PELL LUCY: SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WHAT IS HIDDEN AND WHAT IS SEEN
BY DEBORAH BARLOW
A work of art can only be seen within a narrow band of frequencies known as the visible light spectrum. Eyes are physiologically receptive to electromagnetic wavelengths that range between 380 and 740 nanometers. Astrophysicists hypothesize that more than 95% of what exists in the universe is invisible to the human eye.
Neuroscientists have also determined that 95% of our thoughts and emotions are invisible to us as well, since most of our mental processing takes place in the cognitive unconscious. “We see almost nothing of what matters. Molecules, microbes, cells, germs, genes, viruses, the interior of the planet, the depths of the ocean…Gravity, electricity, magnetism, economic forces, the processes that sustain life as well as those that eventually end it—all this is invisible. We cannot even see the most important parts of our own selves: our thoughts, feelings, personalities, psyches, morals, minds, souls.” (Kathryn Schulz)
Clearly the human bandwidth for access is narrow. The invisible keeps itself hidden, but it does make itself felt. Art making, visual language, myths and dreams have increasingly demonstrated an ability to reach into that inchoate reality we cannot grasp, see or touch. They help create a liminal zone between the seen and the hidden, one that is outside the confining contours of language or the crude Procrustean limitations of human logic.
Each of the works in Somewhere Between What is Hidden and What is Seen speaks on its own terms. The artists represented here have honed methods for negotiating with the invisible: Learning from materials, trusting the process, being open to the serendipitous, staying focused unwaveringly. These are just a few of the techniques that bring an artist closer to what is sensed but not yet manifested. It is then the artist’s arduous task to coax, cajole, evoke and tussle with the sub rosa, bringing it to the surface to take form in a finished work of art. Acknowledging the immensity of that task, Susan Sontag encouraged viewers of art to just experience “the luminousness of the thing in itself.”
The artists in this exhibit can, if asked, share an origin story behind each piece. For one artist, a small gesture drawing became the core inspiration for an expansive new body of work. Another tenaciously plunges into the underwater landscape of ponds in search of fleeting glimpses of other worlds. Another starts with a dot and then allows it to plot its own phantasmagoric journey. One artist, right-handed, only paints with her left. (“My right is the hand of intention, my left is the hand of revelation.”)
Sontag famously asserted, “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” In fact there are so many ways to look, see and connect with a work of art. The most meaningful however will always be the undeniable clarity of personal resonance. A cogent defense for why a work appeals is no longer required, and viewers are increasingly comfortable letting their responses be underdetermined, unexpected, uncanny, a little mysterious. Some things after all just can’t be languaged. Even so, connecting with art viewers who are intuitive, receptive and open-minded is as essential to this venture as the hard work of making that is on display in this exhibit.