Situated in an edgy, high-ceilinged industrial building in the heart of Newark, NJ, Index Art Center is an opportune space for the audacious exhibition, Making Time. The “making” in Making Time does not go overlooked as a common narrative that dynamically integrates modes of digital experimentation with the low-tech and analog. An inherent value for the artisanal and traces of the hand exist at its core and are experienced as an underlying subtext, as is the manipulation of time. Levels of viewer interaction and immersion are manifold in two and three-dimensional renditions as well as multimedia installations incorporating the elements of sound, video, kinetics and augmented reality.
Nimbly enacting a non-linear experience of “space-time,” one is encouraged to circulate through the exhibit counterclockwise from gallery entrance. To complement this curatorial intent, Making Time is staged in a dimmed ambient light that sets a discretely introspective tone so that each individual work is not overshadowed; this effect creates a kinesthesis between all of the artwork within the gallery interior. Light is then used as a phenomenon which is either internally inscribed or emanating from some of the media and is deliberately interspersed throughout.
One then aptly encounters Brandon Neubauer’s Six Months from Now, from the seriesIt’s Sad, but the Telling Takes Me Home. Documentation spanning from 2007-2013, Neubauer’s multimedia installation is an autobiographical work verging on self-portraiture and possesses an aura that transports the viewer somewhere else. Large chromogenic prints line the walls and surround screen-based video stills as Neubauer’s romantic landscapes counterbalance vast expanses of sky and farmland with repeated shots of an isolated tree – a specter of sorts. For the most part, this photographic presentation hinges on dissecting the moving image into frame stills, a reversal of videography processes, as well as time. Erratic lighting and cross-processing techniques accentuate permutations in the photographs by fusing technology and modes of documentation with the handcrafted, whilst evoking vestiges of prehistory in the shot location, Neubauer’s ancestral property. Concepts of naming and personal identity are etymologically reinforced in the artist’s surname – the English translation of Neubauer is “new farmer.” Lending an added agency to the work, the artist encourages one’s own personal narratives and interpretations to be realized in viewership.
Complementary to Neubauer’s staging is a motorized praxinoscope by the duo of Ginger Andro and Chuck Glicksman, Jumping Hurdles. With much stimuli of late being ciphered or mediated, this captivating, low-tech installation summons immediacy and the visceral through combined action, or “praxis,” and materiality. (The praxinoscope is a rotating device which, when set in motion, reflects single images from its central cylinder).As Jumping Hurdles rotates, light, scent and sound emanate. Muybridge’s pioneering of motion picture projection is latent in the work – albeit inverted, as are Virillo’s theories on dromology and perceptions of speed. And despite signs of the high and equestrian, this scopic object dually invokes dromological notions of the low: roulette tables, race tracks, “the will to win” and “the need for speed” are easily conjured. Inferences to the irreverent idiom “one-trick pony” are befitting in that as the equine image cyclically repeats it maintains an inaccessible self-referentiality in construction and connotation. Moreover, the praxinoscope’s conical fabrication creates an overt void in the installation – a dark steel, spinning vortex appears to engulf the space and the objects around it. In a cheeky and slightly derisive way, this conical form plays with allusions to Making Time as it duplicitously serves, with all its sensory trappings, as either an entrance into infinity, or, fast-moving, sexually implicit content. The aforesaid components thus intermingle to produce a highly enlivened yet isolated live event.
Set on black and white plinths, Melissa Fleming’s cabinets of curiosity elicit the otherworldliness of natural phenomena. Fleming is preoccupied not only with the graceful object but with the act of viewership itself; each display beckons up-close, heightened inspection. Highly graphic treatments in her Under Glass series accentuate form in space as they enhance light and shadow and fluid reflections, expertly evinced in Memory, 41 years. The artist furthers investigative processes by introducing a refined sensibility to systems for naming and classifying the natural world; serif fonts intonating titles and related data are engraved into the Victorian-influenced domes that encase her specimens. Recalling a sense of place, Under Glass equally reinstates notions of time in the act of preserving and recording.
