Metafractal Photography: Nature Meets the Matrix

June 24, 2005

WHAT looks like the rich amber swirlof cognac, lit by a roaring fire… isn’t. Thevertiginous, New Zealand-like peaks andvalleys, in lush greens and icy blues? Notreally there.In “Windows to Infinity,” a photoexhibit currently showing at the NationalGallery in San José, the images “exist inthe mind of the viewer, but don’t exist inreality,” says creator Joshua CalhounWilson. In other words, what you seedepends on you.And Wilson, a 35-year-old U.S. artistwho names both Andy Warhol and StephenHawking as influences, likes it that way.“Windows,” 14 large-format digital photoshung just behind the interactive displays ofthe Children’s Museum, remixes art withscience, philosophy with pop culture. It’s afitting display from an avid surfer, formergraphic artist, and sometime-DJ who builtmodel rockets as a youngster and studiedaerospace engineering before switching tofine art. These days, his primary tool is hiscamera, and his studio is his laptop.THE photos are culled from the rawnatural beauty of Costa Rica, whereWilson spent much of his youth and wherehe now lives, dividing his time between hismother’s house in Playa Flamingo, on thenorthern Pacific coast, and his father’shotel, Las Tortugas, in nearby PlayaGrande. But his source material is dramaticallytransformed by a series of sophisticatedtechnological steps.First, Wilson takes digital snapshots –in this exhibit, of jellyfish, strawberriesand lava, among others – then runs theimages through Photoshop filters thatallow him “to place a two-dimensionalobject in a three-dimensional space, to createan infinite matrix. I can zoom in or outor wherever I want to go.”From there, he chooses a snapshotfrom this infinite realm; once he takes thesnapshot, the image becomes two-dimensionalagain. Sometimes he cuts up theimage and reintroduces the pieces into theinfinite matrix multiple times – the art, hesays, comes from his selection and translationof material, as he attempts “to reinterpretthe world in a way that’s beautiful.”WILSON, who often works under thepseudonym Zerø K, calls his final images“simulcratic metafractals”: simulacrum arevague copies of originals, or somethingthat a viewer might imagine (like seeing animage in a cloud); mathematician BenoitMandelbrot, Wilson says, called fractals“images of equations that attempt to defineinfinity.”Wilson likes to photograph subjectswith obvious fractals, and nature is full ofthem: in leaves, or airflow, or flames, orthe rivulets of a sand dune. He’s also a fanof chaos theory, which represents patternswithin chaos; look deeply enough intochaos, he says, and you’ll find order.Despite the sometimes weighty terminology,viewers don’t need to have studiedadvanced math and sciences to understandWilson’s work, which is kaleidoscopic,slightly surreal and strangely beautiful, fullof vivid color and a panoply of shapes, suchas lacy black paisleys or silvery baubles.A family friend facilitated his entranceinto the National Gallery, where, he says,the work was warmly received at a receptionattended by Costa Rican artists, someof whom he’d like to work with some day.For his next project, he’s interested in“remixing” what he considers two distinctlyCosta Rican artistic themes – nudes andflowers – using the digital alterationprocess.“In the same way a DJ can remix aMadonna song, I can remix a work andmake it radically different,” he says.His long-term ambitions, meanwhile,include working with interior designers,photographing objects in a house, thenputting the images through the matrix tocreate pieces that redefine the concept ofmatching your art to your furniture.“Using science to be creative is alwaysfun,” he says.“WINDOWS to Infinity” showsthrough June 29 at the National Gallery, inthe Children’s Museum in downtown SanJosé. Those interested in purchasing or seeingmore of Wilson’s work can visit hisWeb site at www.zerok.org or e-mailjoshua@zerok.org.

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