Most people avoid airing their personal baggage in public.
In a new solo show of her paintings, artist Elise Engler is baring her most private habits and possessions contained in the suitcases she lugged on her trips to China, the Galapagos Islands, and Antarctica.
The artist said she began the practice of visually cataloging her luggage in 1999 after drawing the 13,127 objects in her apartment.
“[The suitcase drawings] are really a 13-year history of the clothes I carry — everything from my underwear to my overwear,” said Engler whose exhibit “Travel/Log,” opens on Jan. 11 in Bushwick.
“You can see everything — if I have pills, the pills decrease [from the beginning of the trip to the end], so you can see how many pills I’ve taken along the way.”
Not only has Engler drawn inspiration from her own luggage, she has spent time depicting the contents of other women’s purses as a form of portraiture, told through the things people tote.
“On the one hand it’s very personal, but on the other, there are sort of these essentials that everyone carries with them,” she said. “People tend to carry a toy — some little thing — whether it’s a funny keychain or a funny object.”
Having inventoried people’s daily banalities since the late 1990s, Engler said her work has captured societal changes in real-time.
“The pieces become a time capsule,” she said. “Things we used to carry, like subway tokens, are gone. The China drawing [from 1999] has all these rolls of film.”
Of course, most New Yorkers don’t head to Antarctica for inspiration, but a National Science Foundation-funded trip to the frozen continent was an ideal artistic opportunity for the artist.
“Antarctica was like going to the moon,” she said.
For three months in 2009–2010, the artist visited penguin colonies, stopped by the South Pole, and spent days painting in Antarctica’s dry valleys.
Elise Engler’s “Travel/Log” at Robert Henry Contemporary [56 Bogart St. at Harrison Place in Bushwick, (718) 473–0819, www.robert