Other curated pieces that reflect, refract or imbue light in some manner and achieve considerable agency include Shuli Sade’s interactive, augmented reality photographs, Major Zipper and Afterimage #1-11, and Sizhu Li’s elegant Trace of Time, an additional motorized environment stationed in the corner of the gallery.
Emergent media often involves engaging with processes of accessing, evaluating, and creating the material conditions in the given environment it will inhabit in order to achieve optimum results. Staged center of gallery, Wolfgang Gil’s state-of-the-art Aural Fields Zero investigates generative, multi-channel sound through customized audience experiences that showcase its sagacious potential. Similar to the crafting of a malleable abstraction which can ostensibly be manipulated into limitless configurations, sound here functions viscerally. Through interactive moments of audience-induced amplification, this installation enables the act of listening to also be experienced as a medium redefined through non-prescriptive interpretations of real time. One can surmise from empirical experience with the work that the “Zero” in Aural Fields may also equate to translations of space and time that are neither additive nor subtractive but exist as a preconceived neutrality – a sonic baseline from which audience interaction as an authentic “event” can organically materialize.
Gail Biederman also uniquely reframes space and time in two site-specific installations from her Lost series. Comprised of spiky nails and handmade felt, Biederman repurposes the sensory with knotty residuals from original wall drawings made for specific spaces. While the initial prototypes utilized self-conscious rigor in deliberation, these new permutations rely on chance and unexpected outcomes, thereby engaging in a re-enactment of autobiographical content through new morphologies within the current location.
In light of the above, sensory interaction in Making Time appears to be an integral, comprehensive component for an inimitable experience of the varied and innovative media represented.
Patti Jordan is a New York City-based interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator working within the spheres of visual and media culture. Her creative practice prioritizes materiality as well as alternative and process-based approaches to aesthetics. She has written art reviews, manuscripts and business case studies for such publications as Artefuse, Intellect Publishing, Bloomsbury Fashion Central, AS/Artist Studios, Fashion Mannuscript Magazine, and the Women’s Caucus for Art’s International Caucus.
Wavelength is a collaborative project founded by Gianluca Bianchino and Jeanne Brasile whose curatorial practice bridges art and science through immersive exhibitions and symposia. Making Time is at Index Art Center’s Main Gallery May 18 – June 14. Artists include Ginger Andro and Chuck Glicksman, Chris Arabadjis, Gail Biederman, Melissa Fleming, Wolfgang Gil, Jay King, Sizhu Li, Monica Mazzone, Brandon Neubauer, Shuli Shade, and Travis LeRoy Southworth.
Located at 237 Washington St. in Newark, NJ, Index Art Center is a non-profit exhibition space committed to supporting Newark’s community of emerging art and artists. Index Art Center continues to serve as a vital platform for critical dialogue around current and emergent issues in contemporary art.
Really Large Numbers (RLN) is a laboratory that encompasses the individual and collaborative experiments/expeditions of Chad Stayrook and Julia Oldham. As a team, Really Large Numbers combines science, fantasy and dream language to blur the boundaries between the REAL and the unREAL. Really Large Numbers is currently featured in Wavelengths’s second curatorial effort, Light Years Away at Index Art Center in Newark, New Jersey. We caught up with them at the advent of the show.
WL: How did you meet and how did your collaboration begin?
J: We first met in an exhibition in 2010 at Flux Factory in Long Island City called Science Fair. We both had work in the show related to concepts of physics. This was just as I was moving from Red Hook, Brooklyn to Eugene, Oregon. We discovered that we lived only a few blocks apart, but I was only going to be living in the city a few more days! We didn’t really get to know each other that well.
Fast forward about a year–Chad and I started randomly having dreams about each other. I had the first dream, in which we were trying to feed thousands of tiny fish at an aquarium, and each fish was supposed to get one rice puff. It was really stressful. I wrote to Chad and told him about it, and a few months after that he had a dream about me. From there we started having LOTS of dreams about each other and developing this whole universe of Chad and Julia Dream Land. This led us inexorably to meet up when I was next in New York, and we had so much fun and had so much in common that we started conspiring about collaboration pretty much immediately.
