About Light: Lucent Refractions at Putty’s Coronation

On the show at Putty’s Coronation
Published in Cultbytes

It was raining in Brooklyn. The wet ground reflected street lights, glimmering. The bay window of a fourth-floor apartment also shone under the gloomy sky—artist Maya Pollack’s work made of Fresnel lenses was hung behind the window, refracting the room’s fluorescent light.

In the two-person show, Lucent Refractions, at the apartment gallery, Putty’s Coronation, both artists Juyon Lee and Maya Pollack contemplate our haptic experience of light, or how light alters our perception of space and time. 

Sets of rectangular lenses, sewn into one piece, comprise Pollack’s Horizon Quilt. The light going through the work intersects and bounces between curved lenses, akin to arthropods’ compound eyes, refracting slightly varied miniatures of the ever-changing surroundings. During the day, it multiplies the landscape visible from the window (but in an upside-down version): clouds, bare branches, and concrete buildings. The transparent tapestry moves with breezes, spreading undulating light blocks on the floor. When it is dark outside, part of the sculpture turns black; from a walking spectator’s view, labyrinthic light beams seem to swirl inside the lenses.

The particular material Pollack uses, Fresnel lens, was first designed for lighthouses and are now mass-produced for lamps, cameras, and screens. Human’s need for capturing light and knowing the world has been embedded in the iterations of lenses. As the images of a space are pixelized, Pollack’s work also questions the illusiveness of using digital screens and the delineation of what we are able to perceive.

In the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, the alien played by David Bowie installs a wall of TVs in his apartment—the TV screens become windows for him to see the unfamiliar outside world. Almost 50 years later, this film scene seems not to be surreal and eerie anymore. Though we barely watch TV today, the virtual window has been replaced by a myriad of screens, pervading our daily life.

In her book The Virtual Window, Anne Friedberg extends Wittgenstein’s remark “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” to “The limits and multiplicities of our frames of vision determine the boundaries and multiplicities of our world.”[1] To escape from a fixed horizon, we start by realizing that our knowledge does not solely derive from seeing but from experiencing with an intensive engagement of the body in its environment, both temporal and spatial.

Lee’s work has been exploring temporality and human perception through experimenting with physical materials. Wet Photographs series presented in the show mediates between the materiality of image and immaterial agencies—time and light.

Photos Lee took during her residency in Finland are cut into strips and woven into illusive images. Some of them are printed on thin, translucent hanji paper; with the material’s fragile, malleable nature, while being wetted by liquid resin, the images can be easily damaged, wiping out the attempt to archive time permanently in photography tradition. Wet Photographs shows that time is constantly in flux: the gravity of resin gradually changes the shape of the work; though images of memory are sealed, they still melt and fade with the resin. Lee’s body of work encapsulates the way we sometimes sense memory and time—indeterminate, distorted, and partially discernible.

The cured resin gives Lee’s photography a sculptural form; springing up from the wall, the works encourage a kinesthetic participation of the viewer. The apartment setting at Putty’s Coronation evokes a sense of intimacy, and the neat interior allows light to perform its fluidity on the walls. Without darkening the space, natural light, as well as reflections and refractions from both artists’ works mingle with one another, threading the passage of time with our spatial experience.

To see is not simply to engage with one isolated phenomenon; it requires embodied and sensory experience. While sharing space with the artwork and interacting with light, we depart from the linear, objective perspective and replace it with a mobile, frameless way of seeing.

[1] Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009), 7.