In Hinduism, the avatar is a teacher, the deity incarnated on earth to demonstrate divinity to humans, as opposed to the digital representation of the self. At “Caressing Form and Void,” Ryan Whittier Hale’s show at the Lower East Side’s envoy enterprises, the avatar is the subject of focus, and both definitions are on display.
Although it is not the introductory work in the show, viewers are immediately drawn to a large flatscreen monitor standing on a pedestal, displaying a three-minute untitled video loop. In the first scene, the avatars resemble classical figures in thoughtful repose and a gelatinous crystalline form creeps its way repeatedly over their contoured shadows. In a second scene, one of the figures takes a breath, and the humanity of the movement is startling.
An inkjet print to the right of the video, titled Collapse (2013-2015), shows the avatar in an altogether different sense: frozen in the middle of a fall from heaven or grace, depending on where it began. The sharp, crystalline forms are here as well, but this time make up mountainscapes and weave through the arms and legs of the avatar. As the topography approaches the background, the details drop away and become wispy planes.
These works are made with combinations of photography and videography, digital renderings, and video game software. The largest of the prints, the 73-by-61-inch Debasement (2013), shows its scattershot sources in the fidelity of the image. But the smaller pieces, like an untitled 31-inch-square image, meld the photography and rendering seamlessly into a unified dream texture, ranging in shades from peachy, rosy pinks to sincere doses of aqua.
These avatars are blank; devoid of anything but serene faces and devotional gestures; in several images their expressions are obscured or cut out altogether. Hale’s world is not one where avatars are tethered to humans, but rather one where humans can learn from what the avatars have left behind.