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Among the tropes of the Hollywood action film is the moment when the monster, eyes closed and presumed dead or sleeping, dramatically opens one evil eye. Often, the eye of the creature fills the frame; its iris might reflect the hero-protagonist. In this kind of story, the course of action is clear and entanglement between monster and human is not really a thing. The kind of story that Ánima Correa tells with Ambergris, on view at Hunter Shaw Fine Art, places our earthly entanglements front and center and does not prescribe any kind of clarity. Instead, Correa suggests that while the organisms we share our planet with may show us something of ourselves, we cannot know everything. There will always be beings and knowledge that cannot be surveilled, dug up, or otherwise forced into visibility, a dynamic that Correa concedes by firmly obscuring the identities of monster and viewer through the smart, attractive deployments of abstraction and reflection.
With a nod to the anatomy of a squid, which has ten appendages (eight arms, two tentacles) and three hearts, the exhibition features ten evenly spaced paintings hung at eye level around the gallery. The space is dramatically slashed by three massive, torpedo-like sculptures, constructions wrapped in kelp and made to resemble undersea fiber-optic cables—testaments to the scale of human informational infrastructure and its corresponding ecological disruption. By contrast, Correa’s Espejito canvases (all 2023) are only eight-by-ten inches apiece. Each draws its central form from the open eye of a cephalopod, the class of marine animals that includes squid, octopi, and nautiluses. At the center of these organically-inspired compositions is a painted image from decidedly modern times. They are not all images from our contemporary technocratic hellscape, but many are, such as the blue and red of a police siren in the rearview in Espejito IX: Gritting My Teeth, or sky formations of dancing drones in Espeijito X: Mis Dedos Cristalinos. Some show things we only see on screens, like computer imaging of weather events (Espejito XIII: Le Niñe) or a digital graphic from military software company Palantir Technology’s user interface (Espejito XIV: Abyssal Smirk). Named for the deepest region of the ocean, Espejito XV: Hadal Zone shows the striations of an open pit mine.
Like so much imagery drawn from nature, the shapes and colors in Correa’s paintings are entrancing and sometimes breathtaking. The surfaces are complicated, mimicking nature’s uncanny, glorious mixtures of muted and neon tones, smooth and scaled textures, and blurred and sharp patches of color. This abstract complexity extends to the images at each eye’s center, which—significantly—are not always easily parsed: Is that a helicopter, or something else? Is that HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or just a red splotch of light? Is that a natural marking, a trick of the light, or a human-made sight machine?
At this moment in history, we are well-trained in understanding nature writ large as the “victim” of the human “monster”—Correa does not disavow this generalization, but she doesn’t embrace it either. Espejito means “little mirror” in Spanish and the eyes she paints are not sad, moralistic squid eyes; they are mirrors. The creature remains shielded from the viewer’s prying gaze, access denied. The unreliable legibility of what is shown speaks to fundamental disjunctures in systems of perception, meaning, and value. An animal might see, interact with, and be impacted by human technological intervention, but it will not understand it as we do. In other words, only we can fully know what we’ve done. Still, through Correa’s eyes, there is power in being lost in translation and a hopefulness for that which we cannot chart. Here be dragons, in a good way.
Ánima Correa: Ambergris runs from February 12–March 26, 2023 at Hunter Shaw Fine Art (5513 Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90019).