Shadows Mirror Shadows
October 17 - November 15, 2014
Opening Reception Friday October 17th, 7-9 pm
Organized by Sarah Cale
Shadows Mirror Shadows
In a photograph from Miruna Dragan's series The Mountains are Mirrors, Cascade Mountain in Banff monumentally looms. Among its gradations of grey, Dragan has drawn graphite planes of elusive metallic sheen and luminosity—only visible from certain angles, sometimes shimmering, shifting according to the light and the viewer's movement.
Dragan cites Pavel Florensky, the mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and Orthodox monk, as a major influence. He applied his theories of Imaginary Numbers in Geometry to the canon and aesthetics of icon painting and to theology. A flat plane separates “real” and “imaginary” mathematical space. The plane also exists as border between dreaming and waking, between the conscious, visible, material—and the unconscious, invisible, spiritual. These dualistic 'inverse worlds' exist as 'ontological mirror images' of each other. One may gain access to the invisible realm by 'breaking' space, which 'turns' self, time, and body 'inside out.'
A mountain is, perhaps, inside out: the once hidden, submerged sea floor has been thrust upward. Strata of memory, our bones, our subterranean psyches, exposed. By marking the mountain with graphite (the "writing stone" and highest grade of coal), Dragan inscribes geological time and patterns of history embedded in the mountain: carbon fossil fuels, indigenous peoples, colonizers, coal mining, melting glaciers. Composed of pure carbon, the chemical basis of all organic life, graphite reflects us.
In Orthodox iconography, 'reverse perspective' (with lines diverging outside of the picture plane and the focal point converging upon the viewer) upends power relations, reversing the dominance of the anthropocentric viewer. In linear perspective, I look at the figure. In reverse perspective, the figure looks at me. The Mountains Are Mirrors evokes this anthropocentric reversal; the face of the mountain witnesses, records, and reflects us back to ourselves. From another perspective, the graphite planes could be portals, allowing entry into the deep time of the mountain's interior.
A cave is, in a sense, the internal, invisible, spiritual dimension of the mountain. Its dark recesses were the sites of prehistoric sacred ritual. In Shadows Mirror Shadows, Dragan imagines the permeability of stone through manipulations of photo-mechanics: three photographs taken inside of caves were made by long exposures during which the lens was zoomed in and out. Their metallic paper gleams, again evoking mining. Unsure if I'm being pulled backward or drawn inward through a portal of light, I have the sensation of physically moving through material, of entering stone. As the body 'breaks' through the plane, the cave releases and reveals what was buried in the mountain for millennia, its "invisible numen"—deities inhabiting natural phenomena, the spirits of a place. By their very creation, caves are also sites of erasure, of embedded history eroded and forced to disperse from rock that actually was and still is physically permeable.
In The Form of the Good: Stone Church (Dover, NY), where legend says that Pequot chief Sassacas sought refuge but was found and killed by the English Army, a single photograph of the vaulted cave is stretched into a moving image and projected onto and through a leaning pane of frosted glass, like a time-based Iconostasis. The metaphysically transformative power of light is materialized through its slowly yet dramatically shifting colors.
When We Stand On The Threshold Between Two Worlds, Our Soul Is Engulfed With Dreams is a large-scale double-sided lightbox. One side presents a photograph of a cave lit for tourists by multi-colored display lights. The other side of the lightbox emits a white glow, created by separate red, green and blue lights from its interior, so that the viewer moving in its wake casts color-separated shadows. In another form of reverse perspective, this piece illustrates Florensky's notion of reality as "a twofold, doubly-extended plurality”. On one side, looking into the depths of the colored cave site, it's as if, in a kind of transubstantiation—you've entered it, merged with the plane, emerged through white light, and somehow rematerialized as RGB shadows on the other side: one realm 'ontologically mirroring' the other.
For Florensky, the plane serves to both divide and unify the dualism of “real” and “imaginary” experience—and Miruna Dragan's works reveal that what exists on either side of the boundary are two visions of one holistic reality.
Marianne Shaneen is a writer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn.
This essay was informed by reading Anya Yermakova’s thesis: Mathematical Foundation in Pavel Florensky’s Philosophical Worldview (2011), along with excerpts from Iconostasis and Reverse Perspective by Pavel Florensky [1882 – 1937].
Miruna Dragan was born in Bucharest, grew up in New York and Los Angeles, and was largely itinerant before moving to Calgary in 2009.Her site-responsive work reflects themes of dispersion and transcendence through photography, drawing, collage, montage, fresco, and temporary interventions. Her works have been shown in national and international venues, including recent exhibitions at Museo de la Ciudad in Queretaro, Mexico (2009 & 2012), the Calgary Biennial (2012), the Esker Foundation, Calgary (2013), the Alberta Biennial (2013), Integral House, Toronto and The Tetley in Leeds, UK (2014). This is her first solo exhibition in Toronto.
Special thanks to the Faculty Professional Affair Committee at the Alberta College of Art + Design for their support.