Gazing into Deep Skies: Lyndi Sales discusses her new show with Kristine Kronjé

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Lyndi Sales’s latest solo exhibition, Deep Sky Survey, recently opened at WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town. Some of the work included in the show formed part of Desire, curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe for the South African Pavilion, at the Venice Biennale last year. Deep Sky Survey comprises installation and two-dimensional laser-cut forms exploring ontological questions around subjectivity and our understanding of ourselves within the universe at large.

In Deep Sky Survey the use of more rigid materials such as Perspex, mirrors and holographic paper seems quite unusual. Your work has been known for its fragility and ephemeral nature, ranging from delicate laser-cut paper networks to stringed installations. What informed your choice of materials for this exhibition?

I’m often drawn to fragile materials such as paper, fine rubber, fabric etc. For this body of work I chose to work with Perspex, which appears stronger than paper but is actually deceiptively fragile and brittle. Whereas paper is more malleable, Perspex was a testing medium at times, as it snaps so easily. For the wall-hung works exhibited on Deep Sky Survey the radiant Perspex seemed like the appropriate material to employ: both reflective like mirror but also clear; I was intrigued by the way it reflects the viewer’s image and simultaneously reveals the colour spectrum as the viewer moves around the work. Colour spectrum data is recorded by satellites and telescopes through the use of infrared technology, gamma rays, X- rays, ultra-violet and visible light which is often used to define landscapes of both earth and other planets. In addition I was trying to imagine what Aldous Huxley refers to as "praeternatural light" or where George Herbert’s poems reflect the transience of beauty. In “Virtue” he presents a vision of an eternal world beyond the one available to sense perception. Huxley talks about an “intolerable lustre of light” and the Perspex’s material qualities are somewhat evocative of the kind of otherworldliness that he ascribes to this kind of light. As mentioned, Perspex is very brittle and I see this as keeping within a common premise of interest, a concern with the fragile and the impermanent.

You have often used materials such as currency, maps, newspapers, etc which had already been loaded with information. In Deep Sky Survey the clean Perspex surfaces are not embedded with meaning, but rather reflect their immediate surroundings. Can one assume that these transient reflected images become important elements of the work?

Yes, this was a shift for me, and although the Perspex material seemed distant and impersonal at first it also felt like the most appropriate medium to work with for this project. It was significant that I worked with a reflective surface after exploring the inner workings of a telescope but then to somehow incorporate the viewer’s gaze into the work too. I’m interested in the notion of the viewer as a seeing eye that can simultaneously be seen. As the viewer moves around the works, what is reflected changes, and this is what is interesting for me. Transience is a theme I revisit to in many of my works and in this case I'm concerned with a transience that is both static and in motion. The limited range of our optical vision does not allow us to see into atomic and subatomic levels of matter and the distances that separate atoms. Aggregated atoms appear to us as static, dense, solid and non-energetic. I am interested in that which remains invisible to our ordinary sight; the difference between a world that is visible and seemingly static opposed to a world that is invisible and always changing.

As the viewer is confronted with his own gaze in the reflective surfaces, particularly in works such as Vesica Piscis, Dark Matter, Dwarf Star and Knots in my Cornea, he is not merely the subject perceiving the work but also becomes the object of the gaze. What do you intend the viewer to gain from being conscious of his own gaze?

The works are suggestive of ontological concerns around subjectively seeing ourselves in the world and the universe at large. As technology develops we are exposed visually to macroscopic and microscopic images of the previously unseen. Infrared images of the earth from outer space; images of the universe from the Hubble telescope; images harnessed from micro-electro-optical tomography devices that permit ophthalmologists to see the eye’s retina at a cellular level; computer-rendered topographical landscapes; and high-tech scans of the interior of the body allow us to view an invisible landscape. I’m not interested only in apperception and how we perceive our experiences through our own filters and preconceived ideas, but also in what consciously and subconsciously we choose to see or not to see.

