The third floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville has been transformed into an exhibition that defies explanation. Blurring the line between reality and fiction, the six featured national and international sculptors – Chul Hyun Ahn, James Clar, Patrick Jacobs, Ken Matsubara, Daniel Rozin, and Kathleen Vance – employ a variety of indiscernible techniques and mystifying illusionistic effects to accomplish astounding levels of visual deception. As one peers into tunnels, portals, glasses, and suitcases, the outwardly literal representations are transformed into mind-boggling artificial realities. What happens in the mind when we perceive a work of art? Is it a literal representation or a false, artificial reality of something familiar? Is it all just smoke and mirrors?
Often striking and ambiguous, at times both alluring and strange, the complex sculptures in Smoke and Mirrors: Sculpture and the Imaginary are all dedicated to exploring these questions through the art of illusion while also restructuring the traditional relationships between sculpture, viewer and environment. Conveying the endless possibilities of illusion, the works nonetheless border on mystical experience and logical explanation.
Dedicated to presenting innovations in contemporary art, Smoke and Mirrors includes two brand new works by artists Rozin and Vance. MOCA Jacksonville is the first institution to exhibit Rozin’s Penguin Mirrors, an installation scattered on the floor and comprising 450 motorized stuffed animals. Merging the geometric with the participatory while playing with the compositional possibilities of black and white, each penguin turns from side to side and responds to the presence of viewers in real time. As they perform, the penguins’ collective intelligence is puzzling, yet somehow familiar, as the plush toys enact a precise choreography rooted in geometry.
Brooklyn-based artist Kathleen Vance was invited to evolve her series Rogue Stream by creating a new site-responsive installation for the museum based on the St. Johns River. After studying the river’s course, Vance recreated it in miniature, echoing every bend as water charts through the city and in the exhibition’s replica. Created to celebrate the “Year of the River,” Vance has constructed a living sculpture within the gallery that questions our relationship to nature, while hoping to capture a part of nature untouched by humans.
Other works include Korean-born Chul Hyun Ahn’s “Railroad Nostalgia” and “Tunnel,” each exploring architectural spaces. Peering into either portal, the emitting light sculpture creates the illusion of infinite space that extends deep into an uncharted territory. Japanese-sculptor Ken Matsubara’s Round Chair series asks us to look down into a glass of water before it whisks us away to another time. Brooklyn-based Patrick Jacobs invites the viewer to peer through tiny windows along the wall for a glimpse into another world altogether that is seemingly embedded within the gallery walls – of which he has meticulously cast, painted, and positioned every blade of grass and flower petal of the dioramas, a process he equates to “building a painting.” In the back corner, an entire room is dedicated to New York-based James Clar’s “Rain Under Lamppost,” a light sculpture that fuses technology and visual information to create what looks exactly like falling rain illuminated by a lamppost overhead. I would have sworn it was real until I stood underneath and remained completely dry, watching the raindrops puddle around my feet.
The works featured in Smoke and Mirrors provide a fun break from static installations. As viewers are invited to immerse themselves in each piece, they are interacting as an active part in completing the artist’s vision. Because of this, the viewers become more than a passive audience. They are participants – each bringing something unique to the work through a refreshing and unforgettable experience.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is located 333 North Laura Street, Jacksonville. For exhibition hours, visit www.mocajacksonville.org.