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Art review: Lael Corbin at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

June 18, 2010 |  6:30 pm
400.Corbin, Geometric Albedo, 2010, hi-res2 Lael Corbin’s quirky exhibition at Luis De Jesus plays with scale and the idea of space travel, reminding us that our knowledge of the vastness of the universe is entirely a matter of perception. The show’s conceit is reminiscent of the movie, “Men in Black,” in which an entire universe is found in a small vial attached to a cat’s collar. But Corbin’s work has less to do with aliens living among us than with the Milky Way of creamer found in a cup of coffee, or how a pan of brownies resembles the cracked surface of a sun-baked planet.

The artist photographed both of these foodstuffs up close, so that it’s nearly impossible to ascertain their actual size. But the illusion is not hard to discern. For one thing, the brownies also appear framed on the wall like so many squares of moon rock (albeit smelling faintly of chocolate). They remind us that, with the exception of astronauts, our knowledge of outer space is always filtered through a lens of some kind, whether a telescope or a camera.

In addition to the photographs and brownies, the room is filled with small sculptural pieces that also effect amusing shifts of scale and perspective. In one, a tiny astronaut, about a centimeter high, stands at one end of a framework tunnel, as if about to go on a space walk. Looking through the other end, the viewer sees him magnified and slightly distorted through a lens. Behind the filmy surface, he not only looks larger and more heroic, but somehow more real, less toy-like. In this simple transformation, we’re made aware of the simultaneous transparency and opacity of the lens: how it can bring things closer, but also obscure their true nature.

400.Corbin-Eros-Greetings from Earth, hi-res2 Such works are reminiscent of pieces by French artist Mathieu Briand, who has explored similar territory in life-size video projections of moonscapes that turn out to be live feeds from tiny three-dimensional models. The exhibition also raises the specter of conspiracy theorists who claim that the moon landing was an elaborate, art-directed hoax. Corbin’s work leavens these references with a playful, sometimes poetic use of everyday materials.

The exhibition’s title, “Greetings from Earth,” refers to the salutations in 55 languages recorded on the “Golden Record” — an introduction to life on Earth for extraterrestrials — sent into space on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. Corbin has created his own, decidedly down-market version in a pair of musty leather shoes. Embedded in one shoe is a small video screen displaying images of what looks like a planet or an eclipse, followed by shots of random groups of people. It looks pretty nonsensical, even to an earthling, and things aren’t improved by the static-filled soundtrack heard on an attached handset. But by encapsulating this message — intended to extend endlessly outward — in the sole of a shoe, Corbin suggests how that basic greeting might turn infinitely inward as well. In this sense, the show’s chief subject is not inner or outer space, but rather the understanding that inside and outside are continually collapsing into one another.

– Sharon Mizota

Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, 2525 Michigan Ave. F-2, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7773, through June 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.luisdejesus.com

Images: "Geometric Albedo" (top) and "Greetings From Earth." Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.
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