The edge of perception is an intriguing catalyst for Spencer Finch’s latest exhibition at Lisson Gallery, ‘The Opposite of Blindness’. Watercolours, pastel drawings, mosaics and a light installation coax out various perspectives whereby Finch pushes the viewer to challenge the limits of perceived vision and experience.
In his ‘Fog’ series, made for especially for this exhibition, Finch traces, in pencil and pastel, the creeping fog as it smothers Lake Wononscopomac in Connecticut, USA. The icy grey of the images bleed away nearly all significant geographical reference points leaving a soft, solemn monochromatic blur. This forces the viewer to imagine what exists beyond the dense layering of fog and at the same time, also denies the viewer that certain knowledge. In doing so, a sense of time, solitude and unknowingness is awoken. Like the fog, it creeps over the viewer in search for what lies beyond.
The feeling of unknowingness is further broached by the title of Finch’s series ‘Wandering Lost Upon the Mountains of our Choice’, taken from poet W.H. Auden, which Finch uses as a metaphor for the state of exile of our modern condition. In ‘Clouds (Gasherbrum IV, 1984)’ (1998), the final image of the series, tiles of seemingly abstract composition in blues, greys and whites are in fact representations of mountaintops. They come from photographs taken during mountain climbing disasters. Its seemingly monochrome aesthetic echoes the blindness faced during a whiteout. The same sense of time, solitude and unknowingness is resurrected but this time the solemnness is replaced by suffocation. Undercoats of blues and greys spark electrically in the viewer’s peripheral vision as they scan the coarse and uneven surfaces of the mosaics.
Finch has not limited his research to only human perception. ‘Meadow #2’ (2016), a large pastel drawing of seemingly playful smudges of vibrant colour is the result of following a bee in his garden and mapping its movements with GPS. He photographed each flower the bee landed, matching the colours with pastel. The end result is a rather romantic notion of vision the bee’s lifetime of falling in and out of love with the colours of the flowers that attract it. In turn this gives the work an urgency that is not at first seen, while simultaneously triggering the viewer’s senses, particularly their sense of taste and smell – so much so that the smudges of colour almost appear to be emitting different scents.
It is in ‘Mars Light Piece’ (2016), however, that the viewer’s presence and very being is so powerfully commanded. The large scale light installation consists of a fan of multi-coloured strip lights stretching high up the wall of a large exhibition space where it stands alone. Finch has taken light recordings from the Pathfinder unmanned mission to Mars and recreated the exact colour tone of a sunrise on Mars, allowing the viewer to step into the space and experience its pinkish-brown glow. It is, then, most intriguing to see how a machine emitting light can evoke such a potentially profound response when seen. As Finch states, this is a ‘light that no one has seen’. The fan of strip lights mimics a crude rendition of a sun in its most basic and recognisable manner, echoing the child-like astonishment and wonder experienced upon stepping into the room. In the seductive, otherworldly haze, the exhibition reaches its pinnacle – Finch has indeed made the viewer experience the opposite of blindness.