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State of BEING

It’s no easy task to describe Cig Harvey’s photographs in a meaningful way. Words make their subjects seem ordinary and random: a child’s mouth with a loose baby tooth; a freshly picked collection of four-leaf clovers; a bowl of red cherries.

Yet other details vivify these simple things. Bright red string is wrapped around the tooth, as if in readiness to extract it; an ornamental silver platter has been placed on the grass to display the clover; diminutive cherry juice footprints circle the bowl of fruit.

These elements suggest stories and raise questions in a viewer’s mind. In the process, whether inhabited by people or not, Harvey’s photographs bring transcendence to the commonplace. That quality has led some to describe her work as surrealism, but it’s too subtle and too achingly familiar for that label. It’s really more akin to literature’s magical realism.

“Along with the mystery, there’s an optimism and elation in the images that makes them accessible to people,” says Michael Mansfield, executive director and chief curator at Maine’s Ogunquit Museum of American Art, where Harvey’s work was on display in a one-person show through the end of October 2019.

Yet for Harvey, art doesn’t simply imitate life. The two

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