Raw: Gallery often plays host to artists concerned with "architecture" in the broadest sense, as an umbrella term for all the ways we occupy, manipulate, understand and organize the space around us. Their work can be deceptively simple and sometimes tricky to talk about because of that. Exhibitions last year saw Crys Cole scraping contact microphones across the walls, transforming invisible variations in surface texture into audible sound, while Patrick Harrop created the illusion of weirdly undulating, luminous columns using only lights and twirling lengths of fishing line.
Like those earlier projects, Caustic, up for just a week and closing July 12, functions as a subtle, surprising demonstration of spatial phenomena. The installation by Kyle Janzen and Chris Burke, who work together as Jnznbrk, is also essentially a room-sized, walk-in lava lamp functioning as a wholly engaging, purely sensory experience that neither relies on nor demands critical analysis. It's "trippy." Even "bitchin'."
On first approach, Raw's basement space is almost completely dark except for the light emanating from the work itself, an uncanny, three-dimensional projection that seems to hang in empty air like a hologram or drifting curls of smoke. There's no imagery to contend with, no colour even, and the soundtrack consists of little more than the occasional muffled thump and some throbbing, fuzzy speaker tone.
In some ways, the piece is best in the first few moments you spend with it, before your eyes adjust to the dim lighting and you start to piece together what it is you're looking at. Fumbling around in the dark, depth and scale are hard to gauge, and the patterns of greyish light are constantly in flux, appearing first as a patch of mist, then like rippling, semi-solid membranes, then overlapping clusters of concentric rings. It's hypnotic and pleasantly disorienting in equal measure.
In fact, the piece consists of four sheer, free-hanging screens, each held taut with cables attached to the floor and ceiling, that fan out toward a ceiling-mounted projector. Additional cables pinch and pull at the fabric, creating a symmetrical pattern of curvilinear, spiked protuberances resembling the skin of a horned melon or some kind of venomous caterpillar.
Jnznbrk uses "Caustic" in the optical/mathematical sense (I had to look it up), referring to these types of curved surfaces and the particular ways they reflect and refract light. Visible most clearly where it spills out onto the floor and rear wall, the projection itself consists entirely of straight lines, black-and-white stripe and grid motifs that only form the meandering whorls and bulls-eyes we see when they slice through the screens' warped, translucent surfaces. The installation has the effect of bringing to life those mind-bending diagrams you may have seen that show how massive objects like stars and black holes are thought to literally warp and pucker the fabric of space -- or, alternately, the "Mystify Your Mind" screen saver that came standard on Windows PCs in the early '90s.
Whether or not you know anything about optics, astrophysics, or whatever (I clearly don't if I'm comparing things to melons and screen savers), Jnznbrk lead their audience through a scenario that, while "mystifying" at first, gradually deepens our understanding and experience of the "empty" space around us.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator who stopped taking math and science in Grade 10.