By Genevieve Wood

The heterogenous understanding of modernity is composed of a series of always incomplete projects that remind us of paths not taken – of possibilities blocked in blood and repression, of processes and procedures that even if they have disappeared, recall the irreducible quality of the world and of its multiple kind. The archaic and the unruly lace modernity, forcing it to register its transformation, its transit, its accidental quality and its potential loss of control, no matter how powerful the appeal to the homogenous prospect of progress. In this there lies a freedom, frequently unrealised but waiting, in which we too are invited to participate.”
- Iain Chambers, Citizenship, Language and Modernity, 2002

Our eyes struggle to see in the dark. Strangely, when looking at a faint star, the trick is to do so using the edge of one’s eye in order to see it – in other words, one has to not quite look directly at it in order to get a better view. The cells that perceive colour crowd the centre of the eye where light is directed to fall, maximizing every moment of daylight. Sidelined are those sense perceptors differentiated for light and dark that would help us navigate the world as we travel daily into shadow.

Lyndi Sales is an artist whose concern with manners of perception and the possibilities of alternative realities results in complex, treacherously intricate installation works in a variety of often re-commissioned media. Sales makes unusually esoteric reference to the post-colonial retracing of trade routes, the borderlands of the archive and the ramifications of tragic historical incident, focusing on the fragile passages between worlds and systems, and the mutability of the real and perceptual. Her work frequently evokes the suspension of time and heightening of perception that occur before a transformative moment of crisis or collapse.

Recently the artist has worked with scientific imaging systems and astronomical geometries in experiments with gestalt, constructing laboured entanglements and distortions that bring together optical effects in productive visual tension. Concerning the threat to the artist’s vision of a knot in her cornea, ontological questions arise of the possibility of such a thing as a ‘whole’ picture. Experiments with the disappearance of time, the flattening of space, with vibrations of pattern and amplification of colour evoke the kind of shift in perception that mescaline once lead Aldous Huxley to call an encounter with ‘Mind at Large’. Huxley thereafter contemplated the nature of experience, writing that, “We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves … from family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.”1 Resonant with this is a sense of the flickering contingencies of subjecthood that play across the surface of Sales’ work.

In a country where social experience can often be so radically divided as to preclude conversation, it is of interest that Sales can be seen asking - in what is a perhaps counter-intuitive way - not what obscures our vision, but what we might be able to see with our eyes closed. At stake is being able to risk fallibility in order to reapproach one another, becoming that much more capable of building the kind of culture we might yearn for – one that could be greater than simply the sum of its disparate parts.

For the exhibition Desire, Sales has created an extension of her progressively abstracted work that concerns itself with the mechanisms of ocular perception. Satellite Telescope makes reference to the first reach of a satellite of this kind sent into space from Kenya in 1970, which succeeded through novel radiation technology in revealing a great deal more to us about the world beyond our own.

The way our eyes are put together is uncanny – to think that what would lead under normal circumstances to compromising one’s vision of a thing might lead at a different turn to seeing it better. At the edge of our habitual perceptions lies the possibility of reaching, for “something more, above all something different from the carefully selected utilitarian material which our narrowed, individual minds regard as a complete, or at least sufficient, picture of reality.”2

by Genevieve Wood

  1. The Doors of Perception, 1954, p. 13
  2. Ibid. p. 22

See Also: The Exhibition | An Introduction By Thembinkosi Goniwe | News On Participation In The 54th Venice Biennale