"This and That: The Aesthetics of Otherness"

A review of Virginia Lukei’s Heavenly Bodies in Parallel Universes

Virginia Lukei’s images are full of dualities.  Figures appear to be floating and transcendent within the confines of the pool.   Reflections and refractions fragment the bodies yet their immersion in the pool also hints at a womblike and peaceful state.    The figures are unified by shared environment, yet, with strangely limited physical contact, they carry a sense of isolation.   This causes the viewer to focus on the spaces between the figures, which become equally substantive, creating a universe intimate and infinite, cosmic and corporeal.

Her most intriguing paintings are at once representational and abstract, recognizable figures transforming into swirls of color as the bodies break the surface of the water generating energized reflections to the viewers below.  Paintings appear to capture figures at the moment before they completely fragment, a last moment of order before chaos triumphs.  But this moment of clarity on the verge of chaos hints at a greater truth, the state in which we all exist.  Elements of chance, universality, transformation are all present in this elegant, poetic, rhythmic dance, the complex interconnected tissues of the shared experience of life.

Virginia strongly believes in this interconnectivity, that actions, thoughts and even mere existence cause a ripple effect through the universe, and that those keen enough to recognize this cause and effect can channel it in tangible ways.  These paintings require the viewer to complete them.  Heisenberg would argue that there can be no passive voyeurism, that the observer always plays an active role and produces an effect through his presence.  While this principle is usually applied to scientific observation it also seems applicable to these paintings which seem to reach beyond the picture plane to transform the viewer into a participant. 


In some ways Virginia’s work is analogous to Spencer Tunick’s.  Both artists encourage others to become willing participants in an illegal nude performance.  Both artists direct the action, indicate when and how to pose, and capture the soul of the event through photography.   In Tunick’s case, this is the end game. For Lukei, the process has just begun.  She then paints from her orchestrated photographs, creating layers of separation between the scene and the viewer.   The moment of immersion, a photograph capturing the moment, and the reworking of the scene in paint are all parallel universes in Lukei’s vision. 

The mystique and glamour of California (swimming pool) culture enhances this notion of a separate reality.  David Hockney documented this culture in his early swimming pool photographs and paintings that objectified his models through a stylistic application of color, a fundamental love of abstraction and more than a bit of homoeroticism.   Lukei probes deeper into the blue ether as her models float in anonymity at the edge of the chasm that separates the immersed from the emergent.  The water’s surface tension becomes the dividing line between her parallel universes and we watch as some of the bodies break through to the other side.  We are voyeurs in a womb observing the births of new souls.

Larry and Debby Kline

Independent Curators


December 20, 2009

Home   |   Current Work   |   Archives   |   Media   |   Resume  |   Review   |   Contact