We call ourselves Really Large Numbers, and we started working together in November, 2012.
C: As Julia said, we met during an exhibition we were both in at Flux Factory. She was showing this amazing video based on the speed of light. I was immediately drawn to its playfulness and emotional approach to science. I remember seeing her work made me think “this is the kind of work I want to be making! These are ideas I have but she has such an approachable and elegant way of depicting them! GAAAAHH!” I think we only exchanged pleasantries during the exhibition. It wasn’t until the dreams started that we actually got to know each other. My dreams were perhaps a little darker and frenetic. Often Julia was some kind of sci-fi superhero and we always seemed to be scaling giant towers trying to escape some catastrophic anomaly or scary gnome creature or the like. By the time we met up in New York I felt like we knew each other so well and were so excited about each other’s individual practices that we were inevitably drawn into a collaboration.
WL: You live on opposite coasts, and in addition to that, you both travel a great deal. How do you manage your practice despite the distance?
J: We’re in regular contact – we email and Skype about our own projects and about ideas that we come up with that seem like they’d be fun for RLN to work with. We have a lot more ideas than completed projects, of course. We’ve got big lists of possible projects and loads of proposals for things that haven’t been made. Because we live 3000 miles apart, we can’t have a regular “studio practice,” so instead we come together to make new work during residencies and visits. Together we have participated in LMCC Swing Space on Governor’s Island, Artists Alliance Inc. Lower East Side Studio Program in Manhattan, Guttenberg Arts in New Jersey, and Point B in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We typically plan residencies around exhibitions that we need to make new work for.
We also do work remotely. We have an ongoing drawing collaboration project called “Divine Geometry”, in which Chad draws these geometric environments and zones, and he mails the drawing to me. I then populate his spaces with animals and their parts. We have also started a remote video project where we make short videos that we send to each other, and then we respond to each other’s pieces. Right now it’s called RLN Initiatives – but it’s in its infancy!
C: Julia’s art career is such that she’s always traveling to New York. I think this helped solidify the collaboration in that we could initially discuss ideas and projects in person. While she was in residence in Williamsburg for her own projects we made our first piece “Anomaly No. 1” that was included in a group show in the Bronx. The energy from this piece fueled conversation and brainstorming for future projects and from there we began applying to residencies. We landed a few right off the bat and that really became the structure for our production…brainstorm remotely, create in person. We structured our first residency on Governors Island as though it were our very own lab. Somehow that environment took the pressure off making any specific kind of work and allowed for experimentation. We made an enormous body of work during that residency and the ones to follow. The remote brainstorming continues and is in many ways fueled and facilitated by our individual practices. The residencies gave us exposure to a larger audience of curators and such and opened up opportunities for RLN exhibitions. Nowadays it is more often these exhibitions that bring us together with the time in between/apart spent working on whichever aspects of a particular project we have coming up. We also, as Julia said, have an ongoing drawing series and video project that helps fill the gaps between exhibitions and residencies and allows us to keep a distanced creative connection that is more than just emails.
WL: Does your long distance practice reference the challenge of communication spanning vast distances? Are you astronauts connecting across space-time?
J: Yes! A lot of our work is about communication and the desire to connect, about meetings in dream worlds and about creating spaces where our psyches can merge. All of our work is in some way related to our distance from each other – whether intentionally or unintentionally. One of our earlier pieces is a short video called “Within Range” in which we are talking to each other on walkie talkies about what we’re seeing and experiencing. But in the end it’s revealed that we are just around the corner from each other. In 2014 we made a three channel video installation called “From These Woods” about a deer that travels between our brains as we sleep, exploring trippy dream worlds and teleporting back and forth between us using many-sided pyramid portals.
C: So much of our work is about communication, especially alternative ways of communicating. We even make up our own words and have an ongoing list with definitions on our website. In one video, “Tuning”, our brains are connected by a copper wire that allows us to immediately know what the other one is thinking. I think the idea for this came from a dream about a device that could “tune” this copper wire so the messages came through more clearly. I ended up making a prototype and sent it to Julia to test but it was destroyed before we were able to really utilize it. Luckily during one of our residencies I was able to fix it and we got it “working”. A lot of our unrealized proposals for pieces are about ways of communicating each other’s ideas and working out solutions to the parts that get lost in translation.
