The Third Element: DataSpaceTime at Microscope
Lisa Gwilliam and Ray Sweeten (DataSpaceTime): Echelons, at Microscope Gallery
January 15 to February 21, 2016
1329 Willoughby Avenue, #2B, between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas avenues
Brooklyn (347) 925-1433
From the viewpoint of relativistic physics, space and time form a continuum as it is impossible to understand one without the other. The artists Lisa Gwilliam and Ray Sweeten add a third element to the melange, as evidenced by their collaborative name, “DataSpaceTime”—information. In their exhibition at Microscope Gallery in Bushwick, which consists of digital works, a video installation, and a series of prints, the duo explore all three themes that comprise their name: data is used as a raw material, a point of departure; illusionistic space is continually being created, fragmented, and re-created; and time is shifted between the past and the future or stretched towards infinity. These elements are encompassed by a larger focus on vision and the eye, an organ simultaneously augmented and hobbled by its digital prostheses.
A pair of two-channel digital installations, Oculus 1 (Annunciation) and Oculus 2 (Assumption) (both 2016), directly reference the altarpiece tradition in their titles and presentations. Each is a diptych presented on two LCD monitors hung side-by-side on the wall. The two panels of Annunciation are horizontally-oriented, a potential reference to Leonardo’s painting of the same name. The composition of Assumption’s swirling colors and shapes seems to recall Guido Reni’s Assumption of the Virgin (1580), as a “figure” made of negative space endlessly floats towards heaven with “arms” outstretched. These pieces look more like glitches than sacred scenes, however: divided into grids of shifting squares, they resemble the blocky picture from a scratched DVD, an overly-compressed video file, or a bad digital cable connection.
Like their sacred counterparts, these works have esoteric meanings that extend beyond superficial appearances. Using custom software created by the artists, the monitors are divided into grids of animated GIFs, each square being a fragment taken from a larger video of the World Trade Center PATH Station’s Oculus either under construction (Annunciation) or on the verge of completion (Assumption). The software shuffles these GIFs in time and space, creating a larger whole that is constantly in a state of flux. These pieces have no “present”: their fragments shift into the past and future or to other parts of the screen, allowing for a potential collapse of space and time into a single image while simultaneously frustrating any possibilities of an omniscient viewpoint. These themes are reiterated by another digital installation in the show, Night Watch, Night Vision (2016). Presented, this time, on a single monitor this piece, which uses the same technology, directly references the digital gaze, depicting the head of one of the artists (Gwilliam) wearing one or more pairs of military-grade night vision goggles. With access to this imagery being continually compromised by the temporal and spatial shifts of its presentation, its meaning meshes with that Oculus 1 & 2: when one can see everything, the limitations of human vision — bound to the present place and moment — may make it impossible to see anything meaningful at all.
While the diptychs and Night Watch suggest a kind of infinite vision that can see the past and the future at once, Vespers (2016), a video installation named after the evening offices of traditional Christian prayer, transcends such temporal limitations: according to the gallery’s checklist, its duration is theoretically infinite. The computer controlling the videos shown across six monitors randomly shifts each video feed back and forth in time, resulting in a lineup of images that is unique from moment to moment. The imagery itself, like the other works on view, involves the physicality of vision: the eyes of ghostly white figures dart around the screen or stare off into space. Portions of the videos are veiled by analog feedback, the swirling, colorful result of a mechanical vision apparatus trying to look at itself. In some shots the pupils and eyelashes are rendered transparent, exposing bits of a second image: eyes hidden behind the eye. If the eye can see everything, can it see itself? Or is vision, whether human, mechanical, or digital, haunted by physical limitations that preclude omniscient views of the world? Questions such as this recall a dictum of the Spanish seventeenth-century Jesuit Baltasar Gracián: “One requires eyes on the very eyes, eyes to see how they see.”