Evan Engstrom

Evan Engstrom

Work from his oeuvre.

“I make objects that serve both as investigations of and bad jokes about the difference between what we believe and what we know about reality. For all the effort that scientists and philosophers have made trying to define and understand the true nature of being, an acceptance of unreality pervades contemporary life, as, among other things, hyperreality, the precession of simulacra, and “truthiness.”  Despite the unavoidable, crushing banalities of existence, utopian ideals abound, and in the face of empirical proof that the universe is by and large a cold, random, and unforgiving void, we necessarily seek and expect to find meaningful order.  As bleak as this all sounds, it’s not as though contemporary society is blind to these unrealities. It is, after all, a willful suspension of disbelief that makes narrative (and really all social functioning) possible. Still, there is something both sad and hilarious in acknowledging the apparent fallacies inherent in our experience of reality, and my work plays with these absurdities and contradictions without critiquing theories of ontology. Rather than fret about if and why society in late capitalism has adopted a set of symbols that have usurped and replaced some true reality, I’m interested in how such signs affect perceived reality and how altering them in turn affects one’s conscious perception.

As such, geometry is a common theme in my work, as it presents a fundamental example of a gap between what is perceived as real and the “true” reality represented. We tend to think of geometry as the most “physical” or material branch of mathematics, focusing on the visual representation of mathematical axioms, not the axioms themselves. Yet, of course the idea of a heptagon is a pure abstraction, and the visual depiction of the seven-sided object typically evoked by the word “heptagon” is incorrect both as a crude representation of an immaterial concept and as a mere approximation (in that heptagons cannot be precisely constructed with classical methods). Additionally, geometry serves a fundamentally opposite, though equally unreal, secondary symbolic purpose associated with mysticism and the occult. Playing on these symbolic associations, I make large scale wall sculptures using neon or electroluminescent wire that evoke spiritual icons and/or mathematical proofs. Some of the pieces are programmed such that the lights turn on and off rapidly to generate an overwhelming pattern of shapes and light. Though the sequence is based on pseudo random numbers, the rigid symmetry of the symbols imply intentionality and order. Similar pieces are mounted on faux-stone plastic laminate, highlighting the unreality of the material. I’m interested in whether it is possible to generate a sense of sublime experience through the manipulation of quasi-mystical symbols while challenging any subconscious suspension of disbelief by calling attention to the obvious falsity of the construction.

Other works approach such perceptual biases in more ridiculous ways. In Endless Summer, a modified slide projector quickly cycles through images culled from a web search for photos tagged as “paradise,” while the mechanical grind of the projector is amplified in the space. In this piece, and in much of my work, I employ techniques of sensory overload and visual aggression both to emphasize the cognitive dissonance generated by the way the symbols and their associations are manipulated and to create a space of immersion that distorts the viewer’s perceptual capacity in the presence of the object and consequently focuses and delimits the viewer’s perception when the encounter is over.  Ultimately, recognizing that any sculptural exploration into the nature of perceived reality is a rather silly, self-defeating activity, my work hews as closely to the comic as possible. There are no mystic truths to reveal but plenty of mundane limitations to laugh at.” – Evan Engstrom

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