Shannon Ebner, The Day–Sob–Dies, 2005. Chromogenic color print, 30 × 45 inches (76.2 × 114.3 cm). Gift of Anthony Terrana. Courtesy the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco. © Shannon Ebner
Shannon Ebner mines the correlations between language and photography. Drawing on a wide range of texts—from poetry and experimental writing to Indian sign language and political speech—she builds letters and phrases out of vernacular materials such as cardboard and cinder blocks, and then photographs the results. Set up in either her studio or outdoors, these impermanent arrangements call attention to the variant ways in which meaning is constructed.
In The Day–Sob–Dies, Ebner has assembled the titular phrase in a lilting, cursive script and then suspended it between two thin sticks in an overgrown field at the outskirts of Los Angeles. The “Sob” positioned between dashes might mean the intrusion of an outburst in the phrase, but it could also be read as the acronym for “son of a bitch.” As with most of Ebner’s texts, the exact meaning is cryptic but clearly full of significance, especially with the phrase, alluding to the margin between life and death, situated in what appears to be the scrubby outskirts of a city.
This photograph builds on the ICA/Boston’s strong holdings in photography and enhances the collection of language-based works. It can be compellingly paired with studio-based photographs by Leslie Hewitt and Sara VanDerBeek or with works by Roni Horn, Ray Navarro, Kelly Sherman, and Lorna Simpson that also utilize written language.