LightShowers: Yoshiko Sato and Michael Morris
Video images by Paul Ryan
Lucas Schoormans Gallery,
by Marika Josephson, whitehot magazine, New York
There is something unnerving about reaching your foot out to step on what looks like a rectangular white projection screen (what if it gets dirty? what if I fall through?), but this is exactly what you are asked to do when you enter the LightShowers installation at the Lucas Schoormans gallery in Chelsea. The screen is in fact a raised platform atop which black and white video images wash back and forth, and one feels compelled to draw near both by the massive size of the work and by the curiousness of the projections, which look like slipping shadows or advancing tides or a Rorschach blot test slowly melding into shapes in between.
LightShowers is a collaboration between architects Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato, and video artist Paul Ryan. The installation consists of Morris and Sato’s design for a 6’ x 9’ x 7 ½’’ platform atop which sit six 2 1/2’ long by 2’ wide orb-like objects that resemble eggs. Sensors detect human presence on the eggs, and when one sits on or touches them, blue LED diodes light up underneath the surface of the platform and pulsate in slow 7-second intervals that are meant to mimic the beating of a human heart. Over the platform, a Mylar mirror projects a loop of Ryan’s videotape of the
Atlantic Ocean from
Cape Ann, Massachusetts . One does not just observe the objects and the images from afar, but interacts with them from within. The work embraces the initial compulsion one feels to draw near and to connect.
The platform is surprisingly sturdy, as are the eggs, and after sitting on one of them for a few minutes, the form as a whole becomes comfortable and reassuring. The structure is made of Glacier White DuPont Corian, and it is the strange nature of Corian to be at once sturdy and yet feel light. Perhaps it is the fact that Corian is also used in hospitals that it gives one a further feeling of clean assurance. And it was perhaps serendipitously the perfect material for the orb-like objects as it has a texture of gritty smoothness that feels like eggshells. This further reinforces the feeling of sitting on something that is eternally sturdy, and yet still light and airy.
The purpose of the project (I find myself continually hesitating to use the words “art work” or even “installation” because there is a utilitarian drive to the piece that becomes lost when describing it in typical art terms) is meditation. It is the unifying link between Morris and Sato’s architectural forms and Ryan’s video reflections. Much of Paul Ryan’s video work in the past has explored what he describes as shifting from an “alpha” state of mind—the analytical, or linguistic state—to a “beta” state—the intuitive, almost primitive feelings conjured by forms that defy typical imagery. As in the images in LightShowers, Ryan inverts the color in nearly all of his video and reverses the playback so that water takes on its opposite chroma and flows opposite our analytical expectations. By watching an image of water that is not quite water—that looks familiar and yet doesn’t follow our learned rules—one finds oneself relaxing into form, rather than analyzing didactic imagery.
This focus on form serves LightShowers’s meditative function well. When one sits on the eggs directly under the video images one often has the feeling of sitting under passing clouds—strange black shadows that are no shape and every shape. It is one of those dreamy feelings that nods you into sleep, or sends you into the complex imaginative world you wandered through as a child. In those empty landscapes there is endless time and space—feelings we can only recover from childhood. In some senses LightShowers does with space what Proust did with language.
There are three small video screens placed randomly on the platform in which one can watch Ryan’s video from a bird’s eye view. From this perspective, the forms have an entirely different effect. From here the black doesn’t look as much like passing clouds as it does an oil spill rocking against ice shelves. (The effect of the Glacier White Corian is redoubled.) Black water has such a peculiar quality: it is liquid and yet it is missing something essential that makes it water. To see it contained in this small screen, the uncaniness of the liquid causes one to struggle to define just what makes water—our water, real water—what it is. How light, how translucent. Water begins to reveal a light and strangely airy quality, much like the Corian itself. How odd that something synthetic can itself reflect some characteristic of water that we find so essential, I find this to be the undeniable strength of the piece: the seeming contradiction in uniting an artificial material with something as connected with the earth and nature as Ryan’s video reflections. But then, Ryan himself makes his reflections through the artificial lens of the camera. There is a sense in which all parties of the piece work to create a symbiosis of the artificial and the natural world.
Even DuPont is included within these parties. On a recent visit to the gallery, Morris told me that at first DuPont seemed wary of the piece. “I think they thought it was kind of weird,” he recalled. “But when they saw the huge turn-out at the opening in
Wilmington —nearly 300 people were there—they saw how interested people were in the piece and I think they started to get it.” The fact that DuPont is involved at all speaks to an even larger symbiosis in the project. There is an awareness of materiality that comes through architecture, which often (though certainly not always) comes second in art. Architecture focuses one’s attention on human interaction with material space, and art focuses our attention on human interaction with the world at large. But the two combine so seamlessly in LightShowers that when one leaves the gallery, both the architectural space and the water imagery leave residual traces that resonate back into the world of other human materials, and back to the
Hudson , which rests only two blocks away. Ultimately our awareness of nature and the stamp we leave upon it is heightened, and this reflection only serves to better our original human connection to time and place, and to the materials that we utilize within our world.
Lucas Schoormans Gallery
508 W 26th St, 11B
New York, NY
Marika Josephson writes about art and politics, and is a graduate student in philosophy at the New School for Social Research.view all articles from this author