Issue 1: Research Festival

The uncanny in three-dimensional works

An essay discussing three-dimensional work created under the influence of Donald Judd’s ‘Specific Objects’.

Three dimensional is somewhere between painting and sculpture, neither of which it is a part of but also possesses some of their characteristics, three dimensional is not part of any genre, nor is it a movement, nor is it even a searchable term on reputable art gallery websites. I began to try to combine the simple three-dimensional with painting to produce a strange sensation.

I have recently experimented with the unique syntax of painting in my artwork, building false 3D effects within a 2D plane. My works themselves do not use any special materials, a flat canvas and some wooden panels that simplify the image, or just the canvas and the appropriate texture. It is when the viewer sees that the canvas is the canvas, without any obstruction, and removes the illusion of the image, that they see the idea behind the canvas. This is exactly what I was thinking about, how I could bring the viewer into the picture, deliberately creating a sense of detachment, denying the viewer access to the picture and discovering the powerful forces beyond it through gazing.

The ‘categorical confusions’ engendered by mimetic representation did not wait for Marcel Duchamp’s readymades to become apparent. The contest in antiquity between the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius, as reported by Pliny the Elder, is exemplary in that Parrhasius won not for having painted the most convincing still life, but by painting a life-like curtain which Zeuxis thought could be pulled away to reveal another still life. For Lacan, Parrhasius’theatrical device proved not a mastery of technical means (a trap for the gaze) but rather a successful trompe-l’oeil, an eye-trick, which brought the subject’s unconscious gaze to light.(p17object)

There is a simple, elegant beauty in Hume’s work. He offers the viewer an abstraction of selective reality, where mundane objects are better rendered through the means of painting, and he releases them again by destroying them, by destroying the work. The surface of the work is glossy paint, which seems to present a sense of refusal to enter the picture, but by gazing at the work, the viewer is transported into a space created by Hume. The paint is poured directly onto the aluminium to create a smooth surface, a technique that reminds me of the texture of glass or a mirror, a surface that reflects the space of reality, a confrontation that forces one to look at what Hume is saying and the meaning of the work.

When I look at Hume’s ‘back of a snowman’, I feel that there is no quality to this work, so much so that my mind goes blank. Through this three-dimensional work, he confirms some uncanny feelings. Hume uses a seemingly ordinary, universal object to demonstrate that a seemingly ordinary thing can be more uncanny, and closer to reality, than a deliberately horrific scene.

The work of Hume’s door is reminiscent of Margaret’s Betrayal of Images, is this a real door? Or does it have any intrinsic meaning, denying the premise that it is a door to view. He does not use any texts, images or colours to explain the work, but places a real size door in the pavilion and one contemplates the real meaning of the door.

In order to give the work its own shape, to form particular symbols, I began to forget about functions such as a door, a snowman, a bird, and I restrained myself from thinking about what they do. Once I started to think about the function, the role of the image, the shape disappeared and the metaphor behind it ceased to exist.

Obviously a pipe is a pipe, and when this image appears to the viewer, the shape and function of the pipe will immediately appear, but Marguerite’s use of text makes the direct connection between image and text misleading, while blurring the meaning of the image and text and removing the connection between them.

Smithson explains that Donald Judd “might take a math equation and, by sight, translate it into a metal progression of structured intervals,”This was a means of escaping the out moded convention of “relational” compositional.(p16 peter)

Halley uses his unique language (geometry, fluorescent colours), which he calls “low cost confrontation”, to find a connection with architecture in two and three dimensions, painting with precision and order, allowing the viewer to find the precise message he wants to convey in the image. His work is critical, a critique of geometric structures, trying to achieve a ‘normalised’ minimalism.

A rectangle composed of a shape and surface, in Judd’s pre-1946 work can be seen as his desire to express that the edge of the rectangle is the boundary, the end of the image. Through the relationship between colour and form that occurs between the components, I perceive a rectangle of limitation, a shape that does not emphasise the colour of the rectangle.

The single rectangle in the painting is a starting point where the simple three dimensions are reorganised and distributed to form a painting with meaning. Minimalist painting is often characterised by geometric objects, precise, contoured and with geometric edges that can be extended indefinitely to make sense. Robert Ryman uses materials, studies them, the rectangle is just a vehicle, he just studies how to paint.

The artists who use industrial materials do not use specialist industrial techniques, they may use low cost materials such as aluminium, plastic, etc. to complete their artworks. These materials are not as familiar as traditional oil paints and canvases and often require the artist to unleash the material by combining the work closely with the material. For example, in Robert Morris’s work mirrors, wood, glass, metal materials appear, specific materials and specific contexts elicit perceptibility. Sol lewitt’s work uses some traditional industrial materials: wood, canvas, paint, using traditional materials to speak for themselves, and demonstrate the work’s vulnerability to destruction, decay and obsolescence. In the work Lewitt focuses on the materials themselves and the process, rather than giving the work more meaning. Creating a two-dimensional Larry bell in three dimensions, for him the use of glass, mirrors, metal films, paper and polyester edges is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Simplifying images into almost geometric images is also part of the way I work. I find a lot of geometric structures in everyday life, for example in schools, in transport, in architecture, people are guided by this geometry, minimalism analyses how modern people are obsessed by geometry, open the door and look at modern architecture, the ubiquity of geometric images is taken for granted. Ideologically geometry is always associated with the materials of industry, the use of particularly material, the abandonment of perspective and the reorganisation according to specificity and continuity. The objects, figures and spaces that appear in my paintings are shaped, giving emotion and memory to geometric images that have no meaning. The accompanying simplified images appear on canvas, generating an uncanny sensation.


Ye Zhang, The Washing Machine, 2022


Hudek, A. (2014). The Object. Whitechapel Gallery.

Halley, H. (1991). Peter Halley: Collected Essays, 1981-1987. New York : Sonnabend Gallery.

About the author

Ye Zhang studied MA Fine Art: Painting at Camberwell from 2021 to 2022 and lives in London. Her paintings are influenced by Pop Art and Postmodernism. Follow her @yezhang and