Depending on how tall you are, when you come around the corner to Chul Hyun Ahn's 'Horizon #2' near the back of the C. Grimaldis Gallery, you'll find yourself either bobbing above or below the waves. I thought of it as waves, maybe, because I've always lived near gulfs and bays. And because I'm of average height, I stayed afloat, peering above the LED horizon line, which mirrors itself straight back into a seemingly endless black surface of "water," while various memories of the beach at night clouded my brain.
I stretched my neck to see more of it, and then I ducked a little to look up from below. The line is slightly wavy, but it doesn't actually move. As they go further back in space, the lines of white light dim and become slightly greenish. When I backed up from the wall, at the proper distance, the waves became one single bright horizon line—the artifice was shattered. 'Horizon #2' is a four-ish-foot square box on a wall that comes out at a depth of about five inches. It's a trick of mirrors and a simple, thin string of LED light. I wondered if the illusion would work in a space that was dark and didn't have to keep lights on for other works, or how it would look if it took up an entire wall. I tried to ignore my own reflection in the glass, which also killed the romance of getting lost in this infinity ocean.
At some point we have to get out of the water. In her book "Eros the Bittersweet," Anne Carson discusses Diego Velázquez's painting 'Las Meninas' in relation to its blind point—the point at which you, as a viewer, lose track of your orientation to the painting.
"This is a painting of Velázquez painting the king and queen of Spain," she writes. "But the king and queen are not part of the picture. Or are they?"
Almost all of the people in this painting are looking at you, it seems—even the painter—until you notice that mirror, where two faces are reflected: the king and queen of Spain.
"They seem to be standing precisely where we are standing as we gaze into the painting at their reflection there," Carson writes. "Then where are we? For that matter, who are we?"
You spiral into this strange meta nothing space—you're standing where the king and queen would be standing, if this were a real space, but of course that's not you.
"Standing like understudies in the place where the king and queen would be," Carson writes, "we recognize (vaguely disappointed) that the faces looming from the mirror are not our own and we all but see . . . that point where we disappear into ourselves in order to look. A point lying in the gap between ourselves and them. Attempts to focus on that point dull the mind into vertigo, while at the same time a particular acute delight is present. We long to see that point, although it tears us. Why?"
A pivotal, "paradoxical" moment of arrest occurs at "a blind point where the reality of what we are disappears into the possibility of what we could be if we were other than we are," Carson writes. "But we are not. We are not the king and queen of Spain. We are not lovers who can both feel and attain their desires."
I only forgot where I was while looking into 'Horizon #2' for a few moments, really—buying that illusion of water or space, an unknowable depth, as I stood very close to it and blurred my eyes a little, trying to see past my own reflection. Even if only for a short time, it's good to lose yourself for a bit in water.