@VOLTA ’13: Sebastian Mejia Playing with Perception
From within a plain framed canvas sticks a nail, and atop it stands a matching silver bug, holding some kind of weight across its shoulders. Existing somewhere between reality and a Pixar movie, the little silver fellow is given character, a purpose, and the ability to walk on two legs. The nail he balances upon isn’t in the center of the canvas either, it’s just off to the side, and the little bug walks towards the wide ocean of white as if he were unaware of the inability to travel through physical matter.
But that doesn’t matter anyways, because in this artwork he’s frozen in time, and as if there were three different suns, three of his shadows stretch out from where the nail meets the canvas – two drawn on with pencil and a third that is an actual shadow, created by the lights above booth 2.11 at VOLTA NY.
A work by Colombian artist Sebastian Mejia, the strong little bug was echoed throughout the artist’s booth at the fair, sometimes framed on portable canvas like this one and other times just nailed right into the wall with shadows drawn temporarily. And even though the bug would have squashed if it were alive and real, the image of something so inconsequential trying so hard at something was adorable and disheartening at the same time, since the task seems so menial and even if the bug did succeed at whatever it was he was working towards, no one would care regardless.
But it’s probably not so much about what he’s trying to do, but about how we perceive what he’s trying to do. He’s immortalized by two carefully drawn shadows, meaning that there are at least four different representations of him in one place – a factor multiplied every time someone takes a photo. He’s strong the way we imagine hardworking insects to be, but he’s silver, and a shinier silver than the nail he balances upon and the q-tip shaped weight he carries across his shoulders. He’s smaller than the disposable pieces of cotton we use to clean our ears, but he’ll survive much longer and be remembered for much more.
It’s hard to fully appreciate this one in two-dimensions, although it is very much a two-dimensional work. Works of art framed in shiny gold appear to stretch back into the distance, but everything is actually made of something shiny and plastic, even the fading black shadows scrawled beneath each work. The trains within the paintings that look farthest away are just as close to you as anything else, they’re just smaller.
Shadowed wall drawings come from a cracked pedestal on which an ancient statue should stand – the floor and walls both filled in with gray to become the silhouettes of something nonexistent but expected. Sebastian’s whole booth, titled “Sombras Nada Mas” or “Shades Nothing More,” created a game between your brain and your eyes, as each piece forced a recognition of what was represented and what was really there.
Sebastian Mejia was represented at VOLTA by balzerARTprojects in Basel, Switzerland. According to his artist statement at the fair, his work “focuses upon the dissemination of visual information in different cultures.” He uses his work to examine the differences in symbolism between European and Latin American cultures, but all with a heavy-handed sense of comic relief to lighten the mood.
“Mejia’s work is an epistemological enquiry into the nature of knowledge, how it is acquired, presented, and how it can be retained, communicated, and implemented… Based on the ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ Mejia argues that language is a mere shadow of reality. Translated into the ‘visual,’ shadows of objects cannot represent reality of forms – truth must be experienced rather than told as language fails to convey belief. As ephemeral as his work seems at first sight, they are also about monumental historical and intellectual concepts, such as cultural interactivity, lightness, and adaptation.”
For more of Sebastian’s work, see his website – on the homepage there’s a pretty interesting video of the artist reading a book about Vasari in a library.