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Bring your sunglasses: The Matchbox Gallery has been temporarily transformed into a very shiny cave thanks to the work of artist trio June Deng, He Yutian and Sara Rodriguez. Their new project, dubbed “Bitter Salt” (after the etymology of the word “aluminium”), attempts to distort time and space through the use of reflective materials. Sheets of emergency blankets and aluminum foil cover the gallery walls, and silvery sculptures protrude into the space itself, making the dimensions of the room nearly imperceptible. 

The artist trio, also known as “HDR,” has been together since 2011. According to He, a Martel College senior, “Bitter Salt” represents a collaborative effort rather than a sum of individual pursuits. 

“Even the process of putting things up was very symbiotic,” He said. “Everyone brought their own innovations to the table.”

Before starting their project, the artists worked with a shoebox model to see how they could best utilize the small gallery space. Deng, a Duncan College senior, said the gallery’s intimacy inspired them.

“Something we were interested in was distorting the perception of space on the interior, as well as blurring the boundaries between the interior space and the exterior space,” Deng said. 

According to Deng, the idea of “infinity space,” or a distorted sense of depth, also helped shape the creative process.

“We wanted to experiment a little bit with the idea of creating infinity space, so we started off with covering the walls with emergency blankets and then adding these different pieces on top of it as accents and moments,” Deng said. “Decisions on where [the protrusions] were came as we were building the space.”

Lighting projections also add to the distortive effects of the reflective materials, Deng said.

“The projections that we have are actually images of salt dissolving,” Deng said. “But because the space is very fragmented and the way the fragments are composed, you can’t really tell what’s actually being projected, so it just becomes this strange array of colors that’s constantly moving and changing.”

He said the protrusions and reflective materials have the combined effect of creating an unusual cave-like space.

“We wanted to create a kind of cavern,” He said. “When you think of a cave, you think of something very natural, but we’re working with this space-age material that is totally man-made. We thought that contrast would be very interesting.”

According to He, part of the purpose of “Bitter Salt” is to provide visitors with a very hands-on experience, inviting them to step into, on and around the art. 

“When we were making this, we were already anticipating ... how people were going to walk in this space, hear the crinkles and experience the materiality,” He said. “A lot of times when [people] make artwork, it seems to be very sacred, but by allowing [audiences] to step in, I think we are extending the realm of the artist. We hope [the exhibition] feels accessible and friendly.”

For those planning to take selfies at the exhibit, there’s no need to be secret about it. According to Deng, watching visitors take selfies helps fulfill the artists’ vision. 

“Another exciting part is seeing people photograph themselves in the space, especially with the projections on their faces,” Deng said. “It makes it seem very seamless — like the person is a part of the piece as well.”