I recently came across the work of the Brazilian artist Regina Silveira. Looking at her art I found myself thinking about presence and absence, and how we perceive and understand the world. Dreamlike, her installations and sculptures transport the viewer to a place where the rules of reason are suspended.
When we look at a work of art that uses traditional Renaissance perspective to represent three-dimensional space we believe that the thing we are seeing is an accurate rendition. We don’t think about the intangible things that can’t be shown. We believe the image is truthful in it’s scientific geometry. Silveira turns this idea on it’s head. She intentionally distorts perspective, often employing anamorphic distortions. She says she “sought for perspective to function as a kind of philosophical gaze on the world of appearances.”
In the installation above Silveira has drawn a set of stairs in a corner of a room, covering two adjoining walls and the intersecting floor with her perspective drawing. Imagine being in that space and trying to figure out where to place your feet. The room becomes unmoored and the viewer is bewildered and unstable. Silveira’s intent is to get the viewer to question ideas about representation and perception.
This installation is an example of an anamorphic distortion. The photo actually shows two different versions of the installation but I’ve used it because it clarifies how this type of projection works. In order to see the image on the left a viewer entering the gallery needs to stand in a specific location where the matrix of perspective markings line up. At any other point in the space the marks appear random and nearly unrecognizable, as seen on the right.
Silveira works with both perspective and light & shadow. In these works it is the distorted shadow that is the true representation, revealing the core qualities of the object.
Central to Silveira’s concerns is the idea of the indexical sign. Sounds confusing but the idea is actually quite simple. “The indexical sign is the mark or trace that something or someone leaves when passing.” A footprint (which she has used extensively in her later work), fingerprints, a shadow from an unseen object, a photograph, these are all examples of indexical signs. They tell the viewer that something is absent, and yet in what may seem a contradiction they infer the presence of this missing thing.
If you are familiar with the work of the artist Marcel Duchamp you will realize that the installation above depicts the absence of one of his Readymades. The pedestal is empty, the shadow a ghost of the missing sculpture.
For those of you reading our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook you’ll find that Silveira’s work is a good example of the topics covered in Chapter 4 Space, and the Gestalt Principles discussed in Chapter 8 Unity and Variety.