Leah Beeferman
Light Matter

Sorbus’s year 2017 will be opened by an exhibition by Leah Beeferman from New York City, US. She is in Finland on a Fulbright Scholar Grant and has been staying in residencies at Mustarinda in Hyrynsalmi and Arteles in Haukijärvi. Leah Beeferman’s works are mostly prints and animated videos made using digital drawing and photography. At Sorbus she will exhibit three new pieces made during her stay in Finland: a digital print, a video with no sound, and a text piece presented as a video.

Sorbus interviewed Leah Beeferman in December 2016.

SORBUS: You have now been in Finland for two months. How has it been? What have you been doing? What have you seen?

LEAH BEEFERMAN: ​It’s been great, but it’s gone by so quickly. I’ve been taking a lot of walks and trying to notice all the small changes day-to-day that you get to see when you spend time in a place, rather than just passing through as a tourist. Like watching the subtle changes in the forests: snowy and frozen up at Mustarinda, and melting, thawing, and refreezing at Arteles. I’ve watched how the snow and frost accumulate on branches and plants, how it all changes based on the light and the weather, and what is revealed when the snow melts. I’ve been taking a lot pictures and shooting video, and making sound recordings on windy days. I’ve been researching the science of light, and reading about quantum physics and the mechanics and meanings of making observations. And finally, I’m trying to come to terms with the current global political situation. I’ve thought a lot about what it might mean to be an artist now — especially an American artist staying in Finland — and about climate change, and the history of photography and environmentalism.

S: You have also been in a residency in Finland before, at Kökarkultur Artist Residence in Kökar (2013), and also you’ve done residencies at SÍM Residency in Reykjavik (2014) and at The Arctic Circle Residency in Svalbard (2012). Is there something here in the north that particularly interests you?

LB: There is a kind of subversive stillness about northern places that really interests me — that there can be so much activity and so many natural processes at work in places that are typically thought of as cold, dark, and less hospitable for life. Since going to Svalbard, I’ve been thinking a lot about a theory in quantum physics which says that empty space isn’t actually empty — it’s the opposite, totally dense and active. The idea that a landscape can somehow mirror this very abstract scientific theory has been really generative for me, and I keep coming north to continue trying to make sense of the complicated back-and-forth relationships between science, observation, and landscape, and what it can mean in different specific places.

S: Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara says emptiness means being void of “separate existence” or “separate being”, and that everything is “made” of connections to a myriad of other things. Could you tell a bit more about the quantum mechanics theory of emptiness that you mentioned? What does “pure empty space” mean, if it’s not actually empty?

LB: The full meaning, or explanation, gets pretty technical, and not all scientists agree about all the details. And even though I’ve read through it many times, it still doesn’t really make concrete sense, but that’s part of what I like about it: it’s still “science.” Anyway, the basic idea is that there is a “quantum field” which exists across all space. In this quantum field, there is some level of minimum energy, even if there are no “real” particles present in it. And there are tiny disturbances in this energy, due to the uncertainty principle (which I won’t get into), called quantum fluctuations. The fluctuations are thought of as “virtual” particles which appear and disappear instantaneously. So the empty space — space without real particles — is thought of as full of these energy fluctuations: these virtual particles flickering in and out.

I’m actually reading a book right now called Meeting the Universe Halfway by Karen Barad, who is an American physics Ph.D. and feminist theorist. She is unfolding the technical details of quantum mechanics into philosophy and a theory called “agential realism,” which is actually somewhat similar, in spirit, to the Buddhist ideas you mentioned about interrelatedness. She draws this out into ethics, and I’ve been starting to think about how to interpret it in terms of environmentalism, too.

S: What is your working process like? Where do you get your inspiration?

LB: For each project or body of work I make, I first need to develop a structure to work within — some focused limitations to guide the work in a particular conceptual direction. So, for this show, it’s the color white, the science of light, and the idea of how to orient yourself, observationally. These ideas come from spending time in a place, and trying to understand it experientially, scientifically, and, to some degree, historically. Usually there’s something that jumps out at me as a focus point, and then it’s a matter of drawing it out, and finding where it links up with my broader interests. Once I have that framework, my process is really pretty intuitive: I sort through the material I’ve shot and recorded, and then work it out as images, videos or sound pieces. My process feels pretty painterly in the actual making, even though it’s technically Photoshop layers and digital drawing, animation for the videos, and editing for the sound pieces.

S: Have you ever made paintings in the traditional way? In what way do you see your digital way of working differ from using actual paint?

LB: I’ve never been a painter, but I used to make drawings, for years, that were very material — black and white, made with dense graphite and ink. They were also abstract, but very detailed. I did make several projects that used those drawings in digital space, but many of them just existed on paper. Around four or five years ago, I began to realize that because I was thinking about all this immaterial content (abstract science, invisible systems), the materiality of the drawings was distracting. It always brought viewers back to the physical, real world… but I wasn’t thinking about the real world, in that way. The work I had made using digital processes, even if there were traces of physicality from the drawings, were more suggestive. They started to force the viewer to sort out his/her relationship to this digital, yet still somehow physical and real, space. So after that, I just gave into it, and went all digital.

