Robert Ladislas Derr, Keep An Eye On

Published by: E. B. Cox | 28-Oct-2016
Walking into Robert Ladislas Derr's new installation "Keep An Eye On" at the Roper Gallery, Frostburg State University, all eyes are on you.
Venue: Stephanie Ann Roper Gallery
Address: Frostburg State University
Date: Oct-16
Walking into Robert Ladislas Derr's new installation "Keep An Eye On" at the Roper Gallery, Frostburg State University, all eyes are on you. Twenty-five eyes⎯color digital prints⎯on the wall peering down, are at first unsettling, and then quite beautiful. Moving to the opposite wall, a large color video of the eyes pop on the screen one after the other.

The eyes in the color digital prints appear too perfect to be real with their glossy sheen and irregular shaped edges. In deed, these are antique prosthetic glass eyes with irises of blue, green, hazel, and brown that lends beautiful color to the specimens. Across each of the eyes, a distinct half moon white wash is cast indiscriminately.

At the opening during his talk, Mr. Derr asks the audience to guess how the mark was made. No one guessed that this was the light from a scanner. These photographs were created from scans of each of the eyes.

Mr. Derr explains that he replicated the mechanics of seeing. Our eyes gather light to form an image, and so he used the scanner, which also uses light to create an image. The scanner translates each of the eyes against a black background leaving its trace.

Artists are risk takers. They push their ideas, tools, and materials to the limits. And Mr. Derr certainly falls into this characterization. Pitching his camera for the scanner, he relinquishes control.

Born in the early 1970s to a traditional Catholic family, with life beyond Cincinnati suburbia quickly changing, Mr. Derr instinctually latched onto breaking conventions. Reimagining things has been at the core for Mr. Derr. In his work, he questions norms, looking at things for what they can be.

Mr. Derr has a special relationship with his video cameras, cajoling them to be more than mere recording devices. In the video, Mr. Derr places the eyes in front of the lens to reinforce the focusing aspect of seeing. Placed in the spotlight, each eye at first appears blurry, then comes into focus, one after the other. Just like the scanner, he exploits the video camera's ability to see.

In many of his videos, Mr. Derr pushes his cameras to eccentric levels of operation. Leaving the cameras on hay bales in Finland, he records the movement as he jumps from bale to bale in "From There to Here and Here to There." Mr. Derr throws the cameras into the chaos of his performances.

From some of the early video greats such as Dennis Oppenheim, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci, Mr. Derr moves forward with an almost symbiotic connection to his cameras. The cameras are an extension of his visualization of what occurs and has occurred. From the four-channel video installations of "Chance" that engulf the viewer into street scenes, to the two-channel "In My Shoes" videos that walk across the floor with Mr. Derr in borrowed shoes, the time of past is still happening.

Likewise, his photographs launch from some of his favorite photographers including Eadweard Muybridge, Harry Callahan, and Lee Friedlander to manifest his performances. His photographs stir curiosity with just enough stain for the story to develop. Mr. Derr's photographs and video partner up, each giving their version of the tale.

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