Smoke and Mirrors Exhibit to Open at MoCA Jacksonville

August 26, 2015 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

What happens in the mind when we perceive a work of art? Is it a literal representation or a false, artificial reality of something familiar? What techniques are artists employing to alter our perception? Is it all just smoke and mirrors? The new show at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Jacksonville explores these ideas. Find out more after the jump!

Often striking and ambiguous, at times both alluring and strange, the complex sculptures in “Smoke and Mirrors: Sculpture and the Imaginary” explore the art of illusion at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida. Blurring the line between reality and fiction, the six national and international sculptors—Chul Hyun Ahn, James Clar, Patrick Jacobs, Ken Matsubara, Daniel Rozin, and Kathleen Vance—employ a variety of indiscernible techniques and mystifying illusionistic effects to accomplish levels of deception. As one peers into tunnels, portals, glasses, and suitcases, the outwardly literal representations are transformed into mindboggling artificial realities. Though often simple in material—mirrors, lights, videos, and even stuffed animals—our perception of the object and its construction are now in question.

Daniel Rozin, Penguins Mirror, 2015. 450 stuffed animals, motors, control electronics, Xbox kinect motion sensor, Mac mini computer, custom software, tin bases, dimensions variable.
Image courtesy bitforms gallery, New York, NY.

Chul Hyun Ahn, Railroad Nostalgia, 2012. Plywood, LED lights,railroad tracks and ties, hardware, mirrors, 93 x 120 x 40 inches. Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer. Image courtesy of C. Grimaldis Gallery.

Dedicated to presenting innovations in contemporary art, “Smoke and Mirrors” includes two new works by Rozin and Vance. MOCA Jacksonville is the first institution to exhibit Rozin’s “Penguin Mirrors,” an installation scattered on the floor and comprising 450 motorized stuffed animals. Playing with the compositional possibilities of black and white, each penguin turns from side to side and responds to the presence of viewers. As they perform, the penguins’ collective intelligence is puzzling, yet somehow familiar, as the plush toys enact a precise choreography rooted in geometry.

MOCA Jacksonville invited Brooklyn-based Vance to evolve her series “Rogue Stream” by creating a new site-responsive installation based on the St. Johns River at the Museum. After studying the river’s course, Vance recreates it in miniature—echoing every bend as water charts through the city and in the exhibition’s replica. Created to celebrate the Year of the River, Vance constructs a living sculpture within the gallery that poses questions about our relationship to nature.

Kathleen Vance, Traveling Landscape (Beige Traveler), 2015. Train case, resin, stones, soil, artificial foliage, fluorescent light, water,

Organized in collaboration with guest curator Jenny Hager, (who MetroJacksonville readers will recognize as the artist who created the sculpture park on Main Street last year.  associate professor of sculpture at UNF, the three-dimensional works and installations also restructure the traditional relationships between sculpture, viewer, and environment. Conveying the endless possibilities of illusion, the works in “Smoke and Mirrors” nonetheless border on mystical experience and logical explanation.


Chul Hyun Ahn
Korean-born Chul Hyun Ahn, who now lives and works in Baltimore, combines the use of colored neon lights, mirrors, and other industrial materials to create light sculptures. Drawing from Optical Art (Op Art) and theories of the subconscious, he explores the immersive, illusory possibilities of reflection, particularly through the use of two-way mirrors. “Railroad Nostalgia” and “Tunnel” each explore architectural spaces. Peering into either portal, the emitting light sculpture creates the illusion of infinite space that extends deep into an uncharted territory.

James Clar
New York-based James Clar fuses technology and visual information to create light sculptures that experiment with the viewer’s perception. He works with LED lights, microcontrollers, and fluorescent bulbs to highlight differences between worlds of fiction and reality. In “Rain Under Lamppost,” an evocative yet artificial animated downpour, Clar not only sculpts with light but reduces the light transmission to a minimal, repeating linear pattern. Consisting of a projector emitting a light beam, the video is controlled through generative software that replicates the action of falling rain as it passes through light of a lamppost.

Patrick Jacobs
Inspired by his love of Renaissance landscape paintings, Brooklyn-based Patrick Jacobs constructs contemporary studies based on the Renaissance idea of painting as a “window on the world.” To create these hyperreal miniature worlds, he meticulously casts, paints, and positions every blade of grass and flower petal of the dioramas—a process he equates to “building a painting”—before they are embedded in the gallery’s walls. The resulting three-dimensional “paintings” portray an expansive view onto green fields with mountains or snaking rivers in the distance. As the glowing portals invite viewers into his fictional spaces, the use of a concave lens creates the illusion of depth—distorting the environs’ scale as it edges toward the lens itself.

Ken Matsubara
Japanese-sculptor Ken Matsubara sets personal and collective memories in motion by incorporating photographs and video of antique objects into his sculptures. While the majority of his work awakens the past, some recent pieces explore Buddhism. In “Paper in the Wind,” a piece of paper sways in the air without ever floating away or falling to the ground. In Buddhism, the concept of dependent origination suggests that nothing exists in isolation. According to the artist, “the paper is shaken by the wind, and we can see the wind because of the paper.” Matsubara employs other illusionistic techniques in the series “Round Chair,” where peering inside a glass of water transports viewers to another time.

