For Visible Horizons, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery invited three local artists to create new work interpreting the 'line' that divides earth from sky. Through installation, painting, sculpture, and an immersive video experience, Chris Duncan, Andrew Chapman, and Rhonda Holberton create a meditative three-part exhibition that relies as much on the invisible or barely visible as it does on observable divisions.
In the first section of the gallery, Duncan's work, titled Offing, takes the form of an interactive sound sculpture and several small architectural gestures. A series of wires stretched from one adjacent wall to the other create a suspended instrument ready for the plucking. Running your fingers across the wires produces a sinister atonal sound, magnified by echoing distortion produced with the help of concealed microphones and speakers mounted across the room. Crouching beneath the piece might be like being inside a piano.
Chris Duncan, Offing, 2012.'Offing' is "the more distant part of the sea in view," a fitting phrase for Duncan's other alterations to the gallery space. A small wedge runs along the wall, its top edge painted fluorescent orange to cast a warm glow on the wall above. The actual, shockingly bright color is only visible in one stretch between a wall and concrete column. Duncan uses reflective color frequently -- mostly on the top edge of his frames -- but here the effect is maximized in longer stretches, hinting at something just out of view.
Andrew Chapman, 2012.Chapman's contributions to Visible Horizons are the most straightforward of the bunch. In a series of paintings and one sculpture, he explores abstraction and various textures for a collective installation titled Beyond there, there is a there. One larger painting creates the illusion of a distorted surface overlaid by luminous green rectangles. The composition resembles a view from above or below, obviating the horizon completely. For a smaller work, a stretched piece of striped black and white fabric becomes an optical illusion of sorts though the simple application of paint as shadow and slight irregularities in the lines' trajectory.
In the back room of the gallery stands Holberton's immersive installation The Invention of the Ship was also the Invention of the Shipwreck. The exterior of this large silver-clad structure resembles a set piece from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial rather than something from the era of nautical exploration. Inside the pitch-black space it takes about two minutes for your eyes to pick up anything at all. The reward is worth the wait. Watching, straining my eyes towards a thin slice of colored light -- a mutable horizon line -- I experienced close to what I imagine vertigo is like. Visually, it is perhaps better described as what is seen by those leaving Earth's atmosphere.
All three artists are a product of Stanford's MFA program (Duncan will graduate in 2013, Chapman and Holberton finished up last year). Besides sharing a penchant for romantic artwork titles, their inclusion in this show testifies to shared interests in restraint, optics, illusory effects, and quiet contemplation.
When the true meeting point of earth and sky is blocked by irregularities and obstructions, the result is a 'visible horizon,' a daily experience for anyone who dwells anywhere but an open plain. In Visible Horizons, only Chapman's work reflects the more familiar and complicated dividing line that comes with city life, while Duncan and Holberton reclaim the unobstructed view, offering up ideal lines and the possibilities for what is just beyond the edge of sight.
A series of free public programs provides further contexts for the exhibition, the first of which is a screening of 16mm NASA film with live musical performances. Visible Horizons is on view through October 6, 2012. For more information and a schedule of events, visit sfartscommission.org.