at Durden and Ray, Los Angeles (through December 1)
Reviewed by Genie Davis
If life is an ocean then art is a wave. The wave carrying this exhibition brings artists from Iceland and Los Angeles together in a dazzling exhibition that fuses elements of technology with images of sea and self.
Carrying this all a bit further, the body is made up of 60% water. An ocean is often referred to as a body of water. An artist’s work may be referred to as a body of work. Curated by Freja Eilif, gallerist at Ekkisens Art Space in Reykjavik, Iceland, the body of work contained in this exhibition offers insights described by the curator as exploring “relationship to self and coastal existence.”
Icelandic artists include Sara Bjorg, Freyja Eilif, Katrina Mogensen, and Kristin Morthens; from Durden and Ray, there is work by Dani Dodge, David Leapman, Sean Noyce, and Ty Pownall.
The guiding principal of the exhibition is exploration; the idea is to pass beyond boundaries, whether they are between countries or between self and soul.
Each work is infused with a profound spiritual quality that defines and refines what “self” actually means. Is it our intellect? Is it that indefinable quality known as spirit? Our innate capacity for exploration? Our ritualistic setting of boundaries? What happens if we put what we know – or rather what we think we know – aside? What if we dive into a world that in some respects borders on the psychedelic, on the place where, as the late American philosopher Terence McKenna says, “You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.”
In a very real way, our “self” is our consciousness, whatever we wish to believe that consciousness includes. Many of the artists here explore their own consciousness, and encourage viewers to explore theirs, with abstract art shaped in a variety of unique mediums.
An immersive experience, Freyja Eilif’s mixed media video installation “Meditation Into Digital Dimensions,” features a sculptural stool with the image of a coiled, checker-board patterned snake. Poised on that stool, viewers watch an immersive 11-minute video experience that leads them through a visual meditation of digital dimensions. The time passes quickly, as a meditative experience will, all colors and sensations, as you are instructed to see what your personal emotional desktop looks like, what your eyes/iPhone sees. You are led you into a new mental and emotional space. You emerge as if you had, like a character in Tron, plunged for a bit into a different consciousness, a technology of the mind. The image colors are vibrant, chartreuse and hot pink; yet the overall effect is of peace, serenity, floating in space.
Across the room, Sean Noyce’s “Black Mirror” uses an LCD monitor, web camera, custom code, and two way mirror under Plexiglas to create a different sort of immersion. The camera records images passing through the room, and if you stand still, you can watch your own, and others behind you, shift into ghostly, amorphous, yet somehow oddly recognizable silver-blue shapes. Not a timed experience, one can spend a solid number of minutes watching the shivery, alien-looking images form and dissolve. An anology, perhaps, for the ephemeral nature of human life, and the technology we have created that allows us to capture it for one whispery visual breath.
Dani Dodge has created an installation that resembles translucent seashells stranded on a mirrored beach in “The pulse that rose and fell in the abyss.” As if abandoned in the pulse or beat of a wave, over 500 eyeglass lenses are scattered across a mirror placed on the floor. The mirror is shaped like the curves left behind in a puddle of sea on sand. Above the mirror, other lenses seem to drip down from the wall, caught on a spume of imagined wave. Leaning closer for a look, viewers will find themselves reflected back from the mirror. The piece touches on a wide range of meaning: there are so many different ways to see ourselves, through the lenses of glasses and vision, reflected in other people’s eyes, reflected in nature. We are also as transient as the titular pulse, as a figurative wave. We rise from the the darkness of birth, only to fall again into the abyss. But for a few glorious moments, we are seen; we reflect light; our bodies with their 60% water float through life before drifting again into a sea. It’s a work that can be viewed both in the gallery, and upon self-reflection, from many angles.
It ties beautifully with Ty Pownall’s sand sculpture diagonally across the room, also at floor level. “Disconnect” is two triangular drifts, transient in form and meaning. The hour glass shape of the pieces, and their mutability offers a delicate sense of impermance and drift, creating its own shoreline as waves of human viewers pass by.
The works by Pownall and Dodge are also visually and thematically tied to a series of recycled sponge works by Icelandic artist Sara Bjorg. Her “Ionians 1/5” and “Ionians 2/5” appear as shells and a blue wave, a frozen moment of ocean life. “Ionions 3/5, 4/5, 5/5” take these forms – of shell and wave – and render them into pillars and arches, depictions of architecture that in turn have taken their forms from the wonderful natural constructs of the sea. It’s a brilliant take – not only are we physically formed partially from and of water, our structures are inspired by shells and sea.
Freyja Eilíf, “Malworm Eaters”
Drifting away from these more tidal images are a number of works that evoke the dream state, altered consciousness, and boundaries that are imposed by conventional thought processes. Freyja Eiliff’s “Malworm Eaters” are faces and forms created from colored candle wax on birchwood. These five images are melted both in terms of their candy-colored medium, and in terms of the visuals themselves. They look from a distance like flowers; up close like faces seen after consuming psilocybin.
Equally trippy are works by David Leapman, such as the detailed quilt of gold ink and watercolor images on paper, “I was breathless in another lifetime.” Carefully, illustratively detailed flora and fauna, a landscape that resembles a map in a children’s fairytales, a glowing gem of a cityscape, a tree which is dissecting itself into what appears to be digital objects, and distorted but distinct human figures are all included in these works and their staggeringly lovely detail. Leapman’s other work here is the polar opposite: while it too has a surprising amount of detail, the acrylic on unprimed canvas “Perhaps Beyond” is primarily white space. In an upper corner, two monochromatic figures which could be mice, rats, or cat and mouse, are poised as if ready to go into the other larger floral image to the right and below them. This image is almost a puzzle piece that ties to many of the careful lines drawn in “I was breathless in another lifetime.” It could be the roots of a flowering plant, or the mind representing itself from within the flowers, a separate entity expanding or rooted behind it. Perhaps only the tiny mammals are left to see it, or seek to devour it.
With “Heavy Float,” “A Dip in Luck Arches,” and “Dimmalimm,” artist Kristin Morthens works in oil, charcoal, acrylic, oil stick, and dry pastel among her mediums in this trio of paintings. The abstract works are thick and layered; both resemble rock formations and arches that could have risen from the sea; strange visions from a dream. Her use of dark shapes with nearly opalescent colors speaks of land masses, unearthly realms, and fantasy; perhaps her own take on the fairytale aesthetic.
Tying the exhibition together is a mysterious central sculpture in the front section of the gallery, Katrina Mogensen’s “Potential for Life.” Made from mud, stone, awnings, and rope, the sculpture includes a mesh bag suspended over a pool of oozing, wet, oddly beautiful mud. It appears as pendulum of sorts, marking time and creation, shaping the primordial ooze from which all life emerges. Or perhaps, in this exhibition, it is slowly shaping a new consciousness of life, formed when boundaries and restrictions are crossed, technology reflected in us, and our dreams – whether we want them to or not – come visually and viscerally true.