This summer, I was commissioned to produce a new essay for Katy Stone’s exhibition (once upon a time) at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Katy Stone (once upon a time)

A long shaft of sunlight spills through the window to strike a collection of mylar sequins on the floor, diffracting light in shimmering rivulets across a wall holding several hundred infra-thin columns of orange film arranged in an orb. Minutes later the light has shifted, the luminous tracings have evolved, and the moment has passed.

How do you capture something as evanescent as a scatter of light, to preserve it in amber, so to speak? The immanent orange sphere and its mylar reflection that make up Katy Stone’s Sun/Circle respond to this question not by immobilizing luminosity on a solid, immutable picture plane, but by creating a field for infinite play that lies in wait to be activated, amplifying and teasing out light’s manifold qualities. Her installations bring light, color, and mass into conversation with the architectural volume of the gallery space, dissolving solid forms into more porous ones. Wrapping walls and expanding across floors, these installations create a theater for light, a stage upon which one can feel one’s kinesthetic body in space. Like theater, (once upon a time) draws you out of reality to model another world, to create a space of reflection and respite.

Sun/Circle occupies a threshold moment in (once upon a time), between the interior and exterior of the gallery. The installation refers not only to the natural source of light, but also to the nature of abstraction and representation, the mirrored and mirroring image of the disc below echoing the form above through a grouping of even smaller, atomized circles. Stone’s installations are rigorously constructed along the lines of such dualities: ephemeral and monumental, natural and artificial, emptiness and space, objects and reflections, representations, or shadows.

Our perceptual systems are well attuned to luminosity. Not only does Stone’s work take on light as a medium, but her subject matter is of light things: clouds, water, and films. “Everything I choose is a thin thing.” Katy Stone writes in her artist statement, “As my pieces spread, reach and spill beyond the picture plane into architectural space, they are unbound, symbols of transformation.” In Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media Italian film theorist Guiliana Bruno attends to the surfaces of things, to transform our understanding of surfaces away from the idea of superficiality to understanding them as membranes rich with information and meaning. The material supports for Stone’s work are often films – Vellum, Mylar, Dura-Lar — trading in currencies of luminosity, transparency, softness, and permeability. Each installation is constructed out of hundreds of individual layered pieces that build vibrating color-fields of green, blue, and orange. Through the veil of layers in which forms advance and recede as the body moves around them, each installation holds within itself the suggestion of an imminent process of becoming that can never be fixed.

Emily Zimmerman, 2019

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