Visitors to Facebook’s headquarters may catch a glimpse of a delicate structure suspended between two floors of the internet giant’s Silicon Valley nerve center. Named Cascade and composed of cut-paper fragments, ink, and thread, the mobile is the work of Val Britton, an artist whose star is on the rise. Britton, known for intricate psychogeographical maps and works-on-paper that resemble celestial scatterings, was the recipient of Facebook’s 2013 Analog Research Residency. Cascade may hark back to the analog age, but its components speak to the networked culture upon which the advance of Facebook and the digital age rest; with perforated edges, the forms in Britton’s installation call to mind both the macro and the monumental—networks of cell formations grown in Petri dishes, or numerous floating land masses, their borders frayed. It’s easy to imagine how either might provide inspirational brain fuel for the company’s young tech minds.
Britton’s work currently fills much of Gallery Wendi Norris’s downtown San Francisco space in the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery, “Passage,” and, hot on its heels, she will debut a new installation at San Francisco’s SFO this fall, joining the ranks of Jay DeFeo, Vito Acconci, Wayne Thiebaud, and more in the airport’s growing collection. At Wendi Norris, a cut-paper mobile similar to Cascade hangs in the center of the space. Elsewhere, Britton’s mesmerizing collages adorn the walls, their layers of fine paper, ink specks, and subtle color stains suggesting intricate, jewel-inflected landscapes or solar systems. Works like Moonscape and Red Planet, in particular, conjure fantastical realms, though for Britton they have roots in tangible experience.
“Initially, I began this body of work as a way to connect to my father, a long haul cross-country truck driver who died when I was young,” she writes in her artist statement. “Based on road maps, routes my father often traveled, and an invented conglomeration and fragmentation of those passageways, my works on paper help me piece together the past and make up the parts I cannot know.” These imaginary psychogeographical terrains easily invite comparison with Julie Mehretu, Noriko Ambe, and Leslie Shows, artists interested to varying degrees in ideas of networks, maps, layering, and geological strata. But Britton’s compositions are distinct in their deeply personal quality. Looking at her work can be a quiet, intimate experience, imbued as it is with the artist’s hand and her own emotional makeup—an element of her practice that the artist doesn’t shy away from. “Painting through staining, seepage, and absorption becomes a metaphor for the fluidity of remembering,” she writes, “mimicking the geologic layers that constitute memories.”