An installation image of “Trigger Warning” by Diana Cherbuliez. Courtesy of Grant Wahlquist Gallery, Portland, Maine

Diana Cherbuliez is angry and frustrated at American society and culture, and expresses some of her rage in her latest exhibition, “Trigger Warning,” at the Grant Wahlquist Gallery in Portland. “This show is my temper tantrum,” she said. “I am tired, but I refuse to go to bed.”

Cherbuliez, a sculptor who won a Maine Arts Commission Artist Fellowship for 2019, finds herself at a pivotal moment in her career and turning to new means and materials, including photography, to express her dismay about consumerism and the branding of America, as well as loneliness and universal connectivity in the digital age.

“Concussion” by Diana Cherbuliez. Courtesy of the artist and Grant Wahlquist Gallery

The name of the exhibition, “Trigger Warning,” derives from what she sees as the absurdity of our times. The phrase “trigger warning” refers to cautionary statements that warn people that what they are about to witness, experience or read may be disturbing or upsetting or cause a traumatic experience. She finds most trigger warnings “ludicrous” and examples of extreme sensitivity. “It’s such an American thing. Everyone is a survivor,” she said. “I am laughing at the absurdity of excessive sensitivity at a time of great de-sensitivity in our culture.”

Cherbuliez, who lives on Vinalhaven, will discuss her work at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the gallery. The exhibition is on view through Sept. 28.

Among the pieces in the exhibition are three pair of boxing gloves, based on the Facebook’s “like” button. Cherbuliez transformed the near-ubiquitous icon in three-dimensional pugilistic form – with vinyl, fabric and foam –  to represent the beatings inflicted by social media. She calls her boxing gloves “Concussion.” She has a general dislike for social media and particularly despises the “like” button. “Likes and dislikes are reductive. Liking something is a reductive act that shuts down conversation and consideration, and is harmful for the person who issues it and receives it,” she said.

She created a series of rubber dolls, which she is calling “Their Selves,” all clutching cell phones and clicking selfies. Scattered about the gallery, the bald, ambiguous dolls suggest the contrast that exists between the instant-gratification culture of Instagram and the deliberative process of making considered self portraits.


“M. Voleur” by Diana Cherbuliez. Courtesy of the artist and Grant Wahlquist Gallery

She is using digital imagery, mined from late-night internet forays, to create a series of photographic prints that help connect her to the larger world from her isolated Vinalhaven home, where she has lived since the 1990s. “I don’t use the internet for the present and I don’t use it for my future. But I do use it for the past,” she says. “I love doing research on the internet, and I love all the archival stuff that’s available online, whether books or images.”

Her affinity for Google Maps surfaces in the new work. “M. Voleur,” a photographic triptych, emerged from her exploration of Swiss engineer Robert Maillart’s famous Salginatobel Bridge, which was constructed across an alpine pass nearly a century ago. Using Google Maps, Cherbuliez explored the roads leading to the bridge and found an image of a local woman gazing at the camera of Google Maps car when it passed through her village. Cherbuliez used that image of the unknown woman to create art that connects people across oceans, land and time.

Another digital image began on the evening of Dec. 2, 2016, when the artist-inhabited warehouse in Oakland, California, known as the Ghost Ship, burned, killing many artists. Cherbuliez once lived nearby, and went to Google Maps for a street view to see if she recognized the building. Apparently, she wasn’t the only person attempting to do the same thing at the same time. As she tried to zoom in, the image on her computer screen became fragmented and abstract. “It loaded in such a corrupted way that it was really beautiful and disturbing,” she said. “I experienced the digital equivalent of not being able to see over the crowds at an accident.”

She cached the fragmented images and used them to create photographic memorials of the Ghost Ship and the artists who died there.

“Gift” by Diana Cherbuliez. Courtesy of the artist and Grant Wahlquist Gallery

Cherbuliez also includes one older piece in the exhibition, “Gift,” from 2000. She created a human hand with match-strike plates, which look like fish scales. The hand is grasping an apple, made from wax and matchstick heads. She wanted this older piece in an exhibition of otherwise new work because the gestural quality of the hand, and the apple itself, reminded her of the hands of the cast rubber dolls of “Their Selves” clutching their cell phones. She appreciated the unexpected conversation between the old work and the new work and the odd symmetry between her apple of 2000 and the cell phones of today.

To help demystify her art-making process, Cherbuliez also is displaying various molds, prototypes and patterns from her studio that she uses to make her art. She makes everything by hand using whatever material is available to her at the time. She uses no special equipment, and draws strength from her ability as a maker. “To me, that is power when you can make things and when you can repair things. It’s what makes us human. It’s not just our thinking, but our manipulation,” she said.

Her ability to make and manipulate distinguishes her work. “I want my work to be unique,” she said. “If I am going to spend my life making stuff, it has to be stuff that only I can make, and I only want to make things that need to be made.”

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