WL: In your individual practices you are very much storytellers. How does storytelling implicate itself into your collaborative practice? Is it different in any way from your solo efforts?
J: Story telling is at the heart of what we do together. I think that has a lot to do with the way that we communicate – through long, rambling emails and stories we make up together that happen in our shared dream world. We even have a glossary of terms that we have made up, or that are relevant to our shared stories.
I do think we have very different methods of storytelling, though. I tell stories in a very structured way, typically using a set of rules to generate a narrative. For example, I made a piece about falling in love with my own antimatter twin, and used the rules of particle physics to shape our love story. (Matter and antimatter explode and annihilate each other when they touch, so the relationship was doomed from the start.) I tend to tell stories that are really straightforward and logical that feel like scientific fairy tales, and I think of myself as being very concise. I like to make video pieces that are very short – three to five minutes is my ideal.
Chad’s storytelling, on the other hand, is incredibly abstract and based on dream logic. His narrative quirks are brilliant and I could never come up with them, and his stories are sprawling, with odd little connections between broken geodes and severed fish heads and constellations that somehow all sort of make sense in the end. Chad’s video narratives are a lot longer than mine – his videos can be 20 minutes or longer, following characters as they walk deep into mysterious lands and slowly discover anomalies all around them.
Together we try to put the best parts of what we do into a mix. I like to tighten Chad’s sprawling stories, and he likes to add bizarre and dreamy details to mine.
C: My work has always been about storytelling but most of my recent video work came about after seeing how Julia works as a video artist. Often my ideas will culminate in sprawling installations and/or actions that sometimes span months, whereas Julia’s work is so much more concise and more immediately accessible. I envy that. I’ve always been interested in how scientists use metaphors to explain theories and processes and such, and Julia’s work has a similar quality of being able to boil down complex ideas into entirely relatable human experience. I, on the other hand, tend to use scientific metaphors as an excuse for creating my own interpretation of any given idea and letting it spin a wild yarn often fueled by wild epic dreams I have. I’ve attempted to mimic some of the structure in Julia’s videos to portray my ideas. RLN has made me challenge myself to be a better and more concise editor. I think this is one reason RLN works so well. Julia is amazing at interpreting my ideas and mixing them with her own into pieces that combine the best of each of our individual practices.
WL: There’s a sense of nostalgia when looking at your videos, almost recalling the Cold War era aesthetics of the cowboy movie, middle school science film and sci-fi flick all rolled into one. Is your relationship to space perhaps influenced by this era? The advent of space exploration in America begins in this socio-political climate – is this correlation real, or are we reading too much onto the work?
J: My interest in space comes from being raised by a physicist who told me bed time stories about black holes, the edges of the universe, the moons in our solar system, infinity, and all sorts of wonderful sciencey things. We’d look at the moon and planets together through our telescope, and we watched Star Trek together every week. We watched movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Rollerball, Enemy Mine and David Lynch’s Dune, and we shared sci fi books by authors like Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Arthur C. Clark. So the 80’s sci fi aesthetic is dear to my heart. I love the way that in 80s sci fi, there’s not much digital animation, but instead mostly miniatures. That holds up over time so much better than early CG from the 90s, which now looks so dorky and terrible. I like using old fashioned film tricks in my work – smoke and mirrors and hand-drawn animation. I love for my videos to have very carefully planned out color palettes too – every time I rewatch 2001: A Space Odyssey, I am blown away by the beautiful colors and careful aesthetic choices made throughout the film. It’s such an artwork!
The Cold War spans such a long time – there are many different parts of this era that are interesting to me. You mentioned the advent of the Space Race, and I am absolutely fascinated by Soviet propaganda connected to the space program. A few years ago I made a piece about Laika, the Soviet space dog who was the first living animal to enter orbit. It’s a sad story, but the visual storytelling about Laika’s journey through posters and memorabilia is beautiful, colorful and exciting.
