By Amanda Jesse
Systema, an exhibition at the Zhulong Gallery, is the collaborative effort of six artists who use their work to portray the inmost nature of human systems. The exhibit as a whole juxtaposes the individual efforts of the artists, which each focus on a specific system, to create a vivid portrait of humanity itself through the systems with which it interacts daily.
Erika Blumenfeld embodies this theme in her photography, which utilizes light as its medium. Her works on display at the Zhulong capture natural phenomena purely through the light they emit. Blumenfeld understands well the fascination that light has for the human mind. It provided a new take on her work when inspiration was difficult to come by.
“I was really struggling with that in my work, trying to understand really what the function of a photograph is,” Blumenfeld said. “I decided to take a break from photography for a bit and explore other mediums. What I kept noticing was that I was drawn to mediums (sic) where light was part of the process.”
Blumenfeld moved on to use light to expose the reality of natural phenomena. For her work “Total Lunar Eclipse”, she modified a camera to only capture light rather than images, and then took a photograph every seven minutes during a four-hour eclipse. The result is a simple yet profound depiction of an eclipse. It moves past what is happening on a planetary scale and focuses on the aspect of it that affects humanity most – the absence and presence of light.
She creates the reverse with “Living Light No. 2”, a photograph of a swirl of bright blue bioluminescent organisms against a pitch black background. In this case she uses light to capture the beauty and significance of these microscopic beings in a way that humans can appreciate. Organisms of this kind are responsible for producing 40 percent of the oxygen found in the atmosphere. Blumenfeld hoped to evoke an appreciation for their contribution to the human system.
Some artists, including the duo Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet as well as Tega Brain, use social media to reflect on human systems. Brain’s pieces compile submissions to Flickr under the tag of a certain plant species, like bluebonnets (for the Texas locale), and display the various images that are associated with the term. Brain’s background in environmental engineering and data collection initially piqued her interest in social media, but after observing the project in action, it proved an ideal medium to demonstrate the way human systems interact with nature.
“I’m interested in looking for data in places the scientific community wouldn’t necessarily look,” Brain said. “So thinking about the Flickr repository and the vast amounts of people that were uploading [pictures] online every day, I was wondering what could be gleaned if we approached it as an environmental database as well? That was my initial motivation, but in doing the project, it really changed. What becomes apparent from those images, is that they really show different aspects of relationships with those plants. It demonstrates how that species is understood in culture as well.”
The use of social media as an art form clearly depicts how people perceive and interact with the subject matter, and is indicative of its place in the whole human system.
Patricia Reed’s works comment on both the social and economic human systems and speaks to the artist’s obligation to portray issues in an unconventional but well-informed manner.
“If you want to have adequate commentary on the contemporary situation, it is also ultimately a huge responsibility for you to start posing relevant questions,” Reed said. “There are so many issues that seem to initiate one sort of response, but actually you can look at the problem from a different perspective and the question is totally re-framed, and that would be the angle you approach it from as an artist. An artist has a research practice as well as a material practice.”
Her works, including “Infinite Growth” and “The Abstraction Transformeth,” depict money in ways that are unusual and thought-provoking. The former is an image of only one item of actual value surrounded by mere images of it. It points out the difficulties of the present economic system which relies on the expectation of value rather than the reality of it. The latter work takes Polish currency and reduces it to paper monochromes, demonstrating that money, after all, is only paper, again highlighting the difference between expected value and actual value.
Other contributing artists include Hiba Ali and Vesna Pavlovic, whose works comment on the political and social systems. To see these pieces and appreciate the complete portrait of human systems that Systema offers, visit the Zhulong Gallery, located on 1302 Dragon Street. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Systema will be open until Nov. 29.