.Ocular Meditations

Bay Area light artist Craig Dorety displays mesmerizing LED objects that explore the difference between seeing and perceiving in the show Division at Johansson Projects.

Craig Dorety’s meditative light installations are complex computerized sculptures that take inspiration from a perceptual biological phenomenon. Following in the footsteps of longtime artistic mentor Jim Campbell and prolific light artist James Turrell, Dorety has created a series of light sculptures that pull the viewer into a dazzling reverie. These are now on view as part of the show Division at Johansson Projects (2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), which also features a stunning collaboration with Campbell.

Dorety, an Oakland native now based in San Francisco, has been working with LEDs for approximately twelve years. His practice falls into an artistic niche that uses light to create optical phenomena that play with the viewer’s perception of space. He cites Turrell — the artist who famously lit up the Guggenheim’s rotunda last year with spellbinding, color-shifting light fixtures — as one of his biggest influences. “Seeing Turrell’s work for the first time really changed the way that I perceived through my eyes, and since then, I’ve been paying close attention to what I see versus what I perceive. There’s definitely a filter between those two things,” Dorety said at his show’s opening earlier this month.

Dorety also takes inspiration from his own biological idiosyncrasies. He suffers from ocular migraines, which take place in the visual cortex of the brain. At first they were alarming, he said, but once he began practicing relaxation and concentration techniques, he was able to overcome the pain and focus on the optical effects of the sensation. As Dorety describes it, the migraines create distortions of his vision that look like “little organic pixels” — small, geometric shapes that reflect inwardly like fractals.

Through extensive experimentation, Dorety realized that by using LED lights he could recreate these forms, along with their meditative aura. He does this by building white, wall-mounted boxes of various geometrical shapes, forming concave focal points by layering the same forms inside each other in smaller and smaller dimensions. Using microcontrollers, SD cards, and LEDs, he lights up those boxes with distorted abstractions of photographs. The colors of each one slowly shift, drawing the viewer into a trance. What’s most mesmerizing about the pieces is how each geometrical layer doesn’t quite line up with the others, adding a hypnotic irregularity. In some pieces, the shapes are intentionally imperfect, sitting ambiguously between amorphous outlines and perfect polygons.

This imperfection falls in line with Dorety’s interest in the relationship between the technological and the organic. His work aims to merge those worlds, showing how technology may be used to capture the shifting, nebulous character of organic illusions. “When I built my first light object … I immediately felt like I was watching a campfire, or a fish tank,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is what it is — taking something natural and putting it in a technological object for people to look at as if it was a part of their vision.'”

Division runs through June 14. 510-444-9140 or JohanssonProjects.com.


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