Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Art in the dark

Jason Urban is a young artist based in Philadelphia whose Night Light (Isometric Delight) was featured at last Saturday's spare room opening for the month of February. (He last graced Baltimore's walls last September, in a show with Jackie Milad at the Creative Alliance galleries.) Urban cites Tron as one of the piece's touchstones, and that's not hard to see, but the piece is far more expansive than its video-game associations: think James Turrell, who Urban also name-checks, and Turrell's "dark spaces": Night Light is a dark room; the sole light source derives from the Q*bert-esque op-art grid of undulating 2-(and-a-half!) D cubes.

Urban's installation offers an opportunity to write of a favorite piece of mine, Turrell's Jalito's Night, installed in LA's MoCA from 1985 through 1986 (then the Temporary Contemporary, now the Geffen Contemporary). The installation consisted of a large room with barely-perceptible ambient light illuminating the walls (plus an ell that housed a small light projection); a proctor was regulating the number of viewers in the piece at any given time, and there was a wait to enter. An expectant air encouraged the enqueued to speculate on what might be inside: I was unfamiliar with Turrell's work--indeed, I had never heard of the man at the time--and hung in line for more than an hour on the weekend day.

Moving from the sunlit gallery into Jalito's Night, one is blinded, and immediately aware of one's handicap: new entrants into the space loudly announce their arrival to the current residents, aware that violations of personal space might occur. Interestingly, those who have resided in the piece long enough--e.g., so that their eyes have adjusted--transition from the ranks of the "unsighted" to a sort of parental guide, assuring those who cannot see that everything will be all right, and that eyes will adjust in a short time. The lifecycle of the observer is thus delineated by social roles (the blind and the sighted, the helpless and the comforter) as well as by the nominal critical dimension.

Urban himself commented upon the parallels: he related that he found himself announcing to the (sometimes empty!) room that he was entering prior to periodic "charging" of Night Light's photoelectric cubes. His thoughtful and sober manner marks him as one to watch.


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