C: I was a Bill Nye the Science Guy kid and loved playful and weird approaches to learning about science. Something about that series instilled a wonder about the world and a comprehension of science as a type of magic. A series of medical issues in my teens found me holed up in hospitals for a time with lots of tubes and such stuck into me and in a general haze of opiates. During that time I grew an aesthetic affinity for scientific machines enhanced by my childhood wonder and imbued with the effects of narcotics. Shortly after that I began my career as an artist and started to make installations and performances that melded together my Bill Nye influences and experiences in hospitals that were mainly about trying to come to grips with the function of my own existence. Wondering about my place in reality led me inevitably into space and a fascinated terror of the nothingness of it all. Campy sci-fi movies and Cold War era aesthetics became devices for me that made larger abstract scientific ideas more accessible. A show I did in 2009 called Shooting for the Stars was a sort of turning point for me in that I dialed in my interests towards a more direct narrative about exploration and discovery. That has been my focus for some time now and the nostalgia you mention in this question is what I use as a tool for documenting my own exploits in exploration.
I think this nostalgia runs deep in both Julia and I and so RLN is very much influenced by it and becomes a place where our individual relationships to it meld together.
WL: You often conflate cutting edge technology and scientific documentation with the obvious presence of the human hand? Why is this important to you?
J: I think that having visual hints of the human hand makes our stories more about US as people and artists, and refers to a more emotional and subjective side of science that is not often addressed. While science and discovery can feel cold and detached in the way it is presented through the media, working scientists are emotional human beings who have incredible passion for what they are doing. I used to have a job making informational videos for the National Institute of Standards and Technology about particular projects going on there. I interviewed a scientist developing the Quantum Watt (he’s been working on this for years and years), and in his lab I saw a wild installation of zillions of tiny Post-it notes with things scribbled on them. It was like a Hanne Darboven piece! Visiting the offices and labs of scientists gives you a very different sense of what science is. Scientists often make their own equipment for experiments out of cheap materials to try out ideas, and you can find objects that look almost like weird art pieces. And the love and devotion of these scientists is a spectacular thing to witness.
C: I think it’s easy to take technology and scientific discovery for granted as things that just exist or pop up out of nowhere. But technology and discovery doesn’t really exist without the ingenuity of people and they are therefore imbued with emotions and personality and relationship dynamics, etc. As Julia said, going into a scientist’s lab is really similar to going into an artist’s studio. We often talk about the relationships between scientists working together in a lab….they joke with each other and get irritated by each other and have connections that grow beyond whatever they are working on. RLN is very much about the relationship between two artists who choose to work together and our visible hand in the work gives this relationship presence in our final pieces.
WL: Does scientific data play a role in the final work of art?
J: For my personal work, it does. I tend to work with scientists from start to finish, and I’m invested in the science in my work being accurate. I will pass video scripts back and forth with scientists, ironing out the story and the science at the same time, so that I end up with a fairy tale with inarguable science in it. This can be tricky, because I’ve been “accused” of making educational or instructional videos rather than proper art. That’s a line I have fun treading, though. I like the structure/limitation that scientific data and accuracy places on my work; it’s a great challenge trying to say something about science with my work that can exist in the art world and also be scientifically intelligible to a physicist. As a woman, I find this to be particularly important for me. The physics world is still such a boy’s club, and I often will have male artists (especially who studied some physics/math in college or have a personal interest) try to school me in technology or physics, assuming that my approach to those subjects is more poetic and intuitive and about the aesthetics of science instead of the ideas (perhaps because I’m a woman making work about human relationships). I like to be able to strike back with hard facts and a thorough knowledge of my subject matter to subvert that expectation.
As for Really Large Numbers, I think we approach our work using the structure of experimentation in science as opposed to hard data. Our work is more fantastical than my personal work. I still do a lot of research about scientific ideas as we are moving forward with projects, but as we begin working, our imaginations take over, and it’s okay if we throw accuracy out the window for the sake of creative storytelling. I think of our work as being more in the realm of sci fi/fantasy.
