Reaching for the Infinite
May 17 – July 27, 2012
Featuring the works of
Brandon Morse, Dorsey Dunn, Dreissens & Verstappen, Gil Kuno, AEAEAEAE, and a new flatscreen project by the late James Whitney
Vanishing Point was organized as a reaction to our current age of data consumption and a compliment to Donald Kuspit’s discussion of Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art. In terms of the latter, Kuspit points out that Kandinsky’s theories may be more vital today than any time in history, given the state of the art world today. As he says, Kandinsky was reacting to the “long reign of materialism” which had come to define the art of the early 20th century. “Kandinsky knew art was in spiritual crisis,” writes Kuspit. “Whereas today’s materialistic artist doesn’t see any spiritual crisis. All that matters is materialistic success.”
Indeed, the art world today is almost entirely about materialism, more so than any other time in history. But spiritualism has always “stood in opposition to the materialistic attitude,” as Kuspit writes. “Indeed for Kandinsky the spiritual was believed to be diametrically opposed, even at war, with the materialistic attitude… It comes into its own—becomes deeply meaningful and transformative of art and life—only as resistance to, and transcendent of, materialism.”
For Kandinsky, it was non-objective art that was the only means of transcendence of the objective, practical modern world. In other words, [non-objective art] has a higher purpose than art that objectively reflects that world, or that takes objectivity and practicality for granted.”
Kuspit acknowledges that the minimalists re-engaged the spiritual in the manner that Kandinsky describes, despite the often “heroic” and often theatrical nature of their projects. The paintings of Agnes Martin for example or the sound works of LaMonte Young and Phil Niblock have often been described as “spiritual.”
Yet what Kuspit and many of his peers often fail to realize is that moving image artworks have a particularly strong capacity for the kind of experience that Kandinsky explores in his book. After all, there is little “materialism” in relation to film and video works, at least in terms of the way they are received by the viewer; And there’s a reason why the notion of “light” has always been one of the primary symbols for the spiritual throughout the history of art. As critic Jerome J. Pryor writes. “Light is crucial in any discussion of the spiritual,” he remarks, “because it can be seen physically, yet it partakes, in a way, of the immateriality of the spiritual.”
Furthermore, as some neuroscientists have discovered, the brain understands and experienced the notion of time through the temporal lobe, and there’s some research to suggest that is the same area where the brain experiences what we believe is the “spiritual.” As Raphael Montanez Ortiz of Rutgers writes, “heightened temporal lobe activity has been confirmed when the brain is in states of meditation and dreaming, and many fundamental questions about ‘the spiritual’ can now be formulated, asked and answered by cognitive science.”
Moving image artworks, by their very nature, tend to operate on those levels. However, the experience of light and time must also be complimented by an artistic approach that hints at something beyond the object itself. When Kandinsky spoke about the need to see what was hidden, “he was talking about his ability to see the spiritual concealed in the unfamiliar emotional reality behind familiar material appearances, says Kuspit. The artist Cliff McReynolds describes that same experience this way: “Everyone has gone out on a clear night, looked up and felt God in the mystical vastness of all that beauty spread out across the sky.”
Only a few of the artists included in Vanishing Point are deliberately trying to invoke “the spiritual” in their work (most notably James Whitney’s piece from 1963). But they’re all creating artworks that can be seen in this context. They’re exploring notions of the endless and the infinite, while at the same time touching on something deeply familiar. As McReynolds adds, “Art is meant to help us get in touch with this unseen order of things, or as Blake put it, “to reveal the infinite which was hid.” … And when art tells the truth it is speaking and reaffirming the truth that is already there, in our hearts.”
Vanishing Point features a series of site-specific, multisensory installations from six different artists who share a common interest in the transcendent. The show introduces the first-ever flatscreen version of “Lapis” (1963-65) by James Whitney, one of the most important and seminal film artists from the Post War period. This 10 minute ‘mandalic’ film is a testament to the ways in which the depiction of manifest consciousness can be explored through the medium of celluloid and has been cited as “one of the true masterpieces of the 20th century” by Kerry Brougher, the chief curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.
The Netherlands-based Driessens & Verstappen follow with “I’m a Traveler,” (1996) a very early example of an interactive piece that can be guided by the viewer yet never resolved. (As the viewer selects different areas via mouse movements, the piece only expands further and further to the point of infinitum.) Thus “fractal travel” becomes a metaphor for a wide range of ideas, from painterly surfaces to Google Earth; from our never-end search for meaning in the universe to the well-known film, “Powers of Ten” (1977) by the Charles and Ray Eames.
LA’s Dorsey Dunn uses three projectors and to take over the largest room with “Ecliptic,” (2008) an algorithmic work that blurs distinctions between narrative and abstraction; sculpture and cinema. Here textural phrases and sound (both generated live via software) seem to suggest a sprawling storyline that ultimately refuses to resolve itself and instead conveys the “recessional quality of the mind’s present moment,” as Dunn describes, leading to a similar sense of the infinite.
Beyond that are two additional works that render solid mass into liquid forms. New York’s Brandon Morse uses projection mapping to transform various surfaces within the gallery into a buzzing array of atoms, while Berlin’s AEAEAEAE (Simen Musaeus who works closely with Olafur Eliasson), uses a ceiling projection to transform the gallery floor into a mercurial rotating plane. Both hint at the “God-like” presence that McReynolds talks about.
The show concludes with a highly immersive, four-channel projection piece, “Haze,” by the LA-based experimental sound and visual artist, Gil Kuno. “Haze” is an audiovisual installation featuring projections of gaseous matter, which are presented in Rorschach style. Thus patterns seem to appear yet never resolve, which ultimately serve as an interpretation of Chaos Theory - the science of deriving deterministic rules in turbulent, seemingly chaotic systems.
Works in the Exhibition
Deep Random (2012)
HD projection, media player 16:9 ratio, with hand-made foam-core sculpture.
Converted to digital source from celluloid. Hand-made imagery made via proto-computer elements. Blu-Ray HD file, flatscreen, media player, speakers
Computer generated (live) sound and image. Hand-made screens, computer, triple-head, three projectors, speakers and stands.
Prototype 1 (2011)
AEAEAEAE (Simen Musaeus)
HD projection, floor screen, customized mirrored box, media player. HD rendered video.
I’m a Traveller (1996)
Dreissens & Verstappen.
HD projection, computer, mouse, keyboard. 16:9 aspect ratio. Silent.
Computer, mouse, 4 projectors 4x3 ratio customized 3-wall screen, speakers, sound by Unsound.