Martha Russo’s genre-defying body of work is experienced as an exercise in contradiction. Upon first encounter, her sculptural investigations appear at once fragile and potentially dangerous, cautioning one away while hypnotically drawing one in – ever closer – for intimate examination. It is both in distance and in the details that these monumentally microscopic objects stir a deep-seated memory of abject yet alien familiarity; they strike a chord between chaos and meticulous categorization, sublimity and repulsion, and magically minimal maximalism. Russo’s work mirrors natural cycles of entropy and consumption essential to life as we know it, but that lie beyond the realm of most human comprehension.
The dichotomies in Russo’s creative practice – from materials to subject matter – are no wonder when her education and formative years are taken into consideration. Born into a family of medical professionals, she earned her B.A. in Developmental Biology and Psychology at Princeton University, where was also an accomplished athlete with designs on competing with the U.S. Olympic Field Hockey team. Following a devastating injury, she found solace in creative practice, having first learned about ceramics on a trip abroad, then deepening her studies under renowned American artist Toshiko Takaezu, who was instrumental in shifting her perception of the medium from functional craft to fine art. Fusing her scientific and artistic academic training to investigate the corporeal possibilities of sculpture, Russo advanced her unparalleled pedigree in the arts to complete an MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder under celebrated ceramicist Betty Woodman.
An exhibition nearly eight years in the making, caesura is aptly titled, meaning a break, pause, or interruption in the flow of a verse or melody. Unlike the accident that fortuitously redirected the artist from a career in medicine to full-time studio practice and arts education, a caesura is not unexpected but is rather an intentional moment to breathe between one phrase and the next. Literally and conceptually, caesura occupies the space(s) in-between as a place of rest, reflection, and recapitulation. Combining signature works of art with never-before-seen creative experiments, this installation is part mad scientist’s laboratory and part naturalist’s notebook; the sensibility of felled redwoods, shredded aspen, petri dishes, catalogued chaos, and the elegance of precious engagement with the wild is brought to fruition through unconventional materials found amongst studio detritus, porcelain tendrils bulbous acrylic bellies, oxidized nails, and… wattles.
Come closer into the world of caesura and meet Martha Russo – an artist with the insatiable curiosity of a child, the enthusiasm of an athlete, and rigor of a scientist coalesced through unparalleled proficiency of visual vocabulary.