I’m interested in phenomenological philosopher Merleau-Ponty’s theory that “Each object is a mirror of all others.” Our perception of the object through all perspectives is not a propositional, or clearly delineated, perception. Rather, it is an ambiguous perception founded on the body's primordial involvement and understanding of the world and of the meanings that constitute the landscape's perceptual “gestalt”. For some time now I have been concerned with the intersection of art and science, and as Merleau-Ponty theorises: whereas art is an attempt to capture an individual's perception, science is anti-individualistic; it can tell us nothing about human subjectivity. All that a scientific text can explain is the particular individual experience of that scientist which cannot be transcended.

Above left: Vesica Piscis (2012)             Above right: Dark Matter (2012)
                    Radiant Perspex                                           Radiant Perspex
                    150 x 117 cm                                                 110 x 155 cm

Below: Dwarf Star (2012)
             Radiant Perspex
             150 x 117 cm

Knots in my Cornea and Monocular Diplopia make direct reference to an astigmatism, which resulted in a double image in one of your own eyes. Your own visual perception becomes a metaphor for subjective sight perception which raises ontological questions about both perception and subjecthood. Could you elaborate on this metaphor?

Yes, in 2009 I noticed that I was seeing a double image in only one eye. It was diagnosed as an astigmatic condition known as "ghosting". For me this was similar to what you might see if a CMYK printed image is misaligned. It is caused by corneal irregularities. Some see a single ghost image while others see many. In these two particular works I was concerned with that which we cannot focus on clearly, or perhaps a seeing or perception that is either damaged or is clear only through visual aid. In Monocular Diplopia, holographic paper was an appropriate medium to work with in that focus is complex and the surface is suggestive of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane.

Whereas a satellite recording and capturing of data is objective, these works act as subjective focusing devices to perhaps see differently; where an irregular cornea or a satellite can function as an extension of an eye.

Monocular Diplopia (detail) (2011)
Laser-cut holographic paper
200 x 200 cm

Satellite Telescope references the first satellite to make use of pioneering radiation technology which was launched from Kenya in 1970. What is the significance of this event in relation to the artwork?

The installation Satellite Telescope was originally created for the South African pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In that context it seemed important to reference an eye looking out from Africa. What drew me to the Uhuru satellite was that it was the first satellite mission to detect a black hole and the first to register X-ray astronomy. For me black holes are representative of positive transformation as well as dissolution inciting fear. Scientifically black holes absorb light rather than reflect it. In the case of Dwarf Star I allude to a black hole that does, in fact, reflect light.

Satellite Telescope was conceptualised and created in a very short time-frame of five weeks and I often find that my intention becomes apparent with the more distance I have from an artwork. Although I initially referenced the Uhuru, the work has a more layered significance for me now, and in a new space and on a new continent it takes on new meaning.

Satellite Telescope (detail) (2011)
Mixed media installation
300 x 300 x 600 cm

Monocular Diplopia seems almost identical in design to Shatter, a piece which formed part of your TRANSIenT exhibition in 2008. Denoting “double vision”, Monocular Diplopia can be read as a mirror or ghost image of Shatter. Is there a relationship between these two works?

Yes, there is an evolution of Shatter into Monocular Diplopia. Monocular Diplopia is denser than Shatter and has an appearance that the lines are off-set incorrectly, similar to a print error. I wanted to create an image that was complex to focus on and that in some way resembled the “ghosting” of an image I was seeing in my right eye. The inspiration for this initial piece happened while I was researching for the TRANSIenT exhibition. I came across an archive photograph of three wrist watches retrieved from the Helderberg debris; all revealed shattered glass and had stopped at the same time. Although the original artwork Shatter did not reference vision, the finished work seemed to resemble an eye. It felt appropriate to rework the image for Monocular Diplopia and then again in Vesica Piscis. I find that I continue to draw parallels between my new research and emotional triggers from a personal experience such as the Helderberg and more recently conception; to create something new and in this case more abstract. Vesica Piscis references formation of the first cell in the human body.

Deep Sky Survey runs until 21 July, 2012.

Also visit: WHATIFTHEWORLD’s website
                  Lyndi Sales’s website



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