On October 21st, the exhibition Spencer Finch: color / temperature, at the Hanes Gallery, culminated with a talk by the artist in the Kulynych Auditorium. Finch engages in a close observation of nature and natural systems, tying the natural world to that of art, literature, and philosophy, expressed particularly in the properties and perception of light. He filters his fundamentally empirical approach through a poetic, eccentric sensibility that owes much to American transcendentalism and the uncanny awareness evident in the work of writers like Emily Dickinson (in his talk, Finch admitted to being a “groupie” of Dickinson and her work). Pragmatic, but also idealist and romantic, his work is in part a summation of 19th century sensibility brought into what is now being called the Anthropocene, a geological period reflecting the impact of human influence.
In his talk, Spencer Finch emphasized, with characteristic modesty and humor, the provisional nature of his research and process, even though he employs the tools and techniques of scientific measurement and observation. The centerpiece of the exhibition at Wake Forest was an ice machine adjusted to cycle water that has been color-calibrated to match that of the sky above the Franz Josef glacier (New Zealand) at a precise date and time. It then “calves” as ice into a basin, melts into a sky-blue pool, and is recycled.
Finch’s work posits us in a fraught relationship with the nature he observes and records the workings of. His creative process transforms and reinterprets those observations and experiences; his work helps us understand our position vis a vis “nature” (and its phenomena), even as we alter it.
Two things in particular stand out from Spencer Finch’s talk: his work (like Dickinson’s) takes the natural, the intimate, and the particular and creates a metaphor for our being in the universe; and he -repeatedly and knowingly, despite his assiduous methods- demonstrates the futility of quantifying the hue of human experience.
By Paul Bright, Director, Hanes Art Gallery