Tara Donovan’s art is phenomenological in the sense that her “site responsive” sculptures reveal the purely subjective aspects of consciousness. The vacillation between illusion and material reality prevalent in her work activates perceptual shifts. So rather than say Donovan’s “Untitled (Plastic Cups),” (2006) doesn’t work because the raw material (plastic cups) isn’t completely transformed or because we have seen this sort of thing before, we should focus on the dissociation that takes place. Tara Donovan’s work creates a dramatic tension between what cognitive neuroscientist Uri Hasson calls “activation induced by local object features and activation induced by holistic, grouping processes that involve the entire object or large parts of it.” Donovan would have prevented viewers from seeing her artworks close up if she wanted to conceal the individual units that comprise the whole. The work currently on display at PaceWildenstein is a complex version of the vase-face illusion. It contains an inherent contradiction in the sense that its physicality immediately inspires neuronal activation that is not dependent upon the physical properties of the visual stimulus. It works because both ends of the spectrum, the material reality of the stacked cups and the illusion of a terrestial or extraterrestrial landscape, absorb our attention.
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