The Fussy Eye: Cone and Selection

Nothing is symmetrical in nature. Trees are warped by the wind, streams meander, and even mountains are (mis)shaped by the elements (glaciers, erosion, what have you). Yet we insist on imposing the “right” shape on creation with our topiary trees, dredged and straightened rivers, and bioengineered fruit. The Wisconsin-based British photographer Stephen Hilyard has seen plenty such examples during his travels, both the before and the after of man’s hand. So, following a recent trip to the marvelously photogenic, volcanic country of Iceland, he took it upon himself to “improve” his images in Photoshop—to give tourists (meaning us gallery-goers) an unnaturally idealized, symmetrical vision of that country’s landscape. You want the postcard view? he asks; fine, here it is. In Mountain, he presents five large lightbox images of old volcano cones that have been subtly resculpted to be more, well, conical. It’s a bit like the fashion mags that slim models’ legs and lengthen their necks: There’s a mathematical formula, like the old Greek ratios, that pleases the eye into saying, “Oh, that’s just right.” But what’s right about these luminous images is, of course, entirely bogus. Hilyard is lightly mocking our bias toward the ideal; and you see the same tension in an accompanying video of tourists admiring a gorgeous—and again postcard-ready—Icelandic waterfall. It’s so perfect! It’s the quintessence of a waterfall (like those volcanic cones), a Platonic ideal that’s also weirdly close to kitsch. Perfection is an aesthetic trap, a kind of pathological yearning, like those women who can’t stop having plastic surgery (inspired, of course, by the photo editors who can’t stop retouching fashion photos). Implicit here is Hilyard’s gentle, artful rebuke: Iceland doesn’t need digital help, no matter how appealing. Platform Gallery, Platform Gallery, 114 Third Ave. S. (Tashiro Kaplan Building), 323-2808, Free. 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Wed.–Fri., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat. Ends March 22.

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