By: Kim Regala, Peak Associate

At first glance, the floor to ceiling images appear to simply be arrays of colour blended within geometric shapes. But an even closer look begs us to see that the photographs are in fact enlarged extreme close-ups of prism-like objects that look like diamonds, and the colours are products of light refractions passing through.

This is Evan Lee’s photo-based installation Fugazi, set to remain until April of next year at SFU Vancouver’s Teck Gallery. The exposition, which opened May 11, features two large-scale images that fill the entirety of two opposite walls. Just as we think that we’ve finally figured it out, the gallery description reveals that the images are not actually that of diamonds, but are of its much cheaper counterpart instead: the cubic zirconia.

Lee used photographic scans of cubic zirconia, a man-made stone identical to diamonds, and magnified it to the greatest scale in order to capture every detail of its composition. The result is a spectacular light display of various distortions and fractures, shining through the crystal. These images, which feature an extreme close-up view, reveal sharp features that are uncapturable to the human eye.

However, what is most striking is the three-dimensionality that the images are able to construct. The zoomed-in stones appear to be protruding from their two-dimensional walls, allowing the piece to truly stand out from its setting. At the same time, the two walls seem to mimic each other, as if one was a reflection of the other. This effect is best seen when standing right in the middle of the two opposing walls — a perfect spot to notice all the little details of the image without losing the full picture.

Another interesting element of the installation is the dialogue it seems to create with its environment. Located at the Teck Gallery in Harbour Centre, a space initially funded by a mining company, the exhibition overlooks the industrial Burrard Inlet and expansive North Shore Mountains, establishing an interesting juxtaposition with these natural and commercial landscapes. The large windows also allow for natural light to seep in, which illuminate the images themselves. As a result, even this natural source of light is able to play a role in the delivery of the piece.

Fugazi, meaning fake or damaged beyond repair, is a slang term that refers to counterfeit gemstones that are consequently seen as less valuable than the original. Fittingly, Lee’s use of cubic zirconia aims to criticize the ways in which the diamond industry has come to fabricate a high sense of rarity and value towards their product, creating a monopoly that feeds off of the extraction of Earth’s natural resources.

Cubic zirconia, Lee insists, serves as a possible solution to end or at least lessen the demand for diamonds as they are visually identical but at a lower cost. His piece aims to spark a conversation among us regarding how we have come to treat our land, the impacts of capitalism, and the neglect for sustainable alternatives.

Evan Lee: Fugazi is on display at the Teck Gallery in SFU Harbour Centre from May 11, 2019 to April 26, 2020. Installed at the back of the first floor around study spaces, there is no fee for entry.