by Marsha Pearce

A plethora of picturesque renderings of beachscapes, market women and old houses in the art scene of a number of Caribbean islands puts perception under threat. In his essay “Art as Technique” Viktor Shklovsky notes that when we see a subject several times we know it but we no longer see it. Our sensory experience is dulled. Perception becomes quick; automatic. To counter this tendency, Shklovsky proposes an act of what he calls defamiliarisation, which he locates within the practice of art making. According to him: “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things […] The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” The exhibition 2 ISLES, presents work by early-career artists that dares to defy a creative norm – work that pushes against perceptual automisation and asks us to look, and look again.

Simone Asia’s hyperdetailed images lock gazes in a journey that takes us deep into a stream of consciousness that she builds with an array of marks: from blotches and dots to lines and shading. In contrast, Alex Kelly’s forms are spare but he moves components to which we are accustomed, into a space of the strange and curious. For example, his hybrid figure of a cutlass-wielding child clad in school uniform, with television antennae instead of a human head, requires more than a glance. In taking time with such an image, we are meant to perceive again, to see and feel, to sense afresh the phenomenon of school violence, rather than merely knowing it.

Luis Vasquez La Roche’s phrases created with predictive text, demonstrate the ways in which contexts can reformulate language and make meaning peculiar. Words and messages become surprising, unfamiliar within the sentence constructions and less predictable. La Roche’s Espacios Imaginarios is a series of images that are simultaneously tinged with the familiar and visualised in alien terms. They are sites we cannot pinpoint – places that span the imaginary and the real. Versia Harris also vexes what we know with her injections of the fantastical. Her distortions play with the eye, generating a pictorial “difficulty” that puts perception to work.

While these artists attend to various concerns – memory, politics, identity, desire, violence and corruption – through a range of approaches and materials, it is an aesthetic of sustained perception that weaves the works together. This effort at revitalising our sensation, demonstrated by artists newly entered into the space of critical and market attention, is no small feat, for the path of creative defamiliarisation is one less travelled in our isles.