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The Things We Cannot See


Friday March 22nd, 2024 from 5:30 pm

at the SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art

Free and without reservation

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Hua Jin


Rafael Y. Herman​​

23.03.2024 - 11.05.2024

Curated by Art/Around

         Hua Jin and Rafael Herman share a profound connection with nature, and its contemplation is their main source of inspiration. Their visual practice, based on solitary reflection, uses video and photography to illustrate the diverse and often imperceptible phenomena in the ecological world. The artworks selected for this exhibition provide insight into the inscrutable but pervasive presence of air and light pollution within urban areas and beyond.


         Hua Jin’s The Colour of Air welcomes us into a sea of colour. At first glance, the photographs present an indistinct image: a progression of gradients. This series was inspired by conversations about pollution that Hua engaged in with artists living and working in the Su Zhuan area on the outskirts of Beijing during a Chinese Canadian exchange program in 2017. Amidst the region’s poor air quality, the local artists voiced frustration about their commune being destroyed by the government for future development. The artist’s existential struggles and heavy level of smog in the city seemed to be intermingled in a dense atmosphere that made it hard to breathe, as though they were all interconnected. It was this encounter that instigated Jin’s interest in the subject of air pollution. 


         Conscious of the global reach of this environmental issue, upon her return to Canada, Jin searched online news sources to investigate how they portray air pollution. Jin identified several images of congested cities oppressed by hazy multi-coloured skies all over the world, including Canada, France, Pakistan, and the UK. Even before reading the captions that described the illustrations, the chromatic nuances of the air enticed her. These online pictures are the source of The Colour of Air. Jin removed all elements of human presence from the compositions. In the absence of any man-made traces, the distilled images magnify, instead, the daunting presence of pollution in the atmosphere. Jin thus transformed this synthetic murkiness into pure abstraction.


         Both artists use large horizontal formats and combinations that resound in the space. Herman’s works can be mystifying. He ventures out into nature to find locations with low levels of light pollution. Standing still for hours, he stares into the darkness and captures things that he cannot yet see - they will only be revealed once the image is processed. Herman has invented his own scientific process, developing a mathematical formula that calculates the exposure without light.

         Like Jin, he looks for an alternative dimension. His images challenge our sense of vision with scenes of non-places and dazzling chromatic effects, prompting viewers to become actively engaged in the pursuit of an unconditioned reality.

In fact, Herman is offering a conduit to epiphany. He wants to transmit his experiences of revelation in the dark; even though he doesn’t see the actual place, the resulting image allows him, and us, to discover it. We are transported elsewhere beyond the everyday. These are his offerings; not for the eye, rather for the heart, and so they should be felt, not seen.


         Jin also offers an unconventional path to enlightenment for those who take the time to look. Shot in stillness for 15 minutes while she was at the Wanderlust, Skaftfell Thematic Residency in Iceland, her video, Turquoise, lures us into the unknown, into a pristine utopia - before pollution -, in sharp contrast to her statement in The Color of Air


         At first, we do not know what we are looking at, but it beguiles us. If we stand still and muse at the image, small details appear. We see birds flying across the picture plane and fish breaking the surface of the water. These moments are almost imperceptible but they define the scene and give us a glimpse of elements we would not normally notice. Everchanging and subtle, small ripples define movement. This is an exercise of meditation that Jin shares with us. Shot from a bird’s eye view on a volcano, Turquoise is an ode to nature untouched and a moment of bliss. It is a silent elegy to an all-encompassing natural world.


         Herman yearns for an unspoiled world as well. He grew up in the desert within the expanse and solace of the heavenly veil of the celestial sphere. Light pollution affects approximately 83% of the world’s population, so people who live under light-polluted skies will never see the Milky Way. Herman is not afraid of the dark. Like Jin in her solitude, his works embody a connection and awe of nature. He feels in communion and conveys a universal, transcendental message. Mare XII and Purpura Affectum depict unknown locations because, for Herman, they are irrelevant. Light and darkness, as physical elements, are central to his practice. The artist has a metaphysical curiosity for colours and wants to understand what they really are when there is no light to define them. Seizing something that is not yet there, Herman takes a leap of faith,  as he goes beyond vision into the inscrutable.


         Both artists express a subtle tension: while denouncing the impact of pollution, they revere the power of nature. They confront us with our conditioned gaze and prompt us to look further, beyond appearances. Caught in their rapture, we bathe in their fields of colour and finally see the things we could not see.


About the curators

Behind the exhibition, The Things We Cannot See, are two wild women curators with a long-standing passion for the arts, the artists and their social engagement.


Concerned with global issues and social justice, the dynamic duo is committed to highlighting emerging talents from all over the world that are guided by a strong ethical component; visionaries that aspire to bring about positive change in society.


Complementing each other in interests and expertise, the curators have converged their energies and opted for anonymity so that artists can reclaim their agency and self representation as creators.

À propos des artistes
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Hua Jin


Hua Jin is a visual artist born in China who lives and works in Montreal, Canada. Jin received her Master of Fine Arts degree at Concordia University in Studio Arts (photography) in Montreal and her BFA (photography) at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver.

Jin’s mediums are video, photography, often large-scale installation, and drawing. She has exhibited extensively in solo and group shows throughout Canada, China, the United States, Mexico, Holland, and Iceland. One of her works is permanently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Montreal, and her large-size photo works were exhibited in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, in the Canadian Pavilion at International EXPO 2020. Jin has profited from several residencies, and she has received over 30 prestigious awards and grants, which include the first Cultural Diversity in Visual Arts Award given by the Conseil des arts de Montréal. Jin’s works are featured in numerous private and public collections.


As a Chinese-Canadian artist, Jin’s way of thinking is inherently rooted in Eastern culture and philosophy. Jin’s interests are nature and landscape. Like an ancient Taoist, Jin is dedicated to the contemplation of the “Way" of being. Jin observes nature with curiosity and is fascinated by the hidden systems propelling the rhythms in the circle of life. By visualizing the diversity of natural life, the rhythmic flow of occurrences, and the most recent happenings in the ecological world, Jin aims to render the hidden force and represent the invisible energy. Jin’s works contemplate the ideas of permanence and change, of passing time and the evanescent quality of existence. Her artistic practices focus on the spiritual, memorial, and meditative side of nature as well as its related histories of human stories.

Rafael Y. Herman


Rafael Yossef Herman's practice is characterized by a metaphysical curiosity and an investigation of light as a physical element and protagonist of space-time. By encapsulating the imperceivable and the imaginary, Herman’s recreated realities examine the limits of the surreal and transport us to a place that falls outside the range of everyday sight, engaging the viewer with that which he cannot see in night’s darkness, using absence as a visual vocabulary and recalling the environmental challenge of light pollution.


Herman grew up in Be'er Sheva studying classical music and the arts since the age of six. He graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Tel Aviv and studied painting and photography in Mexico and Chile while living across Latin America, before settling in Europe. While living in Italy, Herman became an artist invited by the Ville de Paris, where he currently lives.


Rafael Yossef Herman's works are in prominent international public and private collections including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Salsali Museum of Dubai and the MAXXI, and he has had solo exhibitions at the Palazzo Reale, Milan (2006), MACRO museum at the Testaccio pavilion, Rome (2017), Ludwig Museum, Budapest (2018) and in the summer of 2022, at the Fondazione Sant’Elia, Palazzo Sant’Elia, Palermo.

01_Rafael Y. Herman by Zohar Shitrit _ Courtesy Herman studio.jpg
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