C: I agree with Julia about RLN’s approach. We do reference hard data for some of our projects but I leave a lot of the technical understanding of that stuff to Julia! Her dad has been helpful too when trying to figure out things like how an air compressor would work for filling up a weather balloon.
In my personal work I don’t really lean on actual data at all. When I was in grad school I used to ask a good friend who was getting his PhD in physics to send me data from projects he was working on without any kind of interpretation or explanation of that data. I would then make work based on my own interpretation of what he sent with obviously wildly different outcomes than what the data actually represented. It’s partly laziness, but mostly curiosity and imagination that leads me to prefer interpreting the world my own way.
WL: Your work “Birth of a Star” is currently featured in the exhibition, Light Years Away at Index Art Center. Can you tell us a little about the multimedia aspect of this installation and what viewers will experience?
J: “Birth of a Star” is a series of four sculptures about different stages of a star’s life, ranging from protostar to collapse. Chad works primarily in sculptural installation, while I work primarily in video and animation. RLN gets really exciting when we blend our strengths to create multimedia pieces. Chad built formal structures that refer to each life stage in both shape and elemental material, and I created hand-drawn animations of each stage. The animation is incorporated into the sculptures as projections, tiny monitors and in other various ways. Most of the work we make together ends up being a huge sculpture that you can turn on and off with a video component. We are excited about the way that sculpture and animation will reference the same subject matter very differently, with very different materials and scales. This project is another one that we’ve been able to work on remotely; I’ve developed the animations here in Oregon while Chad began to build the sculptures in Brooklyn. It’s really cool to bring these two elements together to see how they fit! With RLN work there is always the potential for disaster. We take a lot of big risks that I don’t personally take in my work, which is exhilarating and a little scary!
C: Julia pretty much sums it up. The sculptures are human scale in terms of size and viewers are able to walk around and in between them. I imagine my sculptural elements as the “body” and Julia’s animations as the “heart” of each piece. When we put the two together it’s like bringing to life these enormous, un-seeable events, and making them tangible.
WL: Does your collaborative practice influence your individual practices?
J: Absolutely! There’s no way for it not to, considering the amount of time we spend sharing ideas. There are frequently overlaps in what we are making personally that come directly out of things we’ve been chatting about for RLN projects. We also talk to each other about our individual work so often that there is always lots of cross-pollination. It helps that we are both passionate about a lot of the same things: outer space, science in general, performative storytelling, Moby Dick, funny costumes. We recently put on a show together of individual projects that are both about historical spacecraft – so often we find our way to personal ideas by brainstorming with each other and then grabbing some of those ideas for our own use. It’s a fun give and take, and neither of us has ever said to the other, “Hey, you stole that!” It’s always just a joy to be working on the same wavelength and having someone to talk to your work about who will totally get it.
C: I’ve talked a lot above about how our collaboration and Julia’s individual work has influenced my own practice. It’s probably what I love most about RLN. I think individually as artists we often retreat into our own heads. I’m not the best when it comes to networking or setting up studio visits. Collaborating through RLN means that I’m often talking about my own work with Julia and she’s been really proactive in setting up studio visits for RLN that often lead into talk about our individual work. There are definitely elements of our own work that feed RLN and what we do collaboratively gets sent back out into our own practices. At the beginning of all this we talked about RLN being this umbrella that could incorporate our own work and our collaborative work, seamlessly transitioning between the two, supporting each other’s projects, and of course working together both for fun and when overlaps in our interests demand collaboration.
WL: You just wrapped up a two person show The Loneliest Places at Neon Heater Gallery in Ohio this past April featuring your work as solo artists. How did you approach this middle ground between solo and collaborative?
J: This is actually the show I referenced in the previous question. I showed my animated video about Laika going into orbit on Sputnik 2 (and Sputnik 1 has a cameo in that video as well) and a drawing series about a robotic dog who is researching black holes, and Chad made an installation piece about research spacecraft that have now traveled farthest from earth, such as the Voyager crafts. Both pieces are about these lonely explorers in the vast beyond. Even though it was our individual works, it still sort of felt like an RLN project to me, because we created context for each other. Also, we like to think of Really Large Numbers as an umbrella that can cover our individual works when it feels right. I think, ultimately, RLN is about me and Chad having great chemistry and being able to work extremely well together, whether we are making something new or placing individual works of ours together in a space.
