We only see what our eyes allow us to see. This portion of reality is what we sometimes call “universal truth”: the sky is blue, cats meow, and roses have a particular smell. Humankind is only able to see a section of the light spectrum and register only certain types of sound waves; our perception is very limited and still we rely on this so called “reality” or “truth”. Cathy Cunningham-Little’s work analyzes perception thoroughly. After Cathy’s father lost his vision due to a genetic disorder in 1994, the artist began to explore his hallucinations from his visual memory in her work. Later on, Cathy herself started having problems with her eyesight as well, which ended up furthering the artist’s interest with light and perception.
Cathy Cunningham has been an expert glass maker for several years. The experienced recipient of several glass education scholarships, has been using glass, light, and reflective materials in her art since early on her career. Cunningham’s earlier work used neon frequently and had a more literary and representative approach to the concept of perception. Even though light and form have always been present, her work continues to reinvent itself over the years. Light slowly became more and more primary in her work culminating in 2011, when she created the series “Breathing Light”. This series was exhibited at Blue Star and it consisted of several light boxes depicting abstracted visions experienced by the artist after she begun developing sight problems. The technically demanding light boxes were displayed on the dark, while benches were made available for the viewers to experience the light in the darkness.
Last year, Cunningham-Little was awarded Artpace’s travel grant to go visit the Museum of Light in Unna, Germany. The Centre for International Light Art was founded in 2001 and it concentrates on one of the most advanced forms of contemporary art: light installations. The Centre features works by twelve of the world’s most renowned light artists who have created their own permanent installations for that space: Mario Merz, Joseph Kosuth, James Turrell, Mischa Kuball, Rebecca Horn, Christina Kubisch, Johannes Dinnebier, Keith Sonnier, Jan van Munster, François Morellet, Christian Boltanski and Olafur Eliasson. This educational experience and research journey directed the artist into her newest form of exploration.
In “Chewing the End Tail of Reflection”, Cathy Cunningham-Little achieves a higher level of conceptual and physical experimentation. Using pieces of clear plate glass and thin film depositions of metal mounted strategically on the white wall, a colored reflection is created; a colorful image that “does not exists” suddenly appears in the eyes of the viewer thanks to light. The powerful white light mounted on the ceiling illuminates the five or six pieces of clear glass that produce each beautiful composition to transmit one of three different colors: magenta, green, and blue. The white light and clear glass result in a colorful depiction caused by the film on the glass transmitting one color and reflecting its complimentary on the opposite side. The three crystal-like colorful shapes reflected on the wall seem very simplistic; however, “Chewing the End Tail of Reflection” was carefully planned by the artist, who manipulated the reflections, angles, and craftsmanship until achieving the desired final form.
Cunningham-Little added a sound element to this series. Moving more towards the concept of perception rather than just light, Cathy, with the help of Media Artist Justin Boyd, created a melody out of a stainless steel recording wire from the late 40s with Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem in it. Boyd aided Cunningham to take a snippet of the soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, and base, to create a new composition showing the layers and components of the piece.
Shifting to a more minimalist approach in which a hand-made object is not crucial anymore, Cunningham’s work now allows light and sound to create the art object by a conscious manipulation of the physical material (glass or wire) into an experience or “reality” that is only there because we can perceive it. As commonly happening in Perceptual Art, in Cunningham’s work the viewer becomes an instrument in the making of the art by becoming a sensory device crucial to the existence of the piece. This exploration on perception and art questions the universality of “truth”; suggesting the possibility that a viewer’s perception might differ from another viewer when looking at the same piece of art.
Cathy Cunningham-Little’s exhibition will be on display at Sala Diaz until June 10. For more information please contact them at 210.852.4492