One of the biggest differences, I think, is that there’s no traditional surface in any of the work. Sure, there are other obvious differences from painting or drawing or college, like the fact that your decisions aren’t “permanent” in the same way. But the lack of physical surface asks something different of a viewer, and of the artist, too. There’s also the fact that everything is transferred through some kind of technology: a camera, a computer, a piece of software. This has gotten me to think about perception in very different ways, and I’m not sure I ever would have gotten there if I was still making those drawings!

S: What are your other upcoming projects? Are you already working on something else too?

LB: I had a show this past September in New York, and then pretty much immediately left for Finland. So after this exhibition at Sorbus, things are a bit more open. I want to spend some time on new sound work (including the performance with Alfons Knogl that will happen at Sorbus later in January). But I will also start to work through all the material I’ve collected so far in Finland, and see what (else) it becomes. There’s a lot more for me to find in it, so I’m looking forward to having time to do that as well. I have at least three more months here, and being in Finland has really given me a lot to think about — inevitably, this won’t be nearly enough time! Otherwise, I’ll be showing some recent work in a group show or two, but I’ll take some time for the newer, bigger things.

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Leah Beeferman is a New York City-based artist. She has had solo exhibitions at Rawson Projects, NY. Recent two-person and group exhibitions include Klaus von Nichtssagend, NY; Bass & Reiner, San Francisco; Fridman Gallery, NY; Ditch Projects, OR; Interstate Projects, Brooklyn; Tyson, Cologne; and Toves, Copenhagen. Residencies include LMCC Workspace, NY; The Arctic Circle, Svalbard; SIM, Reykjavik; Sirius, Ireland; and Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago. Publications include Triple Point, an artist book published by Lodret Vandret, Copenhagen. Beeferman received an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA from Brown University. She co-runs Parallelograms, an ongoing artist project.


Welcome to Scattering Like Light – a sound performance and science talk event happening in Leah Beeferman’s exhibition, Light Matter, Saturday the 21st of January at 6pm.

An introduction to the science of light, via skype, by Larry Beefermanand a sound performance by Leah Beeferman and Alfons Knogl.

Alfons Knogl is a visual artist working with sculpture and music, currently living and sleeping in Cologne.

Larry Beeferman is a former physicist. He currently researches pensions and labor, and lives in Massachusetts.


Leah Beeferman – Light Matter

Sorbuksen uusi vuosi alkaa newyorkilaisen Leah Beefermanin näyttelyllä Light Matter. Hän on Suomessa Fulbright stipendillä ja on työskennellyt residensseissä Mustarindassa Hyrynsalmella ja Artelesissa Haukijärvellä. Beefermanin teokset ovat usein digitaalisen piirtämisen ja valokuvauksen keinoin tehtyjä printtejä tai animoituja videoita. Sorbukseen häneltä tulee esille kolme uutta teosta, jotka hän on tehnyt Suomessa ollessaan: digitaalinen printti, äänetön videoteos ja videona esitettävä tekstipohjainen teos.

Viimeaikaisessa työskentelyssään Leah Beeferman on pohtinut kvanttifysiikan teoriaa, jonka mukaan tyhjä tila ei itseasiassa ole tyhjä vaan päinvastoin tiheä ja aktiivinen tila. Erityisesti häntä on innostanut ajatus siitä, että pohjoinen maisema voisi jollain tavalla kuvastaa tätä abstraktia tieteellistä teoriaa. Hän kertoo palaavansa toistuvasti pohjoiseen ottaakseen selvää tieteen, havainnoinnin ja maiseman monimutkaisista edestakaisista suhteista ja siitä, mitä merkityksiä niillä voi olla erilaisissa ja erityisissä paikoissa.

Lisää Leah Beefermanin ajatuksista ja näyttelystä voi lukea Sorbuksen tekemästä englanninkielisestä  haastattelusta.

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Leah Beeferman on New Yorkissa asuva taiteilija, joka on pitänyt yksityisnäyttelyitä newyorkilaisessa Rawson Projects galleriassa. Lisäksi hänen viimeisimpiä teoksiaan on ollut esillä sellaisissa taidetiloissa kuten Klaus von Nichtssagend (New York), Bass & Reiner (San Francisco), Fridman Gallery (New York), Ditch Projects (Oregon), Interstate Projects (Brooklyn) sekä Tyson (Köln) ja Toves (Kööpenhamina). Beeferman on valmistunut kuvataiteen maisteriksi Virginia Commonwealth yliopistosta ja suorittanut kandin tutkinnon Brownin yliopistossa. Hän pyörittää yhdessä Matthew Harveyn kanssa verkossa toimivaa Parallelograms-taideprojektia.


Scattering like light, Lauantaina 21.1. klo 18
Alfons Knoglin ja Leah Beefermanin ääniesitys sekä Larry Beefermanin tieteellinen esitelmä valosta