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Glass Jail

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: October 5, 2020

Artist Description: Seamless animation of a human being trapped in a colorful vitreux glass. Modeled in Cinema4D / Rendered in Redshift 180 Frames 2560 x 2560 px

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Fractions, reflections, and misdirections; behind glass, behind mirror. If refracted into pieces and shades and slices by one’s surroundings, one becomes not what they are but what they are seen as from the angle of the observer. What do you see in Kidmograph’s (pseudonym of Argentine artist, Gustavo Torres) Glass Jail? It’s hard to formulate an answer. It’s hard to form an exact opinion of anything. Nothing in Glass Jail is handed to us. This is not a piece of overt emotion or intention. It seems as if Torres has stripped the piece of any underlying emotionality, any clue as to how we should feel about it. Depending on where we look, for how long, and with what in mind, we might end up being pacified, disturbed, or bemused. And the person in the jail’s center, a disembodied head caught in a swirling maelstrom of color and flash, how do they feel? Are they supposed to feel anything? Are we supposed to decide for them?

That’s the magic of Glass Jail, its endless rotations, its many shifting surfaces. There’s no one way to approach the piece, feel about the piece, see in the piece because it manages to be something else just as soon as you’ve found a way to identify it. There are sixteen distinct panels composing the Glass Jail, its shape a diamond, and its surfaces a rainbow of color —scarlet and deep sea blue, emerald and opal and topaz hues as well appear; one can get a sense that jewel imagery is important. The panels spin slowly to the right, all of them impressively reflecting an off-stage light coming in from somewhere slightly above it. At times the light shines blindingly; elsewhere it is swallowed up by the dark colors and the cracks on the glass. But this entire spinning stained glass display is window-dressing (legitimately) for the piece’s central image and motif, that of a hairless, emotionless, night-sky-eyed and pale-skinned person whose head is trapped within the rotating diamond. Do yourself a favor and take a good long look into that person’s eyes. Make Glass Jail as large as possible and try to ocularly extract any sense of feeling, personality, or individuality from the face you’re looking at. Can you? 

I cannot. The face seems designed for emptiness. Empty gaze and tight lips. Bald headed, and skin which certainly seems ghostly white, at least when seen through certain slats of glass.

Which is an important modifier, because we have to be aware that when we’re looking at this person, we aren’t actually looking at them. Instead, we’re seeing them through the reconfiguring effect of the glass panel which we’re looking through. Point of fact, there is no single underlying “person” underneath the glass. There are instead a great many different facets of that person, each distorted slightly by color, by the angle of the glass, by the way we’re looking at it. No two are the same. And it can be argued that no two people looking at the same face through the same glass at the same moment will even find themselves seeing the same thing. Glass Jail forces us to take stock of a changeling, albeit a changeling made so by external forces. What this lack of ingrained identity asks of us is to recognize how much of an identity we ourselves are foisting onto this face (or any face) whenever we look at them. When you see this form, is it masculine or feminine? Is it melancholy, mysterious, or mesmerized? Is it empty-eyed or starry-eyed? The angles, the shapes, the colors, the textures, all subconsciously lead us to declarations about this wholly deindividualized face.

I’m reminded of an old psychological study wherein participants were shown a slideshow of alternating photos. One would be a photo of something innocuous: a hamburger, a happy child, a rainstorm. Those photos would alternate with one of a man’s face. Participants would then be asked in each instance to decide what the man in the photo was feeling. After the hamburger, they said the man felt hungry. After the child, happy. And the rainstorm, sad of course. But the kicker was that the photo of the man was the same photo each time. Participants were placing their own primed emotions onto the individual’s face, showcasing and demonstrating a tendency to imbue emotions into things which were otherwise without them. 

So it is both highly interesting and highly creative that Torres, in a piece that could have so easily been an exploration of texture and color and movement, chose to add this underlying element of a blank canvas, more or less, one that exposes how we naturally and capriciously impress emotional value onto certain objects, based only on the environment around them. Does the face, seen through green glass, seem more serene than when its brows and black eyes are seen through red? The latter looks downright demonic, in fact.

The truth, then, that this piece confronts, questions, and confirms is that nothing is anything specifically —how classically Buddhist. At least in this case, the central thing is no more than a collection of impressions made by others, and based on external, environmental factors. In the case of Glass Jail, they’re quite pretty factors indeed, pleasant in their rotations and awesome in their realistically-rendered slices and jags. A beautiful casing for an entirely empty, entirely unanswerable, philosophical notion made human. Actually can we be sure that’s a human at all? Wouldn’t that be merely impressing an opinion upon it?

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