Sabeena Khosla

Samara Golden: The Flat Side of the Knife

Installed over two floors in the Duplex gallery of MoMA PS1 in Queens is a M.C. Escher meets American Horror Story Asylum installation designed by artist Samara Golden for her first solo exhibition at a museum. The name of the show transforms a banal object into one of psychological contemplation by highlighting not its intended function but rather its ability to serve as a distorted mirror. This rings true of the installation as a whole, through Golden’s literal use of mirrors, and her strategic placement of the commonplace figures and objects around them.

At the base of the exhibit (the lower level) is a floor entirely made of reflective glass panes. Upon first glance it appears that you are looking down into a third lower level that displays a stark white, 1980’s minimalistic living room. The only trace of color is the garish “carpet” which is more like cardboard, and a movie screen rolling looped footage of waves crashing into rocks. Then there is the eerily placed glass on a side table that has been tipped over with red wine spilled out of it. It creates a sense of discomfort as you imagine who may have been in this imaginary space, what happened to them, and how long have they been absent. The churning waves on the screen underscore both the tranquilly static nature of the scene and the underlying drama.

This is completely flipped upon realization that what appears to be a third floor is actually the ceiling reflected in the glass. The objects, including the video screen, are in reality upside down and attached to the ceiling. The suspension and reflection combined provide a tension (and a bit of vertigo) which only permeates as you experience each separate part of the exhibit. From the lower level is a section modeled after a hospital room, with a blue bed hooked up to wires and machines and a glaring light cast on it. Golden uses this room to represent what she feels is the world between reality and the imagination. The floor below (really the ceiling) represents the imagination as we think we are viewing an actual space but it is merely a reflection of one that we cannot inhabit. The surgical room also relates to her near-death experience a decade prior.

And upon moving to the top floor, off the main entrance to the museum, you can see the representation of reality. A warm, pink bed, with a white plastic-covered bed directly above it also suspended from the ceiling. This white bed is invisible on the lower level as it is blocked by the surgical space, yet is clearly reflected in the imagined living room space in the mirrors below it. Even in reality there is element that bypasses into the imagined. In this light, it’s not surprising that the section meant to represent reality is the smallest and is more informed by the other realms of mind.

And let’s not forget the staircases and array of other objects positioned around each section that individually toy with our sense of perspective. The stairwells both lead to various parts, yet are reflected to create the illusion of leading. Each of the stairs have wheelchairs assembled on them, some that are only seen through reflection, others visible as upside down in reality and right side up in the reflection. This is also true of guitars places around the space. As you focus on one of these, you are then forced to locate its mirror in the space, and then conclude which is the true object and which is its reflection (again, vertigo ensues).

It’s a sensory, contemplative, and uncanny exhibition. Viewing each layer, on both floors, doesn’t give more clarity to the space altogether but rather blurs the visual experience by playing with reality and perception.

On view until August 31st. For more information: Samara Golden at MoMA PS1

WORDS BY Sabeena Khosla

The Mystical Landscape in the Digital Age

We recently checked out Los Ojos, a new art space in Bushwick.  While their current group photography show is small, it showcases some pretty big talent from artists Mark Dorf and Chris Mottalini. In divergent ways, Dorf and Mottalini have constructed photographs that reflect the sublime in an understated capacity. Both do so by focusing on landscapes that allow a spiritual presence to take shape in the artificial.

Mark Dorf overlays and incorporates digital constructions into photographs he takes of natural landscape. His work has taken him all over the world, which has allowed him to explore the harmony between digital technology and nature. Rather than fret about technology hindering our experience of the world around us, Dorf looks for ways to depict how nature can mesh with technology. He knows “digital technology is here to stay” so rather than fight it, he works to harmonize our fascination with landscapes with the technologies we are accustomed to.

His series //_PATH uses raw data from 3D scans of objects in the landscapes he photographs, such as rocks, dirt, and plants. In other words, instead of a series of scans making the photograph something we can easily recognize, it is “the raw, non-manipulated or refined mesh.” However, it still retains a connection to realized landscape. And what’s more, the colors and the way he merges the different sets of scans create dreamlike, mystical scenes. As Dorf puts it, “[landscape] is the oldest set of symbols that we as a collective human species know and I think that we will forever, in some way perhaps not directly, return to the landscape for inspiration.”

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Meanwhile, Chris Mottalini paid a visit to Thailand a few years back and was immediately drawn to both urban and rural landscapes. In NightLights, currently on display at Los Ojos, the photographs retain a haunting quality as he captures street lamps at nighttime. He is looking to portray “what happens when these strangely, unintentionally sculptural light sources interact with the sweltering, color-saturated tropical night.” The bright white of the lamps provide the only source of light in the photographs and the result gives them a ghostly presence, underscored by the omission of individuals.

This is further explored in his other two collections from Thailand: BackStreets and PlantLife. The former gives viewers a chance to see Bangkok without the swarm of people, and the latter transforms the local vegetation into what Mottalini calls “natural architecture.” Taking people out of the composition is a recurring technique of Mottalini’s and a constant choice of Dorf’s: by removing people, their landscapes take on a bodily, surreal form. The artists ask us to contemplate not how we live in the world necessarily but where we inhabit and what can be gained from our locales on a spiritual level.

Their work is on display at Los Ojos until April 19th. To view more of their pieces, click here and here.

WORDS BY Sabeena Khosla