Toby Ziegler at Simon Lee Gallery

Art is an inexact science. Meaning and interpretation are not only fluid but subjective to both the artist and the viewer. Here’s an interesting exercise you can try. Walk into an art gallery. Pick up a press release at the information desk and fold it away into your pocket. Wander around the gallery, taking in the paintings (or sculpture, or installation), creating your own, personal impression of the meanings behind each piece and cataloguing the emotional response you experience as you traverse the room.

Are you done? Now read the press release. Chances are, none of it will sound even remotely familiar. Some people use this as evidence that all art (particularly modern art) is pretentious and worthless. Those people usually don’t have very good social skills.

In true petulant teenager form, I refuse to subscribe to the technically correct notion of modifying your beliefs to fit with those of people who are smarter, better educated and more experienced than yourself. While fully aware of the fact that a curator (or, hell, the artist) probably knows more about the intentions of an exhibit than I do, I will be damned if I regurgitate their educated opinion here like some kind of blind baby bird. Instead, I shall take the path of unapologetic speculation and prescription-free glasses.

According to the press release, Toby Ziegler’s show at the Simon Lee gallery traverses themes of memory and reproduction in a digital age and the effect technology has had, effectively, on the human mind. Given persistent themes of religion, images of medieval Catholicism and the physical embodiment of crude digital modelling present throughout the show, this interpretation seems so reductionist that accepting it would evaporate my blood plasma.

Ziegler’s paintings source images of saints and nature, invert them, filter them through the infra-red and bleach them. Ghostly trees sprout from greying river banks and tired, pious-looking women observe the world through blackened, atrophied corneas. Each canvas is dotted with spots, quick bursts of pink, white or black spray paint. They radiate from the walls, like a tension headache after a car crash, beautiful and irritating in equal measure.

They are obstacles you cannot avoid; they are an inescapable annoyance standing between you and the image of Christ or a greying, dying creek re-imagined in dirty pastels. The thesis, derived on a purely emotional basis, concerns the personal biases which cloud our vision. Biases which we, unfortunately, cannot escape any more than we can wipe the canvas clear of the spray paint.

The sculptures, composed of hexagonal panels, semi-abstract and perched on wooden frames, compliment the painted works. They are digital sketches, the first stages of a 3D rendering, manifested in a physical space. They seem sad, like incomplete projects or abandoned ideas relegated to the scrapyard. What happens to things we once believed in but which no longer matter? What happens to the gods and idols which pass out of necessity and fashion?

Ziegler’s work takes the viewer on a snaking path of epistemological and theological questions. Thankfully, it attempts to answer none of them. A provocative and aesthetically novel exhibition well worth a visit.

Toby Ziegler’s exhibition runs until February 25 at:

Simon Lee Gallery
12 Berkeley Street

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