Reflecting on sight perception

The Reading, Again exhibit questions things not immediately seen

Reading, Again is an art exhibition motivated by this year’s Jackman Humanities Institute’s “Reading Faces, Reading Minds” research theme. The theme asks questions about the instinct in humans to “read” what we see and how this piecing together of visual information informs how we understand the desires and motivations of other people. Curated by curatorial master’s student Lillian O’Brien Davis, this exhibition focuses on a related theme that Davis calls, ‘misreading.’ Works by Nadia Belerique, Laurie Kang, Katherine Knight, Wanda Koop, Colin Miner, and Henri Verge-Sarrat explore the results of misunderstanding what a person sees. David chooses art work that considers how time will change our perspective and attempts to disrupt normal expectations of focus, clarity, and stability in photography and painting. The result is a profound sense of ambiguity in the artist’s message that creates opportunities for interpretation of their work.

The space itself becomes part of the theme. Immediately the viewer is struck by the discrepancy between their initial expectations of what an art gallery is and what a mundane workplace is. A reception desk greets you as you exit the elevator. On either side are conference rooms full of desks, chairs, low lounge couches, coffee tables, and bookcases lining the walls with reading material. These are not the warm, dark rooms of famous fine arts museums. This is a fluorescent lit floor of cubicles, offices, watercoolers, and staff kitchens. Only the exhibition’s pamphlet marks that you’re in the right place. The art and the office setting meld into an indefinable space that is neither a museum nor an office.

One piece by Katherine Knight entitled “Bubble,” is a 23 x 24 inch Chromira digital photo print featuring an extreme close up of a bubble reflecting images of the tree and lake landscape surrounding it. The bubble imposes itself in the frame’s foreground and gives the viewers eye access to details in the landscape. The camera affords the viewer a hyper-sense of sight impossible without the camera’s lens. Blurred around the bubble are dark trees made solid and indistinguishable through the bubbles focal point. However, the bubble shows two reflections of the same trees. In this moment, the lens that the bubble creates distorts, flips, and presents more than one image of the same scenery. The impermanence of the bubble destabilizes the photo. At any moment the bubble threatens to burst and leave the viewer with no way to perceive the landscape.

Another fascinating piece is called “(Black Line) Sightlines” by Wanda Koop. This one presents an explicit obstacle that perception creates for sight. A non-descript thick black circle foregrounds the acrylic painting. Two woods run from the edges towards the centre of the canvas where a river and bridge separate them. The black circle covers a portion of the trees on either side of the river. The result of misunderstanding is a visual blind spot that manifests itself in this painting as a daunting and sightless black line. It hides a portion of the painting from view and means that the original scene of a river, a bridge, and two separated woods is compromised.

Cole Miner’s work called “Untitled (Stalactite)” instantly causes misunderstanding. The card for this piece is on a wall next to a white plate glass door. The piece is a two or three foot bronze stick in the ground with a swirling bronze cast piece hanging from the side and an indistinguishable mass that seems to melt and drip from the top of the piece onto a single rock beside the stick. This piece is meant to present time’s effect on what we read and see. The months of precipitation, wind, and sun will change the piece and form a new image of the same object.

This is an exhibition that forces visitors to consider the way they misread and misunderstand things they see every day. It requires a patient attention to what is not immediately visible and what it available to consciousness only upon reflection, re-examination, and the questioning of the reliability of sight perception.

Reading, Again runs until June 30 on the tenth floor of the Jackman Humanities Institute.