Amir Zaki

FORMAL MATTER
February 25 - March 25, 2017
Opening reception: Saturday, February 25, 2017, 3-6 PM


ACME. is pleased to present "Formal Matter", a solo exhibition of new photographs by Amir Zaki. This new series consists of two bodies of work, namely images of large coastal rocky outcrops titled 'Rocks' and images of wood carvings titled 'Carvings'. All the photographs are printed in a warm-toned black and white, varying widely in size, with a matte surface.

The 'Rock' photographs of coastal outcrops are all made along the California coast, ranging from Orange County to Mendocino County. Several of the locations are quite remote and can only be accessed by hiking during low tide. Like Zaki's 'Tree Portraits' from 2013, these photographs isolate the subjects against a largely overcast or flat sky, rendering the scale of the rocks unclear, alternating between appearing monumental or miniature, depending on how close one observes the details. Viewed from a distance, the rocks appear as organic or anthropomorphic forms, their coarse and jagged surfaces sometimes resembling ancient petrified pieces of wood or stones. Upon closer examination, small details such as occasional birds, hints of the ocean, or small traces of human existence can reveal clues about the actual scale of these mountainous objects. Something that drew Zaki to the subject matter was considering the way these rocks have been formed, incredibly slow over many millions of years, largely by the erosive ebb and flow of the ocean tides, which are created by the gravitational forces of the moon and the sun. They are amazing objects of contemplation, both constantly changing and timeless forms created by incredibly complex and creepingly slow, natural phenomena.

The 'Carving' images form the other half of this current body of work. They are depicted on a white or light grey backdrop (not unlike the grey skies surrounding the rocks), isolated from any other kind of environment and lit with a single, directional light source. The Carving shapes have a wood grain-like surface and their forms are organic and curvilinear, yet relatively abstract. It is impossible to determine their scale. They could be hand-sized objects or much larger. Their ambiguous scale and mysterious forms can appear like rocks or stones. Especially when viewed alongside the coastal outcroppings, there is a transformative illusory quality in the way that the carvings can resemble stones at times, while the coastal outcroppings can resemble wood at times. The 'Carvings' were constructed in a vastly different way than the 'Rocks.' In fact, the carvings were not actually photographed with a camera at all, and do not exist as tangible objects in the world. Instead, they were constructed using 3D modeling software, and then rendered as digital images and printed. The forms were created using a method of chance within the software, much like imagining a form one might get by dropping a piece of cloth from a tall building and freezing it in space at any given moment. These somewhat arbitrary forms were then given volume and substance within the software environment. In stark contrast to the coastal rocks that have formed over millennia at a geologic pace, these 3D models take their initial, 'random' shape nearly instantaneously.

As a complete body of work, "Formal Matter" is in part a meditation on 'the natural'. Seen together, the 'Rocks' and 'Carvings' can often look anthropomorphic, highlighting the seemingly innate and overwhelming tendency to imbue images with human desires and values. There is an intentional conflation of the undeniably real, heavy, prehistoric, tectonic quality of the 'Rocks', and the virtually originated, questionably real, fluid, arbitrarily formed, spontaneous quality of the 'Carvings.' As an installation, the 'Rock' and 'Carving' photographs are hung together, intentionally printed in various different sizes, never resting comfortably with themselves in terms of scale, and further obscuring their 'true' nature. In Zaki's new body of work, the genesis of these objects read as unfixed, partly knowable, somewhat obvious yet also opaque, timeless yet exactly of this moment.

Amir Zaki lives and works in Southern California. He received his MFA from UCLA in 1999 and has been exhibiting nationally and internationally since graduating. He is a professor at University of California at Riverside. His work is included in many museum collections including the Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.