of Art, she went on to earn the terminal/professional M.F.A. at Cornell University in 2001. She has been a long-serving board member of SPACES Gallery and has also been a director on the Board of Directors at the Cleveland Print Room. She has served as a curator for both SPACES and the Cleveland Print Room, as well as for the Downtown Gallery at Kent State University. 

Kella has taught at Kent State University, Oberlin College, Lorain Community College, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Case Western Reserve University; in 2011, she also served as Master Teaching Artist for ArtWorks, Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland.  She has won multiple Individual Artist Fellowships and Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, as well as an OAC Fellowship for a residence at the Vermont Studio Center. She was also an early Fellow of the Creative Workforce with the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture & Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Most recently Kella received national recognition from the Andy Warhol Foundation as a recipient of a grant from the Satellite Fund in order to continue to make and exhibit the current body of work.

Where you can see more of this artist’s work

Kella has had numerous solo and two-person exhibitions throughout Ohio and beyond, as well as having shown work at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum (Bentonville, Ark.), Urban Arts Space and Roy G Biv Gallery in Columbus; the Torpedo Factory in Arlington, Va.; the Print Center in Philadelphia; and in Dresden, Germany. 

You can see her work in many public collections, including those of the Cleveland Clinic, the Bidwells at the Transformer Station, Cuyahoga Community College, and Worthington Yards in Cleveland; the Akron Art Museum and Hahn Loesser and Parks, LLP, in Akron. You can also see her 2019 permanent installation at the Campus Center on Cuyahoga Community College’s Metropolitan campus. Selections of her most recent work can be viewed on her website and at PHOTOCentric Gallery in Collinwood, which represents Kella and has published a fully-illustrated catalogue of the photos composing Vanishing Shoreline (2020).

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