Cataracts engages its viewer in a contemplation of vision before they even enter the gallery. A cataract, of course, is a medical condition where light is clouded and blocked from the eyes. It is also another term for a waterfall, or other rushing downpour of water, and it is from this sense that the ocular condition gets its name. The announcement image for Cataracts is a section of a piece called Wall Eyed, featuring two plastic panels leaning on a narrow shelf. Each is cut with a neat, round hole through which two industrial lights can be seen. To be “walleyed” is to demonstrate an asymmetry of vision, with one eye directed outward from the object of focus. Thus the artist and gallery already point the viewer toward a tension between what can and can’t be seen, and what the eyes are and are not capable of focusing on. In fourteen sculptural pieces, one video projection, and wall paintings that serve to frame parts of the installation, Smith creates a number of situations both of obfuscated or frustrated vision, and “walleyed” vision, where the artist directs your eyes away toward something else.
One of the clearest moments of this is in the final gallery, where a table construction titled Dusk to Dawn that was used by Smith in an endurance performance is displayed alongside a video loop of that performance. Running lengthwise along the top, sides and bottom of the table is a narrow ladder that Smith perched on and climbed the distance of once per hour from dawn until dusk in a performance at the Hamiltonian Gallery in May. In between each lap he would take notes recording his experiences of the previous climb. Commenting on the writing, Smith told us that he found looking at it later that the content was, “unrelated to the actual experience of climbing, though it did provide a gap between the physically intense experience of climbing and the more psychologically taxing effect of waiting for the next climb.” Similarly in the gallery, shuttling your eyes back and forth between Smith’s POV footage, and the presence of the actual table provide only partial, tracelike impressions of the event.
The central space of the exhibition features a sparse installation of discrete sculptural objects. Here, vision is often directed associatively: rocks, molds, vitrines, images of a beach and a horizon line, and a series of round and irregular apertures, are indirectly repeated between objects. In the installation, Smith highlights a tendency in his practice that he articulates as, “promot[ing] an awareness of witnessing the sculpture as being equal to or more important than the forms witnessed.” Successfully in this regard, while the rocks, beaches and other images and materials do obviously have a specific source in the real world, Smith’s use of them ends up feeling universal, and therefore secondary to the overall experience of walking through Cataracts. In an ultimate act of benign misdirection, Smith’s repetitions and juxtapositions eventually point you back to your own act of sight and participation in the installation.
Thank you to Gallery Four and to Joshua Wade Smith for their time in answering our questions about the show.
Gallery Four is located at 405 West Franklin, on the fourth floor of the H&H building. It is open Saturdays from noon to five.