In the spring of 2017, Rebecca Norton traveled to a gravity hill in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. For some time, she had felt a desire to experience first-hand the perceptual problem created by gravity hills—sites where the layout of the landscape produces an optical illusion causing a slight downhill slope in the terrain to appear to be an uphill slope. At any of the hundreds of gravity hills around the world it is possible to see objects appear to defy gravity—a puddle of water seems to run uphill or a car left out of gear looks as if it is rolling freely uphill. Though the topography of these sites can be measured and the optical illusion exposed, people often find it easier to call these places mystical or give credit to unseen forces like magnetics, rather than explore the reality and recognize that what they see is not to be believed. “We devote more time to interpreting phenomena, rather than questioning how we perceive it,” observes Norton. “Our perceptions deform reality to create stability - our conception of reality is based on this.” To Norton, these uncertainties and the “visceral sense of not standing quite on solid ground” that they create are not only intriguing but comforting. She explores them with a scientific mind, working to give new form to her perceptions in order to reach a more complete understanding of reality. Her exploration of the gravity hill began with documentation through photographs, methodically captured at points along the site utilizing a homemade box that incorporates a plumb line, enabling her to find and compare angles within the landscape. From here, she moved on to the visual components through which she strives to comprehend any site or subject—geometry and color.
The color palettes in these works center around hues representing body, earth, and sky. At times these categories overlap, as in the tones Norton mixes to match photographs of soil from the gravity hill site that also reference flesh tones, or they reflect each other within the space: sky morphing into earth, earth morphing into body. Looking to Norton’s sculptural works, color is either absent from the work itself, leaving it open to reflect hues from the surrounding space, or it takes on a new purpose of accentuating the core within figural works in the way that the man-made road draws out the illusion of the gravity hill. By tracing slices of her figural sculptures, Norton relates the topology of the body to the topography of the landscape as another avenue through which she can interrogate her perceptions and the relationship between body and earth.