Review

Light Making Motion: Works on Paper and in Light

By Mary Anne Kluth August 1, 2011

Currently on view at Electric Works, Elaine Buckholtz’s Light Making Motion: Works on Paper and in Light is an exhibition of prints, kinetic and interactive sculptures, and video installation that coheres into a single meditation on the activity of seeing.

Out of the works included, Buckholtz’s pigment prints are the most austere. Displaying banded streaks of yellows, reds, browns, and greens, like those made by dragging an image along the glass of a scanner, Luminary Cascade (2011) and Vertical Creme (2011) are installed in simple, natural wood frames that recall Electric Works’ parquet floor. Employing a technique used by Minimalist sculptors such as Donald Judd, both sets of multiple prints are neatly arranged in vertical stacks, working the frames themselves into the striped pattern. The bottom-most frame in Luminary Cascade (2011) even rests on the floor, directly engaging the visual line created by the corner.

Linear Shadowbox (2011) is a print of a similarly striped pattern, made on a transparent material and mounted in a custom-made display box. Enabling the print to loop in three dimensions, this presentation directly incorporates the visible walls and works in the space on either side of the piece, creating a situation in which a viewer’s movement and vantage point produce color and tonal interactions between different parts of the print itself.

Addressing the visual experience of the space directly, Reflecting Buoy (2011) is a curvilinear oblong piece of mirrored plexiglass rotating eccentrically around a weathered, almost decrepit, nautical buoy. Suspended from exposed structural beams, it makes crazy, fun-house distortions of the floor, walls, and any viewers in its range, creating a pleasantly disorienting experience for a person standing below it and looking straight up. The buoy, true to its original function, serves as a sturdy visual constant in an otherwise mercurial field of view.

Lined up along the gallery windowsill, though mostly left off from the exhibition check list, is a collection of found flashlights, lenses, a spyglass, and a lantern. Each has a patina of actual use and history, and all embody technologies for directing light in the interest of improving human vision. Set up in this context, My 100-year-old Whiskey (2011) clearly invites a viewer to look through it. The piece is made of an antique surveyor’s tripod, an exposed crank assembly, and a cubic block of shimmering material whose refractory surfaces isolate vivid, translucent techno-colors. Its disjunction of

Spinning Night in Living Color, 2011; archival pigment print and 2-channel video loop; edition of 3; 40 x 140 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Electric Works, San Francisco.

My 100-year-old Whisky, 2011; lens, surveyor's tripod, crank mechanism; 42 x 30 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Electric Works, San Francisco.

materiality is compelling: the nostalgic creakiness of the tripod comparatively makes the little cube a piece of science fiction, something from the future, beautiful but strange. Cranking the handle, it spins to show the room behind it, also reflecting one’s own face.

The piece Optical Tuning Devices (2011) similarly requires a viewer’s active investigation. Made from aged wood and new aluminum piping, it includes mysterious objects, and looking through them is less like playing with a toy than like using a microscope. Through one end they show an anodized rainbow haze, but through the other end there is an illusory series of concentric light and dark rings, a paradoxical trick of the pipe fittings maybe, but a subtle reminder that vision is not a logical experience.

Another presentation of illusion, Spinning Night in Living Color (2011) is an elegant video installation that appears instead to be a thick, striped, translucent substance, set like an aquarium into the wall and illuminated by a moving light source from behind. The bottom edge of the two-channel projection is calibrated a slight distance from the bottom of the unframed pigment prints pasted directly to the wall, creating an intuitive but false judgment of depth. In both the video and the print, slippery colors and tones—including, by no accident, the orange of Electric Works’ interior structural beams—shift and interact to create a sense of human-paced movement. A low, undulating ambient soundtrack suggests doubt, as if subliminally asking, “Do you know what you are looking at? How do you know?”

Building on a Minimalist interest in integrating the entire gallery space into the work, Light Making Motion further investigates the experience of vision as a phenomena unfolding in time, using both formal and temporal repetition to focus attention on shifting, fleeting, elusive sensations. Together, the works serve to distinguish between mental perceptions, parsed together from visual information, and sensation itself, which can at once be pleasurable, ambiguous, and strange. Buckholtz is a generous guide, making instructive objects that allow her audience to come to these discoveries at its own pace.

 

 

Light Making Motion: Works on Paper and in Light is on view at Electric Works, in San Francisco, through August 20, 2011.

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