by Vatsala SethiSep 21, 2022
The job of an artist is difficult to be summarised into a singular role. It is impossible to summarise without being reductive. Artists are philosophers, mad scientists, explorers and inventors. Many notable artists of the past have been inventors. Whether they are creating mechanical contraptions to make man fly, like Leonardo da Vinci, or handcrafting lenses to create surreal visuals like Cate Woodruff, they are all chasing something the world has never seen before, birthing a novel experience through their creative practice. Woodruff is an American artist who lives and works from her homes in New York (USA) and Sardinia (Italy). While her visual art practice is entirely self-driven, Woodruff has been trained extensively in theatre at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, Webster University, and even Harvard. Her experimental nature has led her to work with a diverse set of media. From her camera-based practice, Woodruff presented a solo show at SL Gallery in New York City, titled Light Minded.
At Light Minded, an exhibition which ran from early January and ended in early March, the viewer was introduced to a selection of photographs and an audiovisual installation, which evidences Woodruff’s playful relationship with light. By making lenses and props of her own to catch light in a rather unique way, Woodruff captures some incredible colours in her works. Director of SL Gallery, Tony Long, explains how the inventor in Woodruff was brought alive, “She began experimenting with handcrafted lenses when she lived in a cabin with old wavy glass windows. Inspired by the distortion the glass created and the reflections from one window to another, she decided to incorporate the effect into her work by using these old windows as a tool”.
This motivated Woodruff to explore the blurred lines between our visual reality and fiction even further and she began to create attachments to her camera or use reflective surfaces using a range of objects, breaking down the light itself and ultimately the image as well. The result is an abstraction of reality, essentially using only her camera to capture physical actuality. Woodruff prints her images on various surfaces like fabric, metal, glass or light boxes, diverging from normative photography practices. Long elaborates, “Exploring luminous spaces and emanations, which are not often seen or noticed with the naked eye, allows her to examine her sense of perception, distilling what she perceives as reality to a state of being”.
A notable work from the solo exhibition was Woodruff’s sound sculpture titled Empty Space Inside An Argument, which comprised 18 pieces of plexiglass printed with her images hung from the ceiling. The plexiglass pieces were cut to take the shape of the empty spaces between the word ‘NOT’. Long explains, “Empty Space Inside an Argument is the recognition of absolute connectivity, continual impermanence, empty space in everything, and our deep understanding of, and ability to exist in a state of heightened awareness, generosity and creative openness”.
In a typographic play using space, light and colour, the installation repeatedly spelled the word ‘NOT’. The installation was supported by a sound art piece created in collaboration with David Van Tieghem, using measurements of the shapes, depth, circumference and diameter, in between the words NOTNOTNOT are transposed into notes in the chromatic scale, composed into sound and music.
Woodruff has worked in international museums and public collections and in outer space, including MoMA Pop Rally, NYC; The International Center for Photography, NYC; The Contemporary Art Museum of Cagliari, Galleria Comunale d’art, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy; Fondazione Bartoli Felter, Cagliari, Sardinia Italy; NYU Science Center Permanent Collection; NYU Orthopedic Center Permanent Collection, and NASA - onboard the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) spacecraft on its journey to the Bennu asteroid, revolving around the sun for millennia.