Jacob Hashimoto and Emil Lukas, two internationally recognized American artists, have been invited by Studio la Città Gallery to stage a site-specific show in Palazzo Flangini reflecting on “The End of Utopia”. As we move deeper into the Anthropocene, the cost of our ascendancy is becoming clear. Decades of environmental exploitation have left us perilously balanced and wavering on every side: political, social, economic, natural, technological, and ecological. As many observers of the Anthropocene have noted with apt unease, humanity itself has increasingly become the perpetrator, rather than victim, of planetary chaos.
In the midst of these conditions, Hashimoto and Lukas’s work addresses a question of newfound relevance: If art is arguably the interpolation of manmade schema onto nature – humankind’s order upon primordial chaos – then how does art’s meaning mutate, as we realize that the infrastructures, systems, and algorithms all originally designed by humans to bring utopia within reach, are in fact dooming its very viability? Upon entering Palazzo Flangini’s seventeenth-century ground-floor space, visitors encounter an immense, floating, site-specific sculpture by Jacob Hashimoto, comprising 8500 black bamboo-and-paper kites suspended from the ceiling and assembled into a spectacular, roiling cloud that crests overhead. This sculpture, according to the artist, is intended to be one of weight, not light. Forgoing his usual visual vocabulary of highly iconicized landscape elements, geometries, and vivid colors, Hashimoto has instead created a monochromatic piece using black, 9” kite-like discs. Upon close examination, the ellipsoidal surfaces reveal traces of barely perceptible stars, screenprinted in ink that has become ghostly and indistinct after seeping into the work’s black backgrounds. Emerging quietly in light, these stars—which suggest elements of flags and firmament alike—evoke art’s history of multifariously addressing both the blunt banners of politics, and the celestial realms that transcend them.
Emil Lukas’s work occupies the first-floor of the space. Lukas has created three separate, but interwoven, groups of work: “Lens,” “Puddles,” and “Threads.” At one end of the vast gallery, 650 aluminium pipes are assembled into a giant lens of sorts. Through its side-by-side tubes, the concave, almost iridescent sculpture affords a vista that moves with the viewer according to his or her position. From the right angle, the lens focuses and isolates the viewer, distilling the experience of the artwork to a single, fundamental perspective—the watchman’s post in the Panopticon. While Lens speaks to the seductive nature of observation and surveillance, the Puddle paintings are vast microcosmic landscapes that, conversely, conjure an unobserved, almost geologic progression of time. More like sculpture than painting in many ways, these works feature surfaces pulled into funnel-like concavities by clusters of taut thread. Lukas then allows masses of paint to collect in these depressions, letting the pigments separate, reticulate, and form stratifications. As the paintings dry, the pigments leach through each canvas, staining and revealing the surfaces’ buried histories.
Lukas’s Thread paintings are delicate overlapping skeins of colorful thread, anchored to the sides of idiosyncratic wood stretchers that frame uneven, pockmarked white-plaster backing. These threads cross each other most densely around the stretchers’ perimeters, leaving the centers of the constructions relatively spare. The effect of this patterned density creates a powerful optical illusion of volume from a distance. As the viewer approaches each work more closely, its skein of threads becomes apparent, and a delicate atmosphere, shifting over an alien landscape, is revealed.