Drawing from various examples of his work, Scott Lyall continues to investigate links between technologies of the image and aesthetic experience. The exhibition’s title is tongue-in-cheek. Mimicking the marketing of contemporary art (including Thames and Hudson’s recent publication, Painting Now, which contains a reproduction of Lyall’s work) it also points to texts by Andre Leroi-Gourhan, the celebrated 20th Century anthropologist. The cave, for Leroi-Gourhan, is a technical medium—a scene, a habitable environment, an atmosphere. The destiny of art is to frame such a medium by fixing certain moments of its cultural genesis: records of techniques and the myths that support them; enigmas of the signifying shifts they allow. /Cave/ is then a tag for any scene of becoming that supports the dialectical appearance of an art. It is where the artist fabricates, selects—and writes the premature history—of the objects to be gathered into shows.
It was late August. My mother and I were waiting for the moon to cross paths with the sun. Various homemade screens litter her lap: polarized lenses, a chip of smoked glass, cardboard shadowboxes with tinfoil interiors, and other apparatuses carefully collected for the event. Over the morning, we cycled through these items, passing them back and forth discussing their specific qualities. Each technology performs differently: each provides a distinct aesthetic experience.
Among the works exhibited is a small group of pictures made from Nanomedia, a process in which wafers of aluminum are manipulated down to their sub-visible molecules. This renders structures that, like the wings of butterflies, cause the diffraction of environmental light. Crucially, at the level of material identity, the aluminum is denatured and becomes something new. To change the informational structure of a material is to give to it the novelty of a changed identity. When light is exposed to this trans-material, it scatters into a billion tiny ‘particles’ of colour. Colours, here, are real-time appearances of light as it is broken up and scattered by the structures in the foil. As Lyall says, the colours are performances of light. The scripts for these performances are made in a Clean Lab, but the works themselves appear as individual visibilities, wearing accidental masks of the (whatever) natural light. Lyall refers to each individual as Dragons.
For example, we both agreed that in terms of verisimilitude, the darkened glass offered least resistance. Whereas, when I turned my back, the box became a kind of cave. When held at angle, a crescent shaped picture of light shines against its back wall. Like a brightly clipped fingernail. This picture – an effect of its environment – a scene made possible according to a series of links. Atmosphere, medium, duration.
Dragons were developed during a year-long exchange with a team of optical physicists at Simon Fraser University.1 But Lyall describes his work as post-scientific, and minimizes the theme of collaboration. He explains that he was interested in the scientific artefact—a so-called ‘speculative’ or ‘new’ material—at a moment just before it was fixed as a technology, before its own economy was definitively found. He seized upon a moment where the technical potential overlapped with the wireframe of a picture-making schema. This allowed an opening to think about the pictures as embodied philosophical or aesthetic prototypes—sensuous materials figured forth as contrasts for conceptual and cultural development as art.
As we gazed up at the sky, we were surprised by the many passers-by who declined an invitation to share in our rudimentary technology. However, upon reflection, they were under no obligation to witness the cosmic occasion. They were free to shade their eyes, turn their backs and walk away.
The scale of Lyall’s work requires physical attention, and it matters that the works are very difficult to photograph. Thus, they interrupt our contemporary habits of scrolling through, swiping, and scanning across screens. Introducing a kind of material intimacy, the works resist what Lyall calls PDF-fatality: the programmatic capture and consumption of the image by transactional mediation in (photo-) graphic time.
Also on exhibit is a set of larger pictures that reflect on and express the broader attributes of colour Lyall researched while developing the Nanomedia foils. Among these are the modulated surfaces called sunlight, which are made using processes of layered ink printing. Toned by simulations of refracted natural light, algorithmic actions interlace graphic fragments into texelated thread counts of a billion single strands. Here, another comedy of surplus unfolds, reminding us that our sun is a relentless cosmic screen. Like the golden background in a Cimabue painting, light is the epiphany of visible surfaces, but it is also separation from the darkness, the deep, from dreams and the penumbra of the infinitely small.
Finally, in works called untitled (talent), mirrors made by processes of digital printing are smeared with Nano-particles of silver or gold to destroy their potential as reflective surfaces. Hand-imprinted traces of the quantity of metal help recall the etymology of the Latin word, talent. (A talent was the measure of the metal in a coin). But the Nano particles bear a surplus fugitivity. Because of them, a quantity (nonetheless, a talent) is absorbed by the artist through the pores of his skin. “Colour is a hallucination of skins,” thought Empedocles. Here the very promise of a Nano-scale aisthesis is negated (or sub-tracted) by the pressure of a hand—digits not unlike the ones embellishing the walls at Altamira, Cosquer Caves, and three dozen similar sites.
1. The Nanomedia Solutions Lab (Bozena Kaminska and Hao Jiang)