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Ocean Tears

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted:  November 16, 2020

Artist Description: Drowning in you. Born from FELIX's Surrealist portraiture dataset.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

A bifurcated face that only seems less human the longer you look at. Initial impressions that break down into their structural elements after further examination. So which is correct: our initial impressions, or the truth of the composition that emerges only after analysis? Karan4d uses a stunning array of various self-trained AIs to probe this question again and again, though here in Ocean Tears, it’s one of Karan4d’s stalwart AI’s, named FELIX, that does the asking. I’ve written at length about Karan’s work, and especially about how the sheer number of various AIs he utilizes make it increasingly difficult to form a comprehensive picture of his sensibility. His style seems, especially at first glance, to be all over the place. But the exploration detailed above is a constant factor in so many of Karan’s works. Especially because, if we look through his oeuvre, it becomes clear that he’s more than capable of creating artworks which don’t straddle the line between recognizability and abstraction. When he wants to, he creates works that are color studies, geometric analyses, and landscapes with hardly a hint of the kind of internal surrealism that characterizes Ocean Tears. It’s all intentional. Karan4d lays out the various aspects of this piece to reward and confound anyone who would dare analyze it. Karan wants us to not just doubt our own eyes, but question our entire method of processing the world. For what is the world around us but a sequence of unrelated objects and energies that we personally order together into a sensible whole? Ocean Tears is a grand and cunning microcosm for our own ability to understand.

The relatively bare piece takes place in what seems a gritty and grim kind of prison. Look at the background, at the implied grime of its greenish-yellow walls, and tell me you don’t think of dinginess and squalor. Sporadic dots and scratches of color give me the impression of peeling wallpaper, or of film burning, both things implying decay. The central subject itself too seems in a state of decay, or at least in a state of change, though I suppose decay is itself just a specific subcategory of change. Though, I ask, what’s changing into what? Is the right side of the central figure’s head, the human part, the part possessed of tan skin and sporadic locks of hair, of a pair of wispy pink lips and a neutron star of an eyeball, turning into the jagged ocean waves on the left side? Or are those ocean waves, blue and white and churning, looking more like waves in color than in composition —and in composition appearing almost like glass or lattice-work, displaying a sensibility of Karan’s drawn from gothic horror, one which often has him exploring the elements of castles, like stone and stained-glass— being forced into certain forms so that they can build themselves into the other half of the person’s face? These two halves of the face are almost perfectly bifurcated from each other, a crude diagonal drawn where the ocean meets the skin. 

Of course, neither thing holds up to those initial impressions when we get to looking at them closely. The human face is wonky and highly-distorted. Look no further than the feathery, ethereal lips, or the great oval crag wherein lies the eyeball if you want proof. The AI element of the piece’s composition is left on full display, as the items within the person’s face, while bearing structural resemblance to the facial features they seem to be, are incongruent to them in actual composition. Ditto the waves, which seem almost solid, like someone has carefully chiseled ice into line-dominant and delicate shapes. If we look closely, the whitecaps of the waves swivel and fractal apart almost like lace doilies, an incredible textual comparison between the awesome power of the ocean and the most fragile of fabrics. Meanwhile, the edges of the face, and the suggestion of a neck which descends downward from it, seem to be fading away, almost transparent where the skin touches the background.

Isn’t that a wonderful encapsulation of the piece itself? Elements of the composition that we intrinsically understand as being present are literally in the process of dissolving before our very eyes, but our brain requires time with the piece to understand that. The process of change is everywhere in Ocean Tears, in both the actual text and in the subtext too, as I mentioned in the first paragraph. What we get from this is a sense of movement, though it’s a movement that happens just off the frame. Ocean Tears seems like a snapshot in time, before and after which one thing is changing into another. The direction from one into another doesn’t matter, it’s the multilayered impression of metamorphosis that is so attractive. 

Karan4d has created two pieces in a way, and has stitched them together so that neither is dominant, forcing us to decide for ourselves: Which is more real? Which is dominant? Which way is the piece evolving? From ocean to face? From face to ocean? From recognizability to abstraction, or vice versa? Is it moving towards our understanding or away from it? And then we look up, out a window or in a mirror, and we ask ourselves the same questions…of us, and of everything around us. 


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