re-creation: a Spencer Finch installation at MASS MoCA.
You See What I See?
Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun?
MoCA, through March 31, 2008
Some time in mid-2008, the first high-energy collisions are
expected to take place in the Large Hadron Collider, the latest
iteration of a subatomic-particle accelerator. The aim of
the experiments is to re-create conditions a fraction of a
second after the big bang by smashing protons into each other
that are moving at 99.9999 percent of the speed of light.
Particle physicists and cosmologists are anticipating these
experiments in the hope that they will confirm theories about
what is currently called “dark matter”—the stuff that makes
up 96 percent of the universe but cannot be observed directly.
It is impossible to view the art of Spencer Finch without
thinking about whether the results of these upcoming experiments
will influence his work.
The introductory panel to Spencer Finch: What Time Is It
on the Sun? explains that the artist “brings us closer
to an understanding of the mechanics of perception and representation
as well as their limits” and that he focuses on “the shifting
nature of the visible world and a yearning for what might
lie beyond it.” In his work, Finch couples an artist’s creativity
with a scientist’s drive to collect and interpret data. By
exploring light, color, time, and memory, Finch makes us aware
that human knowledge is limited and that our powers of observation
are mutable. One of the pieces that successfully brings together
many of Finch’s interests is Abecedary (Nabokov’s Theory
of a Colored Alphabet Applied to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty
Principle). In this large work, Finch uses the colors
Vladimir Nabokov associated with certain letters, due to his
synesthesia, to translate a portion of Werner Heisenberg’s
text. Standing in front of the piece, which comprises 9,251
differently colored dots, the viewer is confronted with the
essence of quantum mechanics and ultimately with the enormity
of Finch’s task to replicate certain sensory experiences.
Despite the futility of the endeavor, Finch compulsively attempts
to replicate what he sees or experiences. He is at his most
lyrical in works such as West (Sunset in My Motel Room,
Monument Valley, January 26, 2007, 5:36-6:06 pm). The
full effect of this piece takes 31 minutes and 5 seconds as
it replicates exactly the light of the setting sun as he measured
it against a wall of his motel room. In order to reproduce
the exact light levels, Finch uses nine television monitors
stacked three-by-three that each emit a different level of
light using stills from The Searchers, which was filmed
in Monument Valley. As the stills fade one into the other
the light, they emit mimics the twilight as experienced by
Finch at the time and date in the title of the piece.
While many of Finch’s works involve direct observation, some
are attempts to replicate what he sees from memory. Trying
to Remember the Color of Jackie Kennedy’s Pillbox Hat
is 100 pastel drawings of ovals in different shades of pink.
For Darkness (Artist’s Studio, December 2003), Finch
used pastels to re-create the different shades of black he
saw when he turned off the lights in his studio over the course
of one month. And 102 Colors From My Dreams is a type
of diary of what he saw in his sleep.
Finch is compulsive, but he is not without a sense of humor.
When he traveled to Rouen to study the cathedral that inspired
Claude Monet to paint 30 canvases of its facade, he found
it closed for renovations and obscured by scaffolding. Rather
than totally abandoning his plans, Finch took the opportunity
to observe the way the furnishings in his hotel roomed changed
color at various times of the day. His triptych of watercolors
called Interior of Room 4, Hôtel de la Cathédrale, Rouen,
May 18-22, 1996, Morning Effect, Noon Effect, Evening Effect,
reproduces the swatches of color he observed. There are other
works in which he uses observation to humorous effect. For
Forty-eight Views of Loch Ness, Finch spent two days
taking photographs of the lake in Scotland, never once capturing
the famous monster. In The Milky Way he uses Tang to
draw the galaxy as it appears on the first of each month at
midnight. And Poke in the Eye (Right Eye, Outside Edge,
Light Pressure) is exactly what you’d see if you do the
Finch’s work is a stimulating mix of art, science, poetry,
and theory, and the exhibition does a good job of mixing small
individual works with large installations. The only drawback
to the space in this instance is that the subtleties of light
and color often were lost due to ambient light and the limitations
of museum lighting. This is ironic indeed. But in a way, it
contributes further to the artist’s point that we can never
truly believe what we see.
peripheral vision this week-