Daniel Rozin
Merging the geometric with the participatory, New York-based Daniel Rozin’s practice as sculptor explores the psychology of mirrored reflection and engages in the craft of robotics and computer vision. Grounded in gestures of the body, the mirror is a central theme of his practice. Celebrated for their kinetic and interactive properties, Rozin’s sculptures change and respond to the presence of viewers in real time. The three pieces on view demonstrate a wide range of approaches toward material and how images are constructed in a picture plane. Hundreds of motors are synchronized in the “Penguins Mirror” and “Angles Mirror.” These works rely on computer vision and perform rotational behaviors in real-time. “Self-Centered Mirror” has a retro-reflective behavior—standing in front of the mirror, viewers will see themselves reflected on all 34 panes.

Kathleen Vance
Brooklyn-based Kathleen Vance seeks to capture a part of nature untouched by humans. In the series “Traveling Landscapes,” her fastidious sculptures playfully combine suitcases with miniaturized living landscapes of grandiose scale. Streams and rivers course through and activate the seemingly familiar terrains of rolling hills and densely treed grasslands. “Rogue Stream” is a site-specific installation based on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund is the supporting sponsor for the exhibition. Contributing sponsors are Agility Press; the city of Jacksonville; the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville; the state of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Council on Arts and Culture; and WJCT Public Broadcasting.

A members’ preview reception for “Smoke and Mirrors” is 7-9 p.m. Sept. 18. The exhibition opens to the public on Sept. 19 and runs through Jan. 24, 2016. RSVP to attend the members’ preview and exhibition public progams at


Surrealist Cinema: Illusion in Film • 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 8: Dr. Nicholas de Villiers, associate professor of English and film at UNF, presents two short surrealist films: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s shocking surrealist masterpiece “Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)” (1929) and Maya Deren’s poetic and experimental “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1943). Both films use “dream logic” to explore the human psyche and employ the powers of editing and cinematic illusion to brilliant effect. De Villiers leads a discussion about the films after the screening.

Art and Ideas: Patrick Jacobs • 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 22: Featured “Smoke and Mirrors” artist Patrick Jacobs discusses his miniature super-realistic dioramas set into the gallery walls like portholes. Peering into these little glowing windows, visitors are transported to playful landscapes. The artist delves into the creative process behind these illusionary works.

“Circle Mirror Transformation” • 7-8:30 p.m.? Dec. 2-4, • 2-3:30 p.m.? Dec. 5-6: Partnering with the newly formed Bold Theatre Group, MOCA Jacksonville brings illusion to the stage. This engaging play by Annie Baker follows a cast of five aspiring actors as they discover themselves over the course of a six-week improvisation class where the repercussions of simple theater games transform their entire lives. “Circle Mirror Transformation” won an Off-Broadway Theater Award for Best New American Play in 2009. Make a reservation at Café Nola for dinner before the December 2-3 performances or brunch before the December 6 performance. Please call 904-224-0113 for reservations. Take a tour of “Smoke and Mirrors” after the December 5-6 performances at 3:45 p.m.
$10 members, $15 nonmembers

MOCA Jacksonville Book Club • 1 p.m. ?and 7 p.m. Jan. 14, 2016: In 1990, thirteen works of art worth more than $500 million today were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. “The Art Forger” by Barbara A. Shapiro is a thrilling, fictional take on the most famous art heist ever committed. The story introduces us to Claire Roth, a struggling contemporary artist, whose Faustian bargain leads to shocking discoveries about the missing works and a history where nothing is as it seems. Buy the book in the MOCA Shop, then join a guided book club discussion and interactive hour-long tour of “Smoke and Mirrors” at 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. Enjoy a meal at Café Nola before or after the discussion time of your choosing. Please call 904-224-0113 for reservations.

In Context: Permanent Collection’s Past and Future • 7-8:30 p.m. Jan. 28, 2016: JHave you ever wondered about the origins of MOCA Jacksonville’s Permanent Collection? What led the Museum to begin collecting in the first place, and how has the collection changed over time? How do artworks arrive in the collection, how are they used within exhibitions, and what are some of the exciting stories behind these individual objects? Join Curator of Collections Ben Thompson in the first of a series of programs that explore the past, present, and future of Jacksonville’s contemporary art collection.

FIS/FNF Free Thursday Evenings • 5-9 p.m. Thursdays: MOCA Jacksonville partners with FIS and Fidelity National Financial to provide free Thursday evening admission and tours throughout 2015. This free evening allows a far greater number of community members to experience MOCA Jacksonville’s formidable exhibitions, take part in its inventive programming, and get to know FIS and FNF as sponsors of one of Jacksonville’s premier cultural landmarks. Join us at 7 p.m. each Thursday for a 45-minute tour of the Museum galleries.

Art Fusion • 5-8 p.m. first Wednesday of the month, noon- 4 p.m. first Sunday of the month: Art Fusion, sponsored by Florida Blue and Hemming Park, enriches children’s creative minds through hands-on art-making projects inspired by the works at MOCA Jacksonville. Art Fusion takes place in one of the Museum’s fifth floor classrooms during Downtown Art Walk on the first Wednesday of each month and in Hemming Park on the first Sunday of the each month. In Hemming Park, enjoy food trucks, play a games, listen to live music—then head inside MOCA Jacksonville for more fun. Children who take part in Art Fusion in Hemming Park receive free gallery admission that day. Take advantage of Museums on Us the first weekend of each month (free admission for Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders) and Regions Sundays (free admission for Regions cardholders).

All public programs are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted. Register in advance at

One of the public programs for "Smoke and Mirrors" is a partnership with the newly formed Bold Theatre Group. For its first official project, the group will give five performances of "Circle Mirror Transformation" in MOCA Jacksonville's theater in December.