The mind’s eye

This view of Relics and Constellations reveals part of the site-specific installation by Paul Catanese currently on view at Wright State University. This view of Relics and Constellations reveals part of the site-specific installation by Paul Catanese currently on view at Wright State University.

Paul Catanese exhibit lights up WSU galleries

By Jane A. Black

This view of Relics and Constellations reveals part of the site-specific installation by Paul Catanese currently on view at Wright State University.

This view of Relics and Constellations reveals part of the site-specific installation by Paul Catanese currently on view at Wright State University.

What happens when you mix pixels and printmaking with Laurie Anderson with Joseph Cornell? You get something like the current show at the Robert and Elaine Stein Galleries at Wright State University, which is a solo exhibition by Chicago-based artist Paul Catanese. Several bodies of work are represented in the exhibition, with a large part of the gallery given over to a site-specific installation that goes by the same name as the exhibit: Relics and Constellations.

Relics and constellations — their connection, I think, is about the passage of time. What we see in the stars is actually light long past, and a relic is a remnant of something long gone. It’s a fitting theme for time-based art, a new-ish nomenclature for film, videos, performances and installations that require, capture or manipulate time. In my experience, another way to look at it is that it takes time to understand, which is to say, it grows on you.

Catanese doesn’t use the phrase — that’s just my take on it — but classifies his work as “hybrid.” That label makes sense on a lot of levels. Not only is he combining traditional and new media, but his art often reads as scientific; concerned with identification, cataloging and comparing data. He also stretches the notion of what might be considered an image or object, opening up new worlds in the way that identifying genomes and understanding brain chemistry rocks our previous notions of how things work and where they belong. He describes his work as “protean, problematic and unresolved.”

This thread of experimentation and pushing limits extends throughout most of his work. During the full week of installing the show, with its many plug-in features, “I found out the wattage limits of the gallery,” said curator Tess Cortés. She met Catanese at an interactive media conference about seven years ago, and has been following his work since. “It’s appealing how he combines the technology and the tactile,” she said.

For me, that idea is most evident in the installation piece, which includes overhead projectors throwing large tracks of light filled with silhouetted objects onto the walls. It was a real “ah-ha” moment when Catanese talked about his influences during his public lecture, mentioning the seminal performance artist Laurie Anderson and the iconic maker of boxed assemblages, Joseph Cornell. In Catanese’s artistic language, the objects themselves are not the subjects; it is their shadowy shapes frozen on the wall, in relation to each other and the high contrast of light space. In addition to being fascinating to behold in and of themselves, this work also makes one think about the difference between the real and the virtual, or, as Cortés said, technology and the tactile.

As tempting as it is to plop down beside the projectors and rearrange the objects, one must not; however, there is an interactive opportunity in the first gallery. The 2004 series of modified Gameboy consoles are meant to be touched. To see Catanese’s painstakingly created digital pictures, scroll with the arrow buttons. These are the most intimate of the objects in the show, seen by one person at a time. “Intimacy,” said Catanese, “is the most overarching idea. My early work focused on the browser, which is an intimate space. Its glow creates an intrinsic intimacy.”

On the second floor of the exhibit are some two- to four-minute videos of a project he pursued in the Arizona desert during a recent residency. He went there with the notion of using space as a subject matter and proceeded to shoot off rockets. This proved untenable, and in the end he was uncomfortable with the rocket imagery anyway, with its militaristic connotations of power and dominance. Speaking of the work, he said, “You have to have the confidence to say ‘That failed spectacularly!’” All was not lost: The work became “less about the rockets and more about smoke and howling wind.” The videos capture that billowing smoke, as well as employing undulating Mylar to mirror and distort the landscape. It is a lyrical outcome to the project, even if it wasn’t the original intent.

Also on the second floor are framed prints. These images of aquifers and celestial bodies — white lines on deep, black surfaces — also used computer-based tools rather than traditional drawing/etching materials. Most were created with a Wacom tablet, an electronic drawing pad tethered to the computer. During the lecture, he talked about trying a Livescribe pen — a computer-in-a-pen that captures what you write and what you hear — but it was not as successful a methodology. “I broke it to get the X/Y data out,” he said. The celestial series is ongoing, and acts for Catanese as “an eye removed from the earth.”

This is another way of accurately describing this show, in my estimation. It’s about seeing and interpreting what comes to the mind by way of the eye. “I have lots of ‘floaters’ in my eyes,” Catanese said. “They are like my own personal constellations.”

Jane A. Black is a fiber artist and the executive director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. Visit the gallery at 118 N. Jefferson St. or visit their website at Follow her on Twitter @lookingabout. She can be reached at



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