‘Art isn’t just about what’s on the wall or the floor - it’s about your experience of it," says Katrina Brown, curator of the eye of the beholder, an exhibition that opens today at Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA). "What we wanted to do in this show was to encourage people to consider the process of looking as an exciting, active process, rather than as a passive, receptive one."
The eye of the beholder brings together work by five artists who make a living out of doing just that. Polly Apfelbaum (USA), Attila Csrg (Hungary), Rivane Neuenschwander (Brazil), Yoshihiro Suda (Japan) and Vibeke Tandberg (Norway) are all renowned for producing art that questions how we interpret what we see.
"The most straightforward piece is a sequence of photographs by Vibeke Tandberg," says Brown. "They look very much like a straight selection of photos on first encounter, but when you start to explore them and really look at them you can see they’ve been manipulated. I think that’s true of all the pieces in this exhibition."
Like Tandberg’s photographs, Yoshihiro Suda’s sculptures rely on the deceptiveness of first appearances for much of their impact. The Japanese artist carves delicate flowers out of wood and then paints them so realistically it is almost impossible to distinguish them from the real thing.
For the first time in DCA’s history, the building’s main gallery will be divided into five separate spaces for the purposes of this exhibition - one for each of the featured artists. This arrangement means that Suda’s sole exhibit - a white lily entitled One Hundred Encounters - will occupy a 5x8 metre exhibition space all by itself. Isn’t there a danger that people will walk into this area and fail to notice it altogether? "That’s what his work plays on," counters Brown. "You go into a space and you have to look for this thing and when you find it it’s incredibly rewarding."
Attila Csrg and Polly Apfelbaum will also be exhibiting works designed to trick the eye. Of the five featured artists, Csrg is perhaps the most scientific. His exhibit, Spherical Vortex, is typical of the low-tech optical illusions which are his speciality - the piece consists of a light that orbits a central point at such high speed that, to the human eye, it appears to create a sphere. Similarly, Polly Apfelbaum’s floor installations, which are made up of hundreds of vividly dyed velvet strips, seem to "come alive" even though they only really exist in two dimensions.
Rivane Neuenschwander approaches the "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" idea from a slightly different angle from her four contemporaries. Her DCA exhibit - the Super 8 film, Inventory of Small Deaths (Blow), which she made in collaboration with her husband Cao Guimaraes - is an attempt to inject beauty into that most normal of activities - breathing - by visualising the progress of an expelled breath in the form of a bubble as it floats across a dream-like landscape.
the eye of the beholder, Dundee Contemporary Arts, today until 7 April, 01382-909900.