Wave Cathedral at Mass MoCA

Blog post by Alyssa Gullotto

Wave Cathedral, 2015 (Installation view) by Clifford Ross, Computer-generated video on 2 LED screens, photo by Arthur Evans

While exploring Clifford Ross’ exhibition at Mass MoCA titled “Landscape Seen & Imagined,” there was one piece in particular that stopped me in my tracks. Drawn in by a bright, shifting field of royal blues and sea foam greens, I approached Ross’ Wave Cathedral. Fragments of the mysterious form became clearer to me as I moved closer. Individual particles danced around the screen with their own destination. Yet, these particles somehow shifted with each other as though they were dancing the perfect Waltz. It became clear that this work was comprised of digital particles that flooded the two screens standing assertively against the wall.

White particles would occasionally flood in to my field of view, shimmering intensely. I was reminded of my early childhood and the waves that crashed along the shores of New Jersey. I felt a sense of nostalgia and yearned for a moment that felt more serene and carefree.

The digital waves held no direct connection to my experiences, but they did trigger a memory much like my own documentary photographs have. The photographs themselves are a hyperreality that I can relive memories through. They are a simulation of a point in time that once existed. What remains is just a photograph of a time in space.

This piece was not a real wave in itself. In fact, it even goes beyond the traditional photograph to simulate the wave digitally. What is this digital wave?

To Western culture, the digital wave can parallel an influx of digitally distributed photographs. If we look at social media websites, users plaster the space with digitally represented memories. These are not the user’s real experiences. They are a projection of a photograph of a moment in time. The content creates a hyperrealistic paradox better known as the simulacrum.

Within the simulacrum, we move further away from truth with each replication. No longer is this about the experience but about the simulation of or yearning for what was experienced. This was about the replication. It was about loss. I could feel my mind drifting further from consciousness, almost as though I were drowning within the digital environment.

Although Ross’ Wave Cathedral roped me in and provoked a mental simulation of real waves crashing right at my feet, this was merely a memory. As I regained consciousness of my surroundings, I was faced again with the reality of the space. There were no waves, sand, or salt-water air. All that remained was a digital simulation facing me in an empty room. The floors were wooden once again, the space enclosed, and I left conscious of the space I consumed. Little did I know that it would consume me in return.