Plato's famous Allegory of the Cave tells about a group of prisoners who live all their life in a dark cave, tied to each other, they can’t turn around, can’t move or look at anything but the cave’s walls. Behind them, at the cave’s entrance, there's an ever-burning fire behind a partition.
The people outside the cave are moving between the bonfire and the partition in front of the entrance, carrying different tools and objects who cast their shadows on the cave’s internal wall. The prisoners see the shadows, hear the noises and believe with all their hearts that the sights in front of them are the actual world.
When one of them manages to break free and learns about the world outside the cave, he goes back to his friends and tells them all that he saw, asking to release them as well. The other prisoners are convinced that their friend has gone mad or blind, they refuse to believe him and even threat to kill him if he tries to unchain them.
The Platonic allegory discusses the ways to achieve wisdom and knowledge, the philosopher roll in exposing absolute truth and the people’s choice to stay in the dark which is analogous to ignorance.
The magical and sparkling cave, built by Ella Spector within the gallery’s space, offers a different perspective to Plato’s moral: first, it emphasizes the thin, almost invisible line between truth and fiction. Second, it displays our need for imagination - a need which is not necessarily derived from an uninformed choice - and enhances our preference of the illusion, the world of shadows, over reality.
At the entrance to the gallery, we come upon a video work that shows the interior of a cave: long dripstones, purplish crystals and green moss carpet the surfaces, where small pools are gathered at the cave’s bed. At first glance, it seems as though the dark hazy space facing us is part of a nature documentary presenting a wild, remote place: where we are exposed to an exotic cave that was hidden until the camera revealed it to us. How wonderful it is to know that those primordial, hidden places still exist. A haven, untouched by man, they are left to be discovered or maybe only to be seen; allowing us to admire nature’s beauty and power.
On a second glance, perhaps the cave isn’t so natural after all. It could be the embodiment of someplace wondrous and magical, straight from fantasy and adventure films: the underground cavern, where light can hardly pierce the darkness, is often used as a powerful key point in literature and cinema, seeing that these qualities are those who make it the perfect place for keeping secrets - and discovering them. One can think of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne; the enchanted cave between the rocks in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; or the cursed treasure cave in the Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl.
In these examples and others, the cave is where the characters hide from the storm, the place where they start their exploration into the fortified city, in which they will find skeletons, dragons or treasures. The cave is the perfect object of our fantasies – fantasies we need to hide as well as ones we wish to discover.
Inside the gallery, the illusion uncovers: the same cave appearing on the screen is now positioned in the middle of the room, disassembled into pieces. The layers of stone are held by construction polls, the well-adjusted light makes it shine and shimmer. We are entering into a movie set that holds an intricate setting which looks, from a certain angle, like the same secretive image which appeared on the video. The magic that encompassed us is disassembled and the mysterious fantasy is replaced with the joy (or disappointment) of discovery: the rocks aren't rocks, the crystals are lab-grown, the floating mist is made with a machine and the moss is actually a sponge. And so, Spector is presenting us with the illusion and the disillusion at the time: for a moment she gives us magic itself and then tells us how it was done.
‘Offscreen’ is a cinematic term that describes what is happening outside the frame. While the camera is focused on one place or one character, there’s a whole world that unfurls around a specific image that is chosen for us by the photographer, the director or the editor. This world is of course completely fictional - one that we believe in its temporary existence, build from screenplays, acting, sounds, props and other means.
The cinematic image, especially the fantastic one, is serving our need to escape reality. Even when we know those images are a result of invention, creation and production, not to say fabrication and manipulation - we don’t see them as such. On the contrary: the possibility of different lives and other stories happening somewhere over the rainbow capture all of us. We want to believe the pictures, the fantasy, the story, even when the deception is obvious. Like those imprisoned in the cave, we are fascinated by the shadows which are cast on the screen. The world outside can wait for a while.