To see or not to see 

Visual Art

By Julianna Thibodeaux
Visual Art By Julianna Thibodeaux 'louvers,' part of the 'Shooting Blind' exhibit at the Indianapolis Art Center Seeing Blind Indianapolis Art Center Through June 11 “Put your hand behind the back of your head, is it blackness? It is visually … nothing. Floating in a sea of dizzying nothingness is a small, besieged island of struggling vision, a tunnel, pebbly and organic. Circular, violet tinged ripples simmer around the dimming screen on which I gaze at the world.” —from the essay “The Labyrinth of Night” by Steven Erra To see or not to see? Blindness, or the slow and terrifying slip into blindness, necessitates a different kind of seeing. A group of seven photographers comprising the Seeing With Photography collective, in New York City, know this intimately, if at varying degrees, and have chosen to see differently — with the camera lens. In the traveling exhibition curated by the Aperture Foundation, Seeing Blind, on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, the fruits of this fractured vision are testament to the strength of the human spirit. The many large-format black-and-white photographs hanging in the exhibition propel from their frames, as if strangled sight yields its own kind of seeing, and the subjects depicted, instead of being blind, have a searing vision only possible without the full function of their seeing apparatus. Unlike the traditional subject of a portrait, they are not concerned with being seen; rather, they look for their own sight through whatever gaze they can muster with the help of bright lights and the camera’s lens. In Steven Erra’s “Blindfolded Self-Portrait,” the figure is not centered, but instead looks as if he is trying to join the imagery swimming around him in a strobe of hazy backgrounds. Mark Andres’ “Regarding Seeing” depicts a man in profile, his vision obviously clouded, his head both asserting and retreating. In this and in many photographs, there’s an almost eerie otherness, a cloudy luminosity. It doesn’t repel, but it doesn’t invite either; it’s as if we’re invited to look, but asked not to make sense of what we see. The truth is too painful, the light set upon the darkness is too bright. The photographs were produced using Polaroid’s positive/negative film and a technique called “painting with light,” involving the use of flashlights, which illuminate the subjects in extended exposures in complete darkness. The results? Frenetic distortions; an erratic thread of a light’s tailpipe; a face swimming in blackness, or no face at all, only a body, surrounded by tiny, spotlighted figurines, toy cars, bugs, toy soldiers. Sharp edges and patches of milky fog meet and swirl, and the portraits bubbling up within them are mostly, and shockingly, banal. Except for the eyes, their sightlessness is not clearly evident; it shows itself either by the misty exhilaration of seeing beautiful things from within, or the tortured pulling back of eyes that look but don’t see, eyes that are shrouded, blackened. Such numinous distortions are beautiful for their symbolic otherness. Not to see, at least in the physical sense, is to see truth in a way the rest of us can’t. To be that vulnerable suggests how reliant we are on mass hallucinations, and on the freedom from imprisonment that can only come from interdependence. The Indianapolis Art Center’s choice to invite Shooting Blind to its largest gallery is suggestive of another kind of looking: Exhibitions such as these are a nod to that workhorse word, accessibility, that allows us to come together at whatever level we find ourselves in terms of visual art intelligence. And yet, these images are not easy: They offer a dark, almost skeletal beauty, one that suggests, also, that while we are interdependent, we are also terribly alone. As a curious complement to Shooting Blind, the exhibition of furniture and sculpture Indiana Contemporary Woodworkers, dubbed a “Hands-On/Touch Exhibition,” features mostly lovely, some traditional, expressions of function and/or artistry in wood. While the exhibition is pleasant, and the “please touch” invitation welcome, it is overshadowed, so to speak, by the more compelling expressions and images in Shooting Blind. Both exhibitions are on view through June 11. Indiana Contemporary Woodworkers coincides with the Furniture Society Conference happening in Indianapolis in June. A public reception will take place Friday, May 5, 6-8 p.m. Cost is free to Art Center members and $7 for nonmembers. Otherwise, the Art Center is free and open to the public. For more information and hours, call 317-255-2464 or visit The Indianapolis Art Center is located at 820 E. 67th St.

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