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02 Jun 2015

Writing Diffraction - Works from Leal Rios Foundation's contemporary art collection

Francisco Tropa, Demonstration of diffraction using water waves, 1992-2010
(projection detail) All rights reserved © Francisco Tropa and Leal Rios Foundation Photography: Pedro Tropa.

Writing Diffraction - Works from Leal Rios Foundation's contemporary art collection
Fundação Leal Rios


28.05 | from 10am untill 8pm | Writing Diffraction Exhibition Opening
5 June | 12:00am - 8:00am | Press Private View
03.06 | 5pm | VIP Guest View
Opening days and hours | 28 May - 5 July | Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays from noon to 8 p.m

João Biscainho
00351 210 998 623
00351 218 822 574

Venue: La Virreina Centre de la Imatge
Palau de la Virreina, La Rambla, 99
08002 Barcelona

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Writing Diffraction

Writing Diffraction comprises works from the Leal Rios Foundation collection that focus on the poetics of perception, utilizing near-scientific methodologies to ascribe form to inherently immaterial phenomena.

Francisco Tropa's sculptural installation 'Demonstration of Diffraction Using Water Waves' (1992-2010) is an early work in the artist's oeuvre, comprising simple elements: a lamp set on a wooden box, a brass support for a lens and mirror, from which light is refracted through a glass reservoir filled with water. Together, these elements form a camera obscura, the shadow of water projected onto the gallery wall. The work is built with the idea of a measuring instrument in mind, as during the time of its creation in the early 1990s, Tropa had been making sculptures related to, or that abstractly signify, scientific instruments. But 'Demonstration of Diffraction…' only references measurement and has no scale by which to actually measure, and is thus a poetic gesture rather than an object with scientific functionality. The work references the Allegory of the Cave, presented by Plato in The Republic and narrated by Socrates, in which a group of people imprisoned all their lives in a cave look at the shadows, or representations, of real objects cast by light thrown from a nearby fire. This allegory is meant to teach us about the thin line between representations of reality and actual reality, and how our understanding of language envelops it. In Tropa's work, the shadow of the water looks as if it could be a digital projection or even screen, but it is actually an artifact of the real movements of the water in the exhibition space. This division between the representational and the real lies at the heart of Tropa's work, and calls us to contemplate our earthly surroundings.

It is this uncanny bridge between the scientific and poetic, and the desire to pin down or absorb reality, that unifies the works in Writing Diffraction. Sophie Whettnall's 2001 video 'Recording the Light' documents the artist taping off the sunlight patterns shining in from a paned window. Whettnall painstakingly follows and records with tape the grid-like patterns made by the sunlight as it slowly moves across the room throughout the day. The patterns of tape appear both botanical and architectural, as if the rectangular grids of cubes are growing and being stretched. Like Tropa's 'Demonstration of Diffraction…', Whettnall's video also seeks to quantify or track light, a phenomena with such an extraordinary speed that it's only a utilizable measurement in an interstellar context. The idea of an artist recording light with a roll of tape is such a boldfaced Sisyphean one that the viewer is prompted to wonder what Whettnall's aim really is. This work suggests the futility in attempting to control the uncontrollable (such as one's environment, our own lives or the lives of others), or more abstractly, the Modernist legacy of man's control over nature.

Brazilian duo Detanico Lain's two works in the exhibition, 'Onda' (2010) and 'Windspelling (Odyssey Winds)' (2011) employ writing systems or typefaces that are motivated by translating writing into a shape or form. Both systems are based on an alphabetical order and are indexed by size, progressing from small to large. 'Onda,' a floor-based sculpture made of salt, writes the letters 'O-N-D-A' in an alphabet based on a simple sine wave shape, where 'a' is the smallest, most contracted form, and 'Z' the largest. 'Onda,' it's title meaning 'wave' in Portuguese, doesn't employ the actual sine waves that describe the sounds each letter makes (these waveforms look much more complex), but rather creates a more simple internal logic immediately recognizable to the viewer. The sound installation 'Windspelling (Odyssey Winds)' places speakers on walls the face each of the cardinal directions: North, East, South, West. Using the Greek names of wind found in Homer's Odyssey, each speaker emits the voice of a wind spelling its own name in an invented wind alphabet: Bóreas is North; Euro, East; Zéfiro, South; and Noto, West. When standing in the installation, the names of the winds are not aurally identifiable, but again the artist's internal logic remains legible to the viewer.

While the work of Tropa, Whettnall, and Detanico Lain attempts to ascribe form to the formless through scientific and linguistic methodologies, André Romão's work focuses on perception, and the charged act of looking. His 'Looking (prospection/exchange/profit)' (2015) comprises a cube monitor installed on the floor, with a silent three-second loop of a blinking eye with a black retina and pupil. The footage was actually appropriated, and the severely dilated pupil is actually an effect of a black contact lens—perhaps by a goth kid trying to look more dramatic. Rather than referencing goth culture, Romão had been thinking about Greek bronze sculptures classically fitted with ivory eyes, which are often found eyeless as ivory degrades much more rapidly than bronze. Due to the eye's artificially blacked-out retina, it's impossible to tell whether the eye in the video can see or not, or if it's blocking information, dilated or scared. To Romão, this work comes from a Surrealist lineage, its free flow of images, ideas and eroticism, and is informed by an overflow of information today and its effect on the body. Further, the idea of looking and the prospection of profit are central to the work, and here Romão bridges sexual and economic profit with the idea of interpersonal transactions. Similar to an economic transaction, being looked at and looked back is a form of exchange.

Romão's work points to the centrality of perception in our relation to the world, and our agency within it: we can let life wash over us or we can absorb it. The other work in Writing Diffraction speaks to the ineffability and powerlessness of being a sentient person in a dramatically changing world—one marked by rapid developments in technology, increasing income disparity, and political conflict. Writing Diffraction proves that even though such discord seems insurmountable, it takes an artist to limn its shadow.

--Karen Archey