Artist Jessica Adams: Considering light … and substantial transparency

February (2014)

Victoria Crain

Brooklyn artist Jessica Adams calls her show at Rutland’s Alley Gallery “A piece of string or a sunset, each acts.” So, right away, I was perplexed … not sure what I was looking at. The quote comes from historic artist John Cage’s 1950 “Lecture on Nothing.” So what?

So, this. I’ll write you a story about what I understand, from Adams’ understanding of Cage’s idea: the idea that overlooked moments and gestures carry equal weight to more pronounced events: the idea that people would be dazzled by the mundane, if only they paid attention.

There are four rooms in the Alley Gallery, and each room presents a different aspect of Adams’ thought. Her exhibition includes two-dimensional collages, sculptural assemblages, video and installation, “each of which reacts to the next piece … to explore variations on the theme of perceptual possibility,” she writes.

I confess I didn’t notice the connections, one piece to the next; but after thinking about the exhibit enough to write this piece, I noticed a theme. That’s the story I’m going to tell.

The theme I perceive is the power of light and its connection with the human eye. If this sounds dense, that is because words are not as good as pictures to demonstrate the idea. Looking at Adams’ art is to experience visual phenomena that are often ignored: light playing on a wall, the motion of reflection and breeze, the obstruction of light by opaque objects.

Jessica Adams: “Mapping the Light: July to November

Let’s look at these images to find some understanding of the idea. When you enter the Alley Gallery, “IMG_3367, 2017” is before you. This piece is an example of light penetrating a transparent piece of Plexiglas with some Mylar lines and causing magnificent geometry on the walls, every bit of it transparent. If Adams were to move one light a bit or slant the Plexiglas at a new angle, different geometry would appear on the wall. The Plexiglas is transparent, the light shines through it, and Adams makes ephemeral imagery on an everyday wall. As Cage said, we should pay attention.

The exhibit includes many such compositions made of Plexiglas, Mylar, light and shadow: transparent material, penetrated by light, projecting a depth of overlapping images that are substantial enough to perceive, yet intangible.

In a small back room, Adams presents a video projection called “Mapping the Light.” In this piece, you can see sunlight slanting through windows, and her interpretation of it with slanting parallelograms. She is showing the progression of light through that transparent window between the months of July and November 2017. With this piece, Adams reveals her interest in the everyday miracles we experience because we have eyes. Simple and perfect — yet easily unnoticed in a busy life. And like the Plexiglas pieces, she projects a map of the sun’s light as it moves on a little wall on a turning earth. It’s an idea about noticing the light and trying to make something new of it.

Courtesy Alley Gallery

A third example of the toughness of light is Adams’ video projection called “Light Seeking,” in which she bends window light by letting it land on crumpled reflective Mylar and sending its moving ghost onto the wall. The Mylar, which is opaque and shiny, transforms the light into sweeping, twisting strings of light and shadow: strings that flash and turn on themselves, that fold and extend. What fascinates me about this video is that the window light located these stringy things to reflect. It’s interesting because Mylar is flat and reflective — not stringy.

No doubt physics can explain this weird phenomenon, but I don’t want the explanation. I want to see the magic that Adams detected one day, and recorded. The video begins with a simple transparent curtain and window blind, and turns into explosions of lightworks!

So, back to my substantial transparency theory. What I see in this exhibit is that Adams has transformed light, which is visually transparent (don’t talk to me about physics), into a tool to create geometry, to dazzle us by wiggling, twisting, bending and slamming an image of light’s substance onto a wall. She uses light’s power like a wand, and gives us some daily magic.

I wonder if I got it right. Take a look, pay attention, and let me know.

The Alley Gallery

The Alley Gallery presents “A piece of string or a sunset,” a solo exhibit by Brooklyn artist Jessica Adams, through March 3, in the Center Street Alley, Rutland. Hours are: Noon to 5 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.