Critics’ Picks

Jeffrey Stuker, Fulgora laternaria, 2012-15, uncompressed animation, color, sound, nine minutes, twenty-nine seconds.

Los Angeles

Jeffrey Stuker

Full Haus
2042 Griffith Park Blvd
April 19–June 27

Jeffrey Stuker’s new video, Fulgora Laternaria, 2012-2015, unfolds over nine minutes in punishing detail. The camera swoops and bobs around a winged Amazonian insect resting on a marble slab while an Attenborough-like narrator fires verbal salvos at the inert creature. This is not just any insect: Fulgora laternaria is famous for mimicry without any apparent goal or source. It can resemble both a juvenile alligator or a peanut—and scientists find that neither ruse saves it from being eaten by predators.

The slabbed insect appears dead, but as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that this particular specimen never lived: It is a painstakingly accurate drawing made in a computer. Stuker goes so far as to model a specific lens with which to “film” the “insect.” The obvious target here is photography—in the “What happens to it after computers?” vein of inquiry. Even the title of the exhibition, “This Lantern Lacks a Candle,” returns us to that primal scene of projected photographs, magic lanterns and the kinescope. This insect is the most semiotically overdetermined being ever—the sheer inexplicability of its camouflage seems to undo a rationalist view of evolution, in a way that enchanted the Surrealists, Lacan, and a swath of others. Now that anything can be “photographed,” even if it has never existed, this fantastic insect, whose evolution produced a strategy without a goal, stands as an icon for an age of images without referents.