A single splash in an ocean of invisible waves, the spectrum of visible light hints just enough radiance to tease the rest. Outside our paltry paintbox of chroma hide rays gamma and long, thermal and micro, radar and TV, radio both AM and FM depending on the shimmy of the music or the monotone of the talk. All this invisible radiance penetrates buildings and molecules, tables and oil tankers, you and me, vibrating the air with ghostly resonance.
Infrared just above and ultraviolet just below, we can almost see. With a little help from this or that technology, darkness can be penetrated with a strappy pair of special goggles and the hidden light of certain materials can be excited just so by the coated glass of a bulb better known in haunted houses and discotheques. Blocking out almost all but ultraviolet, a black light can reveal the secret properties of stones and paper, toothpaste and cum, spot counterfeits and catch murderers. The shortish ultraviolet unseen sneaks in, gets an electron to jump and with that lost energy sends back a longer wave that our limited eyes can finally bear witness.
Though chlorophyll glows bloodred under blacklight, the electron dance party is nowhere more beautiful than in stones. Greens and blues, reds and oranges glow as true fluorescents merely mimicked by dyes. The luminance waved back by certain minerals deserve the moving poetry of its radiance. They fluoresce.
Radioactive orange of a mutant carrot and the labial purple of an erotic alien, creamy blues and coral pinks, luminous lavenders and glittering golds as the metal could shine only in our dreams, and of course the strange soft folds of violet beyond violet, a death shroud soaked in spirit, truly otherworldly, every ounce of ultra.
Here they are arranged just so by human hands, basking simply and plainly in sunlight, they shimmer at night under the spectral glow of black light. The first of three shows, this arrangement of elemental things reflects for the artist Emilie Halpern, noted in the press release, a concept derived in part from the shōka style of ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of floral composition. The style, cultivated in the Ikenobō school in the 15th century, is a minimal description of the universe in three parts: the earth (地), the heavens (天), and humanity (人). This exhibition is earth; in the next, heavens, light is captured with goldleaf; in the third, pottery crafted by the artist is put on display. We cannot predict the future beauty of unseen exhibitions, but the re-arrangement into special arrays is an ancient art, and here seen in a literal new light (best visited at night, but surely containing its own beauty during the day), reflects on the unseen qualities of all kinds of things.
We are permeated with all those rays and electrons and countless other things we cannot see. Many of those rays carry information, words, ideas. Right now, cell phone conversations surge through us all. Through my left knee a teenage girl just broke up with her boyfriend. Through my heart a man called his sister and ask if she needed anything from the store. In my shoulder, I felt a telemarketer from Dubuque sigh into his microphone.
I am also of course surrounded by the invisible bonds of culture and community, the love of family and friends. I am, so I'm told, protected by a missile defense net, by a border only sometimes marked by a fence. Others tell me as well that my every move can be tracked and maybe (shades of Illuminati) already is. My movements are governed by treaties I'll never read, by laws of which I only have a vague awareness. Depending on the weather, I'm filled with an equally invisible hope or dread because of all the above.
That which cannot be seen doesn't mean that it can't in some way be communicated. Failing to do so is maybe the hallmark of all art, but that doesn't mean our tender attempts can't be beautiful, funny, or tragic, can't inspire hope or dread on top of all the rest that the universe doles out.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince: "What is essential is invisible to the eye."
This trio of shows by Halpern are apparently the last exhibitions by Pepin Moore after three and a half years of exhibitions. Thank you for all the art and artists you supported.
(All images: Emilie Halpern, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Pepin Moore.)