Critics’ Picks

Miljohn Ruperto and Aimee de Jongh, Mineral Monster 01-08, 2014, animation, dimensions variable.

Los Angeles

Miljohn Ruperto

18th Street Arts Center
1639 18th Street
July 15–October 4

Over several weeks, artist Miljohn Ruperto worked with animator Aimée de Jongh and neuroscientist Rajan Bhattacharyya to turn one long wall in the darkened gallery into a digitized mineral room—eight weird specimens have been rendered as if floating inside small caves in a row of monitors. One striking example resembles a human heart, bulging with red and blue in writhing, severed tubes. Another suggests a peyote button; another, a jellyfish—all beam the aura of mysterious deep-earth organs. Each stone has been sketched, colorized, and animated into two jittering, faux-3-D frames. The animations twitch and glow. Between the hand-inked lines and LCDs, there is as much dissonance as magic. Ruperto has previously used a similar process in collaboration with photographer Ulrik Heltoft to “resurrect” the alien plants illuminating a fifteenth-century manuscript. Yet here with such wild subjects presumably extant and available, the translation from the radiant rocks of Ruperto’s source material to flat, hairy cartoons seems underwhelming, and almost alchemically obscure.

The exhibition’s title echoes the philosopher Georges Canguilhem, who writes that, in nature, “there are no mineral monsters.” In other words, taxonomy (like aesthetics) is a human invention. In generating his fantastic geological outliers, however, Ruperto routes his work around hard science entirely—testing not for chemistry but for “feelings” of revulsion or attraction. And while if pressed, a specialist might unpack the specific processes behind these curiosities, Ruperto and company strip away all paratext, all index, and all qualification, offering only hovering images. This show presents the end of a line of pure attraction linking spelunker to artist to animator to viewer. Thus utilized, Ruperto's samples disrupt the procedures of their discipline—suggesting, simply, that aesthetics transcends the training that would rationalize one classification over another—until the rock hound who tags these rocks as freaks might as well be an artist.