How Things Work
The microscope, trusty friend of the scientist, allows examination of the organic organism to the minutest detail. Accordingly, scientific drawings are unfailingly rendered in a style of absolute realism, with detail and precision. Artists too are researchers; this is most clearly exemplified by the case of Leonardo da Vinci, whose phenomena were documented in the same manner as those of a scientist: academic, realistic, and accuracy-driven. These works can comprise a single sketch or a collection of drawings gathered under any classifying principle, while using light and shadow and the guidelines of perspective along with exercises in the craft of enlargement in order to fulfill the task at hand: to explore and render the nature of things, while remaining as true as possible to reality.
Shony Rivnay's paintings are derivations of these traditions, furthering their development and metamorphosis. They eschew the use of graphite or black ink on a white ground; they are colored with industrial pigments - bold, glossy, and amplified to immense dimensions. They forsake detail in favor of a single and magnified fragment, disengage from the original context, and ignore illusionary description and academic, canonical preconceptions, opting instead for a painting style concerned with formal elements and relationships of format-platform-color, such that - in some cases - this rendition transforms the painting into abstraction. These works simultaneously possess an expressive quality that stems from their being almost "sloppily" executed by a dripping, over-saturated, coarsely-bristled brush, as well as a precise, painterly quality created by a flatness in the handling of the paint, which is meticulously applied in bounded swaths of color. Hints of abstract expressionism, based on unconscious mental states, appear alongside minimalist tendencies that counteract the artist's hand with a sober, pure-color, formalistic reduction. These contradicting portrayals are intertwined to varying degrees in every painting.
The hybridity, seen also in the paintings' imagery, includes organic depictions that recall the organs of animals or insects, such as antennae or wings, alongside mechanical representations that appear as parts of machinery. In this manner, the creatures vacillate between the organic and the mechanistic, between the natural and the manufactured, and between the real and the fantastic. Even the titles of works such as Container, Processor, and Cocoon integrate the living world and the mechanical language in relation to the way in which body parts are mechanically-processed. This concept brings to mind the classic mechanistic philosophy of Descartes, who viewed nature as a kind of machine, like the large and complex mechanism of a clock whose parts function according to precise mathematical laws. The biomechanics of today are a far cry from the comprehensive crossbreeding between a living organism and a machine. Elements of this grafting have been seen in apocalyptic or utopian expressions found in fictitious constructions such as H. R. Geiger's disturbing and violent creatures or the androids in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Advancements in applied science have enabled the transplantation of mechanical components to an organic body for medical needs, while the field of nanotechnology utilizes microscopic organic particles for technological applications.
The attitude toward the living body as a machine was typified in the works of Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, purveyors of New York Dadaism. Picabia based his own drawings on renderings of machine models taken from industrial catalogues, meticulously and naturalistically executed with
the aim of eradicating any trace of the artist's hand from the image, however considerable the license to omit parts of the machine to beyond all recognition. Contrary to the mechanical origin of his works, the narrative meaning - also indicated by the titles of the works - relates to the human space, primarily in the sexual or erotic sense. Picabia fashioned machines that were designed to function as new forms of life, void of sentimentality or morality in their critical and ironic attitudes toward mechanization, science, and progress. In this context, the functions of Rivnay's machines are unclear, but seem to possess a certain personality and sensitivity; they continue to maintain a dual biomechanical identity, taking pleasure in this confusion by posing both as organic machine and mechanical animal.
The picturesque, minimalist qualities in Rivnay's works connect to the figurative style of Pop Art, conceivably comparing to the world of advertising. The various formal qualities - the large format; enlarged imagery; bold, saturated coloration; poster-like spatial approach; the alienation of machine work - stem from influences of mass production. Pop artists culled their subject matter from the daily life of the period: an affluent society, a culture of consumerism, mass communication, and the world of advertising, all the while criticizing the American consumerist society. As such, Roy Lichtenstein aroused discussion on the cultural power of machine work and industrial production when he ironically created "low" popular images, which were then transformed into works of "high" art. Though Rivnay corresponds in the language of advertising and mass print media, his works depart from those of Pop artists in that they avoid criticizing society. In his case, it appears that the discussion is overturned when "high" scientific images become "low," as they are created under the influence of the commercial style. The lone image, the same enlarged organic fragment, evokes the logo in advertising language, intended to encapsulate the entire system of values of excitement and desire for commercial aims; respectively, Rivnay's logo functions as a symbol of the personal system of values, familial and biographical, even though his message eludes any one single interpretation. Despite the formal use of the language of advertising, the alignment of the content assumes the advancement of an artistic language, which permits a dialectical and layered expression.
Similarly, one may define Rivnay's figures as "superconductors", hubs that enable the passage of electrical current without resistance and little transformation, as parts or organs of the largest system of energy. In this sense, his works deal in energy. Images of power systems, motherboards, and mitochondria recall an aspect of energy with respect to light, life, and breath in their connection to the laws of thermodynamics, which define the concept of time, not mechanical in its essence. The enlarged organs described by Rivnay appear detached from the energy system, recalling the isolated, enlarged organs examined by the scientist. These organs, new species of biomechanical forms, are enlarged, painted, and undergo processes of abstraction, but apparently still require careful observation.
Irit Carmon Popper