Opening on Saturday, 19 April 2014 at Oakland’s Johansson Projects is an exhibition of hypnotic sculpture animations that will have your eyes watering—after you realize you haven’t blinked in a few minutes. In “Division,” San Francisco-based artist Craig Dorety is examining visual limits and perception, bringing our own neurological shortcomings to our attention.
Dorety isn’t a typical visual artist; he chose to study mechanical engineering (holding a Bachelor of Science degree) and electronics as a means to create art; taking a different path than his father, who worked at IBM and Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley. Instead of sculpting with clay or found objects, Dorety builds custom electronics that express the complicated, bigger ideas he’s developed from experiencing occasional ocular migraines and also synesthesia (he also happens to be a classically trained musician who builds his own sound objects and synth kits).
Dorety titles his work like a taxonomy of sorts: Geometry—Subject. For example, the shapes in “Offset Circles—Fruits and Vegetables” look like a horizontal slice of a Russian nesting doll or a hard-boiled egg. Behind alternating layers of aluminum composite material and PVC sheets, a micro-controller at the heart of the work reads color information from a digital image grabbed off the internet (in this case, fruits and vegetables) and displays the image, over time, on separated and diffused layers of full-color animated LEDs. The result is an illusion of lights organically moving and pulsing through the rigid shapes, and changing color—breathing life and spontaneity into a cold, technological feat. Other titles reveal different geometrical structures and images grounded in the natural, like “Quadrilateral Hyperbolae—Tropical Fish Tank” and “Aproned Squares—Lush Green Jungle.” The embedded YouTube videos convey that these pieces are not static images; the sculpture animations range from 10 to 20 minutes in length.
Through these unique sculpture animations, Dorety is attempting to simulate the visual distortions he experiences during his ocular migraines, so others can see it too. “I see rippling shapes that seem to be comprised of geometrically shaped pixels, like tiny fractals,” he says. “These sculptures are illustrated enlargements of what they look like to me, and how they behave. They are self-referential shapes, nested inside themselves.” Dorety has done quite a bit of research into the visual cortex, learning that our vision isn’t a continuous field of color, but is divided up by the brain for processing. He gives the example of James Turrell’s Ganzfeld works, which use similar principles, but notes that Ganzfeld explores the complete field and not the divided.
“I think also a lot about quantum mechanics, and how our universe is comprised of discrete elements. Not only that, but those discrete elements are actually just collisions of wave energies, or interference. Basically, we are distortions. So when I see these pixels of perception, it makes all that more real to me.”
The show will also feature a collaborative piece titled “Inverted Pixel Array—Street Scene NYC,” created with Jim Campbell. “In this work, we are exploring the interface between the liminal (or barely recognizable) and the completely abstract,” says Dorety, who has been assisting Campbell for six years as a design engineer. “Just how far can information be filtered and reduced before it becomes totally obfuscated? It worked; sometimes the imagery is not resolved, other times there is no question as to what is in the imagery.” Pushing the boundaries of the two artists’ exploration in low-resolution art, this piece brings to mind the moving, blurred forms seen in past Campbell works like the “Home Movies” series or “Ambiguous Icon #2 Fight.”