Tessa Maria Guazon
In what could yet be his grandest foray into the image, Mark Justiniani conjures a universe of flatness and depth, curious constellations of space and time, enfolded into each other like a swarm of galaxies, strongly felt because of engulfing proximity. These chimeric capsules are attempts to understand time’s deep structure, our singular experience of space, and how impossible it is for one to be understood without the other. They attest to the efficacy of the image in defining contemporary existence, the deployment of its powers as a sign that has become ultimately more potent than the object’s representational lure.
Mark Justiniani’s past exhibitions Phantom Limb, Mimefield, and Orbit were ventures along this vein. The artist mobilizes scale in Recurrence, shifting from the minute to the immersive through elaborate visual tableaux meant to facilitate our encounters of fracture, largely through visual fragments. He set up scenes wherein the illusion of multiples is achieved through a skillful play on cavernous depth and shallow surface. In this series of works, he examines with genuine interest visuality, the manner one conjures existence, and how best one’s ruminations on matter and reality are played out through creative dispensation.
Parallel fall: “…every now and then, we skirted a universe (or else a universe skirted us), but it wasn’t clear whether these were a number of universes scattered through space or whether it was always the same universe we kept passing, revolving in a mysterious trajectory, or whether there was no universe at all and what we thought we saw was a mirage of a universe which perhaps had once existed and whose image continued to rebound from the walls of space like the rebounding of an echo” (Calvino, 118)
The major piece for this suite is a slice of sea, depths fragmented in shards of light and cloaked by sound. The prow of a boat perpetually slices through water as suggested by whirring rhythm and shroud of atmospheric light, an ethereal blue aiding the illusion of movement. We intuit a passage, indeed makes for the boat’s progress across seas. And yet the latter does not exactly happen because nothing moves here. Neither forwards nor backwards, everything is stationary for the shroud of light and the tonality of sound, yet the flicker of the eye renders the scene motion through infinite repetition.
The works are simultaneously installation and environment, the artist leading the viewer to the notion that her presence makes the work as much as its artistry and vision. Justiniani admits to a deep interest in perception and the creation of realities, his queries lace the very act of making art itself. He asks of the nature of nothingness, or better put, the form of matter itself. The ‘karaoka’, meticulously reconstructed through studies for the works is ultimately broken down to barest parts, as if to suggest a remnant, a fragment of the past. This ultimately brings us to an interesting idea that Jameson raises: the eventuality of eternity ‘cloaking the temporal present’ arising whenever one attempts to escape from both future and past. Here, the eternal in referencing Bergson is defined as the ‘temporal doubling [of] the present; that which is out-of-time’.(1)
In summoning an image of a vessel that plied ancient routes, Justiniani recalls various embodiments of the eternal: the passage between past and future, the fragile present and a timeless sphere aspired for. Is it not the destination of the enduring figures atop the Manunggul jar, the burial vessel that ferries the soul of the dead to the other world, a place beyond the clutches of time? The ark Justiniani conjures evoke birthing and passing; depicted to appear like a womb (that which signals fullness) and a vessel for the soul (to signify the loss of earthly life).
Empty space: “…if it was true that space with something inside is different from empty space because the matter causes a curving or a tautness which makes all the lines contained in space curve or tauten, then the line each of us was following was straight in the only way a straight line can be straight: namely, deformed to the extent that the limpid harmony of the general void is deformed by the clutter of matter…” (Calvino, 120)
A figure faces a daunting path, engulfed by the world’s effusive growth. Abundant grass and deep night on all fronts, seeming to move to better stations but the visual trick lies in the illusion of movement through a progressive multiplication of figures; an occurrence the artist facilitates through reflective surfaces and which the viewer completes in her mind’s eye. Manifest here is an understanding of liquid time, a new temporal cycle wherein the moment gains primacy; time curving back on it itself, a deformity of the void so described in the musings of the traveller in Calvino’s story. And like the boat conveying a time capsule, the figure here confronts only fragments of his person in a place where it is neither future nor past, only an interminable and engulfing present that cannot be grasped. Indeed, how does one talk of time when it eludes us the moment we speak?
Perhaps, most striking is Justiniani’s depiction of a man stationed at an absent work desk, keying in data, him and others like him entrapped in a hangar waiting to be dropped off, deployed where needed. The overwhelming moment may perhaps made automatons of us existing as we do through an ever accelerated cipher and within space conceived only in terms of slippages and ever shrinking breadth. This underscores the fragility of existence when at any given time, indeed any passing moment, tragedy may very well strike and existence is transformed into a void.
Imprint: “…so that there is nothing now that does not leave its print, every possible print of every possible thing, and together every transformation of these prints, instant by instant….changes the general form of space in all its dimensions.” (Calvino, 121)
And yet the void is never empty, filled as it is with matter, the nothingness the artist inquires of will never be a shrinking emptiness but a fecund view of how it is to exist at a juncture riven with anxieties and hopes. Indeed such concepts of temporality and spatiality as Jameson notes speak to our relations with a range of structures, with which we bind and extricate ourselves in equal measure. It is this impulse that renders the contemporariness of Mark Justiniani’s art – for while it entices and engulfs by way of optical illusion, its presentation of artifice is jarring. The use of reflective surface and mirrors, fragments of objects, snippets of sound, of movement enclosed reinforces the greater illusions upon us, so much so when we step from dim to bright, still taken by reflections and enchanting fragments of our persons, we bump unexpectedly into the hard and dank realities of our world. Indeed, we are and will always be out of time despite our struggles to make or keep it.
(1) Fredric Jameson, Summer 2003. “The End of Temporality” in Critical Inquiry 29:4. The University of Chicago Press, 712.
Italo Calvino, 1965. “The Form of Space” in Cosmicomics trans.William Weaver. Harvest Books.