Fine Art

Shelbi Schroeder’s ‘Swoon’ takes nude photos to unexpected places

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Shelbi Schroeder’s latest exhibit, “Swoon,” showing at Sin City Gallery.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four stars

Shelbi Schroeder: Swoon Through January 28, Wednesday-Saturday, 1-7 p.m. Sin City Gallery, 702-608-2461.

It’s hard to reinvent the nude, but former Las Vegan Shelbi Schroeder has done just that—turned the same old body we’re so used to seeing into something fresh, mysterious and vital. Swoon features nine works in 12-by-12-inch frames, each exhibiting a single Fujifilm Instax Mini color instant photo of a tiny nude body. It’s so tiny, you have to lean into it, face almost against the glass. You stare. The mind blinks. Then it happens: that hard-to-describe transporter moment when an art object becomes a portal to another world.

Schroeder takes us to an ethereal place where bodies seemingly come to life. Hovering on the verge of manifestation, they lift, float and emerge from white ground. In the aptly-named “White #12,” for example, a faint line suggests a hip. The thighs come into view—the head is perhaps discernible, the flesh of the buttocks—but most of the torso blends into a featureless landscape. The body might wholly materialize if you look long enough, or it might disappear back into the nothingness from which it came.

White is clearly the key to Schroeder’s evanescent kingdom—white frames, white matting, white photos, white light (the gallery, too, has white walls). The photos, shot in White Sands, New Mexico, seem devoid of context. The bleached-out compositions read as painterly, so much so that the images recall Canaletto’s and Guardi’s Rococo figures, depicted with a single-hair brush. Only instead of Italians bustling around 18th-century Venice, Schroeder gives us solitary nudes lolling in the void.

Bodies—how they’re perceived and portrayed—have been a mainstay of Schroeder’s work for some time. In another of her current shows, Reclaim in the Grand Gallery at Las Vegas City Hall (through March 9), Schroeder uses printed images of body parts to create mandala flags as mischievous as they are colorful. Images of genitalia blend so well into a kaleidoscope of staircases, door frames and peonies you really have to sleuth them out. Although the intricately patterned flags of Reclaim are very different from the graphic minimalism of Swoon, they share an urge to camouflage the body in the background and rupture the coherency of form.

Of the two, Swoon is more original and more arresting. The haunting delicacy of the bodies—their miniaturization and their purified context—encourage the imagination to wander. The swoon, in fact, is the viewer’s.

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