Remaking Realities: Nefeli Massia at Stevenson University Gallery
August 29 to October 29, 2011
Art and science have often woven together throughout recorded history, at times to historic effect, such as the rise of Greek culture that revolutionized early world history. These days, again there is a growing surge among visual artists to engage scientific questions and the nature of reality that is opening new doors and new ways of seeing such as never before.
It is always particularly fascinating to witness how scientists intersect and interpret the creative paths of artists, and in turn, how certain artists engage and straddle the other side of the looking glass. Bridges are particular places, especially when they connect multidimensional and conceptual definitions and destinations. The very nature and necessary structures of language itself are never more in question, as they are applied to the unfolding of an artist’s visionary process that more often than not, swells from a complex mystery deeper than articulation can supply. Even the most brilliant of us stumble in this search for translation, such as Arthur Danto, and run amiss in attempting to communicate what is simply better seen or experienced in person.
Artists often work furiously in silence amid bits of staccato verbiage and then often join in the talk after the process, over the dilemma, sometimes right past the vital heart in attempting to shine light into the hunt for human intellectual comprehension. Hence lies the potential or either blessing or truncating the deeper realities of the work, if we pay more attention to the language than to what the work unearths within our souls. It is always up to us to dig further into the work. Yet we live in a culture of waffling contradictions that increasing expects and even demands a simple answer in three sentences or less. “ Danger, danger, Will Robinson!”
What artists do best is scramble the limitations, break the rules and dance around the language before it is uttered. Their gift is in their seeing and application. It is a hugely unpredictable dilemma that not only varies between artists as much as fingerprints, but in the struggle for growth. Our soup is an eternal flux of implications and influences that has driven more than a few of the most brilliant over the edge. Yet, when a mature artist hits a resonant insight or straddles a balance or rightly tackles another’s vision, the result can distill some essence of the greater mystery of our place in time and space.
In her new solo exhibition at Stevenson University, Nefeli Massia’s expansive memorial to Dr. Susan P. Slatterly breathes a vital wonder into the micro/macro truths that the universe is both within us and us within it. In her struggle to birth something of significance, she wisely chose to expand beyond what our culture considers as a memorial. What one experiences upon entering the gallery are three wall to wall video projections of stem cells and medical scans of the brain that majestically flow over and eclipse mere scientific information, in a balanced, yet glorious celebration of the profound mystery of our very life force.
It is a wondrous experience, suspended through new eyes in the universe within and around us. This bridge is far more than the sum of its parts or the limitations of its technology. It contains explicit imagery presented in a marvelously implicit way that allows the viewer to breathe in life and hope, and for a moment dance amid the micro/macro cosmos inspired by stem cell research.
Even so, there are technical issues with the installation. The sequencing of the three projectors falls out of alignment over the course of the day. Consequently, it is best to see the installation in the morning, when the projectors coordinate perfectly. As a consequence, the artist posted a flawless sequence on You Tube:
Nefeli Massia- Remaking #332CAA
However, there is another aspect to the exhibition that requires first hand inspection. There is a stack of cast glass blocks along one wall that have captured three-dimensional likenesses of stem cells. It is a dazzling cluster that draws you into an alternate sense of intimacy that is playfully, yet elegantly opposite from the expansiveness of the video installation.
In the excellent catalogue (free at the exhibition), two wonderful essays take the viewer into the conceptual aspects of the installation. In particular, the essay by Sue Spaid, the new Director of the Contemporary Museum, opens the dialogue into the exploratory truth of Nefali Messia’s process and why it bypasses mere scientific concerns. While science was the inspiration and the passing of a beloved mentor the catalyst, what has manifested escapes both by offering us a glimpse into the mysterious spiritual truths that spark all of life.