Ben Tong: To See Is To Forget The Name Of The Thing You See

Ben Tong: To See Is To Forget The Name Of The Thing You See

University of California, Santa Barbara

February 6, 2023
Ben Tong
To See Is To Forget The Name Of The Thing You See
February 15–March 17, 2023
Talk with Kim Córdova & Ben Tong: February 15, 5–6pm
Opening reception : February 15, 5–7pm
University of California, Santa Barbara
College of Creative Studies
Building 494, 1 UCEN Rd
Santa Barbara, California 93106
United States
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Painting and the experience of light and time as embodied knowledge operate as both subject and object in painter Ben Tong’s dynamic works. In To See Is to Forget the Name of the Thing You See, at the UCSB College of Creative Studies (CCS), Tong presents a new series of paintings that are the result of his focus on a pursuit of light including the metaphorical and metaphysical diffractions which illuminate physical and conceptual worlds.

That California light, perhaps more than any other quality, cuts to the core of the state’s being. Whether a milky honey haze, electric vanilla, or piercing knife-blade blue, the arresting quality of the sun in the land of manifest destiny both suspends time and runs through it forming for residents and visitors a crystalline lineage of perception. Northern, southern, and central coasts are each steeped in their own specific chiaroscuros of western pacific shimmer. For Hollywood directors, aerospace engineers, artists, occultists, and utopian dreamers, the light in the west continues to beckon those seeking enlightening. Referencing both the quote attributed to poet Paul Valéry, “to see is to forget the name of the thing one sees” and the Lawrence Wechsler monograph on Robert Irwin’s work, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, this presentation traverses the relationship between space and Californian light by following its undulations through its relationship with the region’s other signature atmospheric condition: the haze. Like a protean scrim of billions of microscopic worlds, the locally monikered “marine layer” gives weight and form to the sun’s waves of radiation washing over Earth’s shore. Like the materiality of paint, which becomes subject and object as waves of light pass through it, atmospheric hazes protagonize light as object of fascination with aerosolized particles that bounce, scatter, bend, and gild it.

Representations of light in painting have for centuries been used as a metaphor to refer to consciousness. But rather than represent consciousness, Tong’s intuitive practice rides it as a wave or frequency that constructs realities. In his work he follows light as it reverberates off the canvas ground, bending as it travels through translucent layers of paint which our brains interpret as color and form. For Tong, this makes painting nothing less than a connection between the experience on earth to the stuff of the cosmos: the overwhelmingly improbable yet spectacularly fortunate relationship between the frequencies of light emitted from the belly of our solar system, the time it takes these waves to arrive at and bounce off the canvas, and the existence of the viewer who witnesses them. Some compositions suggest dual relationships: interiors and exteriors, domestic and public, darkness and light, diffuse and diffracted light. Tiny moments signal possibilities for expanded meaning. Repeated circular forms, like tracking the phases of painted moons, call to mind the shadows of heavenly bodies cast by pinhole cameras and eclipse viewers registering movements of the solar system that for centuries humans have looked to in search for meaning. Triangular shapes in Dog Ears reminiscent of the terror of shadows on the bedroom wall, or Plato’s cave, suggest how realities are fabrications of light, perception, and time. They both call to mind futurist Buckminster Fuller’s 1969 lectures at The College of Creative Studies in which he pronounced “the universe is an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping time events”.

Text and curation by Kim Córdova.

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University of California, Santa Barbara
February 6, 2023

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