Color. A five-letter, two-syllable word. But for Lydia Dildilian, the word could become “colro” or “roloc.”
Dildilian was in the third grade when a reading disability specialist told her mother that her dyslexia was so severe she would have a difficult time getting into college.
The 26-year-old University of Florida graduate student is freckle-faced and speaks in loaded sentences, her quick-witted thoughts transparent.
Her small studio space at the GRADHaus off of University Avenue is her oasis.
She spends more than 50 hours a week painting, stripping tape off of wood panels and using glitter and construction fence in her art.
“I’ll flip my words around,” she said. “It’s really hard for me to explain my dyslexia. I don’t see how you see, I only know how I see.”
But she said her art was the key to silencing the constant noise in her head. What she describes as a meditative silence happened for the first time when she was 7 years old, and her grandpa let her play with his special collection of markers and pens.
“He wouldn’t let anyone else use them, but he always let me use all these bobbles and trinkets to draw,” she said.
“That was my first introduction…drawing during the holidays and being like, ‘I just wanna go downstairs and work in his little desk and draw and paint.’”
She said growing up, the nature of her family intrigued her – her father came from a wealthy Armenian background and her mother from rural Kentucky.
“There was this opposition and cohesion that I started noticing in my life,” she said. “It [her art] kind of revolves around my fear and my kind of vulnerabilities. Based around that fear were issues of control and domination… And there was this obsessive need I have to fix things.”
A pivotal part of her self-discovery didn’t occur until she was in graduate school and stumbled upon the word “pharmakon” in the writings of Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher.
She said she realized the term, which means something is both positive and negative, characterized just about everything in her life up until that point.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve found a word that makes sense to what I’m talking about,’” she said.
The word resonated with her so much that it became central to her investigation of system theory – the main focus of her thesis and her art.
Dildilian described system theory as a study that explores the effects systems have on people. Whether they’re ecological, political or technological systems, she said, because people have created many of them, they can manipulate us in ways we don’t realize.
She said system theory, although a vague concept, references devices people create to analyze data collected.
“These are all…very complicated structures to help us navigate through life — to get down to communicate what’s in my head and what’s in your head,” Dildilian said.
“I think there are things that are powerful about that… It could also be a poison.”
The contrasting elements of the systems she’s studied vividly manifest themselves in her work.
“System Study No. 1” uses blues and dark green weaving in and out among rows of bright green squares, while “Soft and Hard” is simpler: one stream of bright orange nylon fibers on a wood panel.
“System of Entropy” shows none of the neatness of the first two. It’s chaotic and aggressive, with a combination of black, pale yellow and gray webs sprawled along two walls. Dildilian will have these and other works on display for Ocular Obscure, a show that will take place at the Gallery Protocol on June 5.
Hilary White, another artist who will be featured at the gallery, said she sought Dildilian out to be in the show with her because of how well her art complimented her own. White’s art uses more of a neon color spectrum, she said.
“Lydia is a really hard worker,” she said. “She cares about what she does.”
“She’s thorough, and I respect that.”
Chase Westfall, the director of Gallery Protocol who is also curating the show, said not only is Dildilian’s work interesting, but relevant and a good fit for the exhibition. He said that her and White’s work both address the idea of art as a means of giving form to the formless.
He added that Dildilian’s craftsman approach to her art — everything from the color relationships to the value structures — is what he looks for in art displayed in Gallery Protocol.
“We show contemporary work,” he said. “Work that doesn’t fit always into a person’s traditional sense of what the visual arts are.”
Dildilian said the best feedback a person could give her, and what she hopes will happen at the opening, is that they begin to question the idea of what the systems around us mean.
“Art makes you critically think,” she said. “That’s a role that’s vastly slipping away from our society today. [Art] doesn’t give you the answer to the question. That’s where it really has some power.”
Story updated June 5, 2015.