February 20, 2011

The Double Take

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Eric Ross Bernstein’s compelling exhibition, “The Double Take,” straddles art and architecture and arrests the casual visitor to Hartell Gallery in Sibley Hall. It is a most aptly named exhibit, for onlookers (including myself) continually stop to examine Bernstein’s work from multiple angles. Although he did not fabricate the original images of Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam and The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Bernstein adds a third dimension to these 2D masterpieces, and his work demands a second look.Upon entering the gallery, one finds a piece called “612 toilet paper tubes/The Creation of Adam.” From up close, haphazardly placed toilet paper tubes protrude from the wall in a seemingly pointless fashion. Some toilet paper tubes extend three to four inches from the wall, while others extended mere millimeters. I understood that the toilet paper tubes varied in length, but I did not know why. From up close, this piece left me utterly bewildered, so I drifted away from the toilet paper tubes and gazed at the other pieces of art. It wasn’t until I glanced back at the cardboard tubes from across the room that I experienced my first double take. From far away, the tubes transform into two intricate hands. Adam’s limp hand dangles on the left side of the wall while God’s outstretched index finger reaches from the right, a detailed duplicate of the hands in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, which is painted across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Many of the other pieces around the room elicit double takes as well. A pegboard, filled with holes and lacking aesthetic significance, hangs from another wall. But from across the room, the pegboard transforms into a portrait of Brad Pitt, equipped with chiseled cheeks and messy hair. It is amazing that Bernstein was able to create such an accurate and detailed replication of the photograph using just pegboard and some power tools. The meticulous nature of the work seems overwhelming, but Bernstein reveled in the opportunity to consider ideas  restrained for a long time by the rigorous schedule of an architect.“I honestly loved every minute of the production process,” said Bernstein. “Drilling 2,000 holes in the course of two days is surprisingly therapeutic, but maybe that’s just me.”  After a year in the making, Bernstein felt “relief to see everything in one space and to hear the feedback of students and professors.”Bernstein’s topographical sculpture of Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci has generated plenty of positive feedback. Bernstein crafted a three dimensional topography of Mona Lisa’s face, in which the depth in Bernstein’s topographical rendition reflects the shadows on her face and the contrast between her light skin and dark hair. What looks like a model of a canyon at first glance becomes one of western civilization’s most recognized faces upon further examination. While the piece resembles Mona Lisa from an aerial perspective, it looks like a normal landscape when viewed from the side. A drawing of this side view hangs on the wall just behind the 3-D model, appearing as though Bernstein hiked down into a canyon and sketched the view looking up. According to Bernstein, this view “adds a new level of both literal and abstract depth to the work … observers need some way of placing themselves within the generated landscapes in order to physically experience the iconic paintings in unexpected ways.” Some of the other famous images that he brings to life include The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and Girl with a Pearl Earring. In a sense, it seems as though the 3-D images alongside each famous work downplay their importance. This may have been Bernstein’s intention, and he reemphasizes the point in a series of four self-portraits, taken from the four compass directions. The portraits all display the same placid, sleepy expression, but when interpreted as 3-D topographic landscapes, look nothing like each other. The differences in light distort the similarity of each work and yield totally different results. This exercise proves that a portrait is just an image. When we consider the depth of Mona Lisa, or Eric Bernstein for that matter, we find ourselves surrounded by steep cliffs, with any pattern of light cast upon the earth’s surface. The concept behind Bernstein’s artwork stems from questions that he has long pondered as an architect, and only recently had the opportunity to express. A lot of the architectural thought process occurs in the second dimension, before entering the third. Bernstein’s exhibit questions whether leaving the second dimension and entering the third involves a change in perception.  “We design­­ 3-D things through 2-D work, and I find it really interesting that we design something 3-D without taking into account that third dimension from the beginning.” Bernstein’s exhibit succeeds in bridging theoretical problems with accessible yet provocative images. The passerby looks at his toilet paper rolls from up close and sees nothing. Retreating a few steps, they suddenly see Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Both experiecnes incite the viewer to ponder the difference between their own vision of a 3-D space and the architect’s initial 2-D renderings.

Original Author: Joey Anderson