Napoleon Gallery

Through September 27th


By Joanna Platt


Outer space is something most of us will never directly experience. How do we begin to understand a place we only know from photographs, models, and from the calculations and measurements of scientists? James Weingrod is self-consciously attempting to do that and more.


In Weingrod’s current exhibit at Napoleon, a vitrine in the middle of a dark room is filled with a spinning cage. A video plays behind. The bars of the cage are strips of paintings, immaculately constructed. The structure is composed of two-way mirrors, allowing the viewer to see in, but not through. The video is a liquid montage of stars ebbing and flowing in and out of the surface, mirroring both the fleeting and expanding nature of the universe and the painted surface of the cage.


If the work is encountered in the middle of the video loop, it is shocking when, after fading to black, a hand appears onscreen holding a bottle and squeezes out a drop of glittering milky liquid to begin the action. I gasped. A rocket ship drops its seed to create the universe. The work is so sleek and well-crafted that the hand at first seems discordant, but by beginning with the artist’s hand generating the image, Weingrod saves the work from being merely an exercise in the sublime.


I have been re-reading Theodore Brown’s Making Truth, Metaphor in Science. Brown argues that measuring systems of the body are the foundation of science itself. We begin to know and classify the world as infants: as babies we measure the world with our bodies by placing objects in our mouths in order to understand what is us and what is not us, what is inside us and what is outside us, our earliest encounters with space.  Explorations with our body are our first understanding of our universe.


Yet we now live in an age where as adults our body is no longer our primary source of information about the world. Most of our information comes not from direct interaction, but from sources beyond our bodies. Our view of the universe, especially, is filtered through someone else’s vision, be it through photographs or scientific models, or the night sky app on our phones. How often do we even look up to directly experience the tiny bit of our universe visible to the naked eye?


Joanna Platt is a sculpture technician at Independent Casting in Philadelphia and Ingalls Studio in NJ, an adjunct professor at Camden County College, and a member of the faculty at the Hunterdon Museum of Art. A practicing artist, her work is currently on display at City without Walls in Newark, NJ and Perkins Center for the Arts in Collingswood, NJ.