Critics’ Picks

Mike Bray, Day for Night, 2016, light stands, wood, steel, aluminum, 78 x 96 x 78".

Portland

Mike Bray

Fourteen30 Contemporary
1501 SW Market Street
January 15–March 5

For his exhibition “Light Grammar/Grammar Light,” the Eugene-based artist Mike Bray pushes the generally out-of-frame mechanisms of image production into the spotlight, recasting camera optics, scrims, and cutter flags as sculptural materials and formal touchstones, rather than tools. Yet these functional objects aren’t used in the service of puncturing film and photography’s capacities for artifice. Instead, Bray’s sleek and minimal works produce mesmerizing illusions of their own.

The video Angles of Refraction (all works 2016) is based on an Eadweard Muybridge motion study in which a pair of hands alternate gripping a baseball. In Bray’s take, the ball is replaced by a sculptural replica of a pentaprism—a five-sided prism that directs the light path in a camera’s viewfinder. As hands enter the frame and slowly twist the object to reveal all sides, it glitters like a jewel in a depthless black expanse, bringing to mind both a magician’s sleight of hand and a product close-up on TV shopping channels. But our ability to see the object is continually thwarted, since it absorbs and reflects the hands’ skin tone, hot whites lights, and the studio’s rafters overhead.

In Day for Night, Bray arranges a quartet of light stands in a tight cluster, so that three circular mesh scrims and two partial ones collide, conjuring phases of the moon. Instead of filtering projected light, the shapes become subjects themselves. This plain display of equipment produces another unexpected effect: When a viewer circles the sculpture, the scrims overlap to create restlessly flexing moiré patterns. It suggests these functional devices aren’t merely illusory images but contain some magic themselves.