Ocelli / Abigail Winograd
From whatever side one approaches things, the ultimate problem turns out in the final analysis to be that of distinction: distinction between the real and the imaginary, between waking and sleeping, between ignorance and knowledge, etc.
-Roger Caillois in Mimicry and Legendary Psychastenia
The ocellus is a morphogenetic feature found in certain species of insects, reptiles, fish, cats, and birds. These rounded markings closely resembling eyes function as a form of camouflage or mimicry, a useful and uniquely beautiful piece of genetic deception most dramatically illustrated on the tails of male peacocks. This same phenomenon is visible—though in a much less spectacular fashion—in certain species of seagulls that are the subject of a new series of photographs by the Israeli-born artist Assaf Evron. Each photograph focuses on an individual bird, isolating one eye and one ocellus, with the resulting uncanny portraits alluding to one of Evron’s principle subjects of inquiry, namely the unreliable and deceptive nature of vision.
The sea was smooth, perfectly mirroring the sky is comprised of work from several different series, reflecting the artist’s interest in theories of optics and the logic of visuality—the examination and permutations of which underlie the photographic and sculptural logic of his practice. The visual simplicity of Evron’s art belies an intricate working method, each series of objects being the result of multiple transformations from sculpture to photograph or vice versa. This generative process relies upon the investigation of physical phenomena as well as an active philosophical engagement with the work of artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Mies van der Rohe and Robert Smithson or theorists and thinkers like Aby Warburg and Leopold Jessner.
The concern with deception, reflection, and mimicry derives from the artist’s training as a student of aesthetic philosophy, focused specifically on the work of the Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti, author of Della Pittura, the first treatise on linear perspective published in 1435. Evron’s continued fascination with Alberti is driven in part by the prescient nature of Alberti’s theories. Evron has, for example, explored the use of an X-Box Kinect, the popular video-gaming device, which projects infrared light into three dimensions to map space and movement. Using an infrared camera, Evron captures the effects of these projections, invisible to the naked eye, and casts them on carefully composed still-lives. The on-going series, Visual Pyramid After Alberti, resembles a starry night sky (if the sky were a shade of brilliant purple) as well as the very process, described by Alberti in,Della Pittura, for accurately translating elements from the physical world into two-dimensional works of art.
Some of the most fascinating expressions of automimicry—in which one part of an organism mimics another—are found in certain species of insects, specifically butterflies and moths. Like peacocks, these animals use the ocelli on their wings to deceive predators. When immobile, these fake pairs of eyes are a passive form of camouflage that masks the insect’s position, but should that ruse fail they become active, even aggressive, as they spread their wings and take flight, making themselves appear larger and more menacing in the process. The seemingly magical quality of these morphological phenomena prompted Roger Caillois to surmise that mimicry was not just a visual anomaly but ultimately acted as “a disturbance in the perception of space.” Evron’s Color Spaces, a series of sculptures based on the mathematical algorithms used by printers and computers to relate colors to numbers (which the artist repurposes to produce a volumetric graphic virtual object), are essentially representations of those digital renderings into tactile, three-dimensional objects. Each is made from a topographical model of a color space divided into one hundred layers. Each layer is then, in turn, hand drawn, cut out of MDF, glued to the next, epoxied, and sanded. The resulting (massively heavy) polygons resemble the rocks one might find in a Japanese garden. Like the ocelli, the Color Spaces reminds us that what we see is not what we see—a refutation of Frank Stella’s axiom regarding the premise that undergirds American Minimalism (“What you see is what you see”), itself a paradigm Evron references time and again in his own practice.
One of the oldest works in the exhibition is Untitled (Rainbow Filter) – a rainbow printed on a piece of glass held aloft by a cinematic photographic grip. The rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon caused by the refraction and reflection of light. Because a rainbow is not a physical object but an optical phenomenon instead, any relationship of a body to a rainbow is an illusion – a summation of the chimerical nature of the viewer’s physical relationship to the object. Evron’s rainbow acts as both frame and window, combines the slippery character of photography, transforms the image into an object and the object into an image, and relies upon the unfolding of two-dimensions into three. The resulting ambiguities, more pointedly their ability to reveal the unstable nature of our relationship to, and perception of, the physical and visual environment, are at the heart of the artist’s work.