Seattle

Ann Lislegaard

Henry Art Gallery

Science fiction as a literary and filmic genre is distinguished in large part by its exponents’ appetite for extreme conjecture, and by the need for writers and directors working in this domain to elaborate those conjectures into fantastical worlds that answer not to natural law or existent social structures, but to decrees set forth and imposed by the creator. In this sense, science fiction also supports a model of overstated authorship that presumes facets of a narrative cannot be borrowed from the observed world, but must instead emanate from the author’s mind.

Though each of the works in Ann Lislegaard’s exhibition “2062” originates in a particular work of science fiction, this does not mean that she is out to channel the individual visions of the authors: the creative delirium of J. G. Ballard, say, or the epic sweep of Samuel R. Delany and Ursula K. Le Guin (to refer to the artist’s three primary references here); quite the contrary, in fact. More an analytical tool than platform for rehashing authorial megalomania, science fiction provides Lislegaard with the language and license she needs to marry the frequently disparate concerns of modernism, Surrealism, and Conceptualism.

A case in point is the artist’s two-channel digital animation declaratively titled Crystal World (After JG Ballard), 2006, the clinical tenor of which could hardly be described as Ballardian. Prominent in this work is a domestic structure in a dense woodland setting. Rendered using 3-D modeling software, the house’s design is based on icons of Brazilian modernism: Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidrio (House of Glass, 1957–68) and two of her designs for chairs, as well as the 1957 Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo (Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion) by Oscar Niemeyer. Lislegaard’s polished animation tours the house as its clean contours dissolve organically into a field of abstract refractions. Such transformation roughly echoes Ballard’s novel, whose narrative describes a West African jungle’s metamorphosis into a crystalline labyrinth. But while Ballard’s surrealist dystopia offers an account of the natural world consumed by an unexplained event, Lislegaard’s video eschews narrative, and seems, rather, to illustrate artistic conceptualization in reverse: The jagged forms that emerge as the house melts away evoke architectural concept drawings. As a result, the video reads as if a process of entropy has been set in motion that returns all actualized forms to the nascent state of idea. Here, Robert Smithson, the modernist antagonist, is far more important than the lurking, maniacal specter of Ballard.

Yet Lislegaard’s blend of incommensurate visual morphologies—from Surrealism to Op art—is effective only insofar as the vantage point she provides is a forceful one, that it lays the foundation for a convincing spectatorial experience. Science fiction constructs intricate fictive ecologies in the minds of its audiences through relentless imaginative hyperbole, which in turn supplies the basis for belief. Lislegaard, however, exerts control simply by directing very strictly the way her digital environments are consumed; whether those worlds are believable or even intelligible is not at issue. The result is a nuanced examination of the degree to which three-dimensional imaging technologies can offer a sentient being a plausible simulation of embodied experience. In Bellona (After Samuel R. Delany), 2005, as in Crystal World, we glide silently, unobstructed through an architectural space, our progress imperceptibly coerced and unnaturally smooth. The only view available is oblique, and each successive pan gives no clearer indication of the structure as a whole, a perspective which induces the sensation of claustrophobia and emphasizes our complete lack of agency. Left Hand of Darkness (After Ursula K. Le Guin), 2008, features speakers producing a constant wall of static placed strategically throughout the exhibition space, underscoring the multi- sensory foundation of real spatial perception; while the artist’s decision to project both Bellona and Crystal World on expansive screens that lean heavily on the gallery walls further emphasizes visual perception’s haptic dimension, a nuance lacking in the slick animation itself. By staging her digital renderings using sound elements and a forthrightly sculptural vocabulary, Lislegaard plays the richness of full, sensory awareness against the relative vacuity of simulation to great, disarming effect.

Christopher Bedford