Text and photos by Mara Fabella
Entering “The Horizon of Expectations” is like taking a plunge into a colorful underwater world inhabited by outlandish creatures and alluring corals. Upon closer inspection, the true nature of Feleo’s works becomes clear as she invites her viewers to observe her meticulously-crafted pieces on both a macro and micro level.
“The Horizon of Expectations” is Feleo’s second solo exhibition that expounds on the idea of the sublime through the use of artificially-grown crystals and layered collages of images found in nature. The sublime is a rather loaded concept that has been discussed throughout history by many prominent philosophers. It refers to a feeling that one has encountered something with a degree of indescribability or immeasurably great. For the artist, the sublime is the feeling of wonder mixed with trepidation when one comes face-to-face with the vastness of nature.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is “Crystal Sandbar”. The work rests on a long table over which the artist overlaid sand, serving as a bedding for her curious garden of crystal creations. These crystals vary in form, size, and color —each a unique glistening piece. Feleo cultivated the large collection of crystals herself over the span of 6 years. Each crystal was grown from a chemical solution and a ceramic core foundation, resulting in a final form that would often grow in ways even the artist herself could not predict. The final crystals would mutate and break apart while the ceramic base would protrude outward, creating a form that resembles an exotic deep sea creature. Emphasizing the alien qualities of the work are sculptural appendages which slither outward toward viewers like serpentine limbs.
Crystals are seen as things of great beauty, and Feleo contrasts this with her mesmerizing use of the sputnik-shaped forms. For every dazzling pink shine, there is a sharp and deadly edge. For each seemingly inanimate shard, there is a complex bulbous form that seems so dynamic it could be alive. Crystals are a special material for the artist. She describes them as being representations of space and time, manifesting years of growth as crystal protrusions that extend through space. Feleo uses dualism to recall the sublime in the work, combining the beautiful with the dangerous, the predictable with the unpredictable, and the outer world with a whole new micro-universe of life.
Serving as a backdrop to “Crystal Sandbar” is a wall-bound collage “Creations of Nature and Man-made Progeny”. Against a background of splattered primary colors are collages of different images, from fruits, to underwater creatures, to microscopic organisms. “A Grain of Sugar” makes use of similar imagery, and just like the crystals, represents 6 years of the artist gathering cutouts of insects, gems, rocks, and more. As a grain of sugar evolves from a simple cube to an intricate multi-faceted form under a microscope, the work transforms from a disorganized colorful mess from afar to a layered, overwhelming assortment of detail when seen up close.
It is this microscopic way of seeing that the artist provides vantage to in “Untitled (Kaleidoscope Bar)”. Audiences are invited to view petri dishes of her crystals through a kaleidoscope. Feleo claims that interactivity in an installation such as this encourages reverie, as does the sublime in nature on a larger scale. Encountering the sublime leads to contemplation, whether viewed through a microscope or through a much larger lens, as in Feleo’s untitled slithering and climbing crystal installations, walled off by glass like scientific experiments.
The exhibit’s title alludes to a phrase used by art historian E.H. Gombrich to describe how one interprets a work of art. But how does a horizon of expectations fair when faced with something as unfathomable as the sublime? This is the challenge posed by Samantha Feleo in her exhibit. She presents her own manifestations of nature’s sublime energy on a scale both large and small, familiar and strange, controlled and spontaneous, and visible and invisible. Experiencing something as limitless as the sublime allows one to come to terms with their own limits. As the artist herself stated, “I am able to recognize my otherness in the infinity of the universe and reflect on the human predicament.”
“The Horizon of Expectations” is on view at the CCP Small Gallery and Atriums from November 28, 2019 to February 9, 2020.