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All that cannot be seen

Diverse responses to “invisible” as a curatorial prompt show the impact culture and context can have on understandings of the unseen. Dilohana Lekamge looks at Invisible.

Holoweski, C. As Above, So Below. Two channel HD video

The histories of people and events that came before us affect our environments and movement through the world, often without our knowing how.

Invisible has invited artists from different countries and with various media interests to explore perception, walking the line between invisibility and sight. This exhibition has travelled globally. It opened at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit in 2019, where it was curated by Elizabeth Dizik. It was then shown at BWA Gallery in Wroclaw, Poland in 2020, curated by Sarah Epping and Aleksandra Trojanowska from the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Arts. This particular iteration of the exhibition was shown at the College of Creative Arts Toi Rauwhārangi at Massey University, Wellington, curated by Angela Kilford and Lisa Munnelly.

Most of this exhibition reads like a series, a lineage of works connected predominantly bytheme. However, some aesthetic patterns in the selection of works also allow the viewer to make connections between them. For instance, Jun Li’s diptych video Round 1-1 Ep1 uses strictly found video, looping them in both channels. Two realities are shown simultaneously, but their relationship is unclear as is the pattern, if any, in the cuts between the channels. This uncertainty creates a kind of visual riddle as each viewer tries to understand the channels’ relationship and the gaps between them. Cooper Holoweski’s As Above, So Below also uses the diptych form, and also includes everyday subject matter, but places it in contrast to ideas of the divine.

Dyrda, Z. Kindred. Print on skinlenticular print. 2019

Our sense of smell is something that we take for granted because of a general perception that it is not as crucial as the others. Referring to the increasing manufacture and sales of perfume, Lee Jensen’s Emollient: Red highlights this unseen attribute, which is often seen as an embellishment to our everyday experience. Kindred, Zuzanna Dyrda’s series of holographic prints, explores another of our bodily senses – touch. A grid of 12 impassive-looking models has a lenticular effect applied to it. As the viewer moves or changes their stance in front of the work a hand appears and touches the faces. Move again and the hand disappears.

Our land’s histories are concealed in many ways, though they consist of our experiences. Angela Kilford’s Tangaroa ā mua explores our connection to the earth’s creation by looking to the stories of Papatūānuku and Ranginui. Kilford also refers to Matariki, the earth’s relationship to the moon, and simultaneously, our link as humans to our celestial and founding beings.

Kerry Ann Lee looks at the way historical events become invisible because they are forgotten. The Unavailable Memory of Gold Coin Cafe displays a curated table of various ephemera, through which Lee introduces the history of 296 Willis Street, an address in Wellington’s central city that from 1978 to 1986 was the site of her family’s business and her childhood home. Jason O’Hara’s Invisible Descent depicts a physical journey, rather than one through memory. This first-person video takes the viewer under the sea ice in the Antarctic, moving from a square hole where the diver has entered the water into a realm of cold turquoise tones that resembles a science-fiction universe.

Lee, KA. The Unavailable Memory of Gold Coin Café. Installation. 2013

Sarah Epping and Aleksandra Trojanowska’s multimedia installation Be consists of two prints and an intricately bound book, each white page showing a subtle white textural illustration that is only visible upon close inspection. Paweł Pużio’sThe Bewildering One brings together two sources to create one work – a psychological theory that hypothesizes the existence and prominence of fractured personalities is married with Japanese folklore about shapeshifting and transformation.

Maja Wolińska’s smooth-panning video work SubStrata has a unique visual perspective, looking at a partially constructed geometric landscape as if from underneath. Birds fly through this blue environment, where no form is solid. Henry Newall’s Digital Clowning uses a kaleidoscopic mirror effect to create a brightly coloured eerie clown face that slowly morphs and distorts. Both videos create a skewed view of a manufactured perspective, one of a character and the other of a landscape. Paulo Marino’s prints similarly play with notions of reality and fantasy, building visual layers on top of desaturated photographs.

Sebastian Łubinski’s black and white print represents gestural form without the visual presence of the person who created the marks. Similarly concerned with compositional form is Anna Trojanowska’s Schemat Randomizacji, consisting of two lithographic prints that depict traditional print-making processes. In both artists’ works we can clearly see there are rules that the artists have given themselves to follow to create the final outcome.

Jakub Jernajczyk’s videos approach art-making from a structured perspective, this time rooted in mathematics. Though there is a focus on form, his approach is strictly geometric, visually researching and explaining formulaic patterns related to the pentagon. The two-channel moving-image piece uses monochromatic tone and lines in images reminiscent of those from old film and projectors. Agnieszka Jarząb also uses animation. The short film, simply titled 2, follows the journey of two stick figures in dresses running around different moving cartoon scenes. The motives of these characters remain a mystery to the viewer

From left, Kilford, A. Tangaroa ā mua. Digital image projected on wall. 2019. Jarząb, A. 2. Film. 2016

Lisa Munnelly and Simon Eastwood’s performance-based video work plays on the idea of a lifespan. Several unseen forces create fluid black lines on a cream background, against an original soundscape. These marks, made by water, gradually fade and eventually disappear, all to the sound of the transient composition by Simon Eastwood.

Emmy Bright’s silkscreen prints on paper take inspiration from an external source and explore the intersection of writing, reading, and conscious understanding. The dense scrawled marks mimic redacted text, as if the artist is trying to hurriedly remove what lies behind it.

What ties these works together is not as simple as the single-word, as the title might suggest. Visual perception depends on a great many factors. It may not be wholly unique to each person, but it reflects an infinite number of variables. Elements that we cannot see may affect us strongly, although they are the hardest to define and control. The curators of the three iterations of this show have brought together groups of artists with very different concerns. They have demonstrated that visual art does not find meaning solely in what is visible, and that what is not seen can expand art’s range of meaning.


Photography by Cheska Brown, courtesy of Massey University.

This essay was commissioned by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland for Massey University. It is published with permission.


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