Beds and flowers and metaphysics

By GREG COOK  |  October 2, 2013

SOMETHING MYSTICAL? Pestana's Azoth. [Photo by Sophia Sobers]

“Prolegomenon,” the title of RISD grad student Steven Pestana’s show at Grin (60 Valley St, Providence, through October 11), basically means “introduction.” In this particular case, it refers to 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s book Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself As a Science.

“I feel that philosophy and the social sciences,” Pestana writes, “once responsible for articulating the human condition, have surrendered too much of their essence to scientific validation. The result denies us the poetic moments of great philosophical dreaming, and worse, it also denies us of personal agency in our own everyday life.”

Those are good thoughts, but they don’t adhere well to his sculptures, installations, and photographic images. Azoth is a waxy, white, plastic root-thing that ends in clear plastic flower petals. Five nodes slowly blink blue and purple inside like an alien heartbeat. It’s suspended from the ceiling by a gold chain. Below a pile of black powdery stuff has been splattered on a circle of reflective aluminum, garnished with a golden leaf.

Atlas Quadrugrafia is a dark room with four translucent screens, illuminated by blue lights and hanging one in front of the next. The first shows a row of hexagons. You can see through it to the second screen depicting waves of water and maybe glimpse suggestions of the third screen, printed with an eyeball design. A fourth screen covered with, perhaps, an occult diagram of the universe can be seen if you squeeze along the sides of the room. A soft organ hums and drones.

The shrine-like objects and curious installations are handsomely, precisely crafted. But while the hexagons and other elemental symbolism indicate something mystical is going on, it feels like shorthand notation gesturing toward poetic moments rather than a real experience.

Follow Greg Cook @AestheticResear.

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