John Lennon once said, “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” The cultural idol and his silver-tongued aphorism are at the fore of Georgian artist David Datuna’s current solo exhibition “Elements” at Birnam Wood Galleries. For this new body of work, Datuna creates pixelated, collaged portraits of modern icons who peer out enigmatically from behind tightly threaded mosaics of optical lenses. From John F. Kennedy to Marilyn Monroe to Princess Diana, the prismatic screens both clarify and distort the faces below. It is especially fitting that Andy Warhol should figure among these portraits. The pop icon was no stranger to the power of an image to incarnate celebrity while eluding individual identity. Here Datuna’s lenses expand the viewer’s field of perception, further testifying to the ways in which portraits render one recognizable but nevertheless unknowable.
At the core of “Elements” is Datuna’s diptych pairing a portrait of Albert Einstein with the cover of Elements, Euclid’s groundbreaking mathematical treatise written in the 3rd century BC. For over two millennia this text was seen as a paradigm for rational thought and a foundation for modern science. Einstein was deeply inspired by it. Abraham Lincoln kept a copy in his saddlebag. But if Euclid’s Elements attested to man’s ability to use reason to grasp the universe, Datuna’s portraits remind us that influence, like identity, can never be truly known.
“Elements” is on view at Birnam Wood Galleries, New York, May 1–Jun3 7, 2014.