Panel from Julia Oldham’s drawing series about a robotic dog (later to become a graphic novel)
C: Ha-ha, obviously Julia answered all these questions before me, hence the double umbrella reference! It’s true that this recent show at the heater felt a lot like an RLN piece but I think it’s just because our individual work complements the others’ really well. Light Years Away is a unique opportunity for Julia and me to show our individual work and RLN work at the same time. I’ll be curious to see how people make connections between the three pieces…all of which I think could have been made by RLN together or Julia and I individually. I suppose in that way RLN is more like a Julia/Chad hybrid mind than a collaboration.
A wavelength can be alternatively defined as the distance between successive crests of a wave and a person’s way of thinking in relation to others. The empirical, in other words, can have its analogy in the associative. It’s probably not a coincidence that a colloquialism like “You happen to be on my wavelength” grows out of a real scientific phenomenon. One could even argue that any “phenomenology of the spirit” takes as its direct model the science of physics. At a point relatively not too distant in human history, the scientific, as a matter of fact, was integrally connected to philosophies of living. There was seen no separation between the empirical and a notion of the metaphysical. In the pre-scientific era mythical figures in alchemy such as Hermes Trismegistus were endowed with a demiurge’s creative power to divine and unify the distance between the physical and the spiritual worlds. This personified analogy of a creator of worlds in harmonious dialectic with one another was the ostensible basis for GWF Hegel to found his notion of dialectical philosophy upon. Much of this lineage of course gets lost in the more contemporary separation between science and art. In this opposition science is typically seen as the product of rational, empirically- derived proofs while art is often relegated to a position of an optional, recreational theoretic. There have been attempts to reconcile these differences by creating contexts for contemporary artists to interact such as Experiments in Art and Technology founded in 1966 by Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, then scientists for Bell Labs together with the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. This effort was no doubt fueled by a sense of syncretic utopianism that characterized the early Sixties with visionary exemplars ranging from Buckminster Fuller to Marshal McLuhan, John Cage to Yvonne Rainer. More contemporary efforts to conflate the realms or art and science exist in such organizations as SciArt whose stated goal is to pursue,” scientific and artistic understanding within the larger paradigm of intellectual unity”.
Wavelength, the collaborative entity founded in 2015 by the artist/curators Gianluca Bianchino and Jeanne Brasile, aligns itself within the tradition of metaphysical inquiry with regards to the perennial coincidence of art and science. Their stated goals involve a, “curatorial practice (that) considers phenomenological art informed by scientific principles – concerned more with manifestation than representation”. They have sponsored what they term “immersive exhibitions” such as The Particle and the Wave
held at Index Art Center, Newark, NJ in June, 2016 and Light Years Away, slated for the same venue, in June of 2017. In these efforts the curators have intentionally “mixed it up”, or installed the works in an essentially non-empirical manner, in order to engage the viewer on multiple levels of sensory and intellectual experience. Their curatorial approach, much like life itself, rarely exerts a heavy hand in filtering out or distilling phenomenological encounters in any given environment towards any determinate intention. Accordingly, a light projection might be juxtaposed next to a painting, a kinetic sculpture opposite a photograph, or entire rooms made up of multiple phenomenal experiences. In this way Bianchino and Brasile actuate the dialectical pas de deux between science and art that has founded such investigations for centuries. One could say that Wavelength’s purpose is to bring a more particulate realism to the generic abstraction of the majority of contemporary “white box” art installations- a kind of immersive fog of aesthetic intention that nevertheless speaks with clarity about the necessity to unify disparate realms of experience. This is a commendable ambition, both romantic in its aspirations and pragmatic in its concrete goals, especially in a current social and political environment that would further force the separation of science and art while paradoxically privileging redoubts of reason built solely on blind faith and an often cynical political expediency. Wavelength’s project therefore can serve as both inspiration and expiration, of a capacious notion of art and science, phenomenally bound, and a release from pre-conceived notions of authority and nature. It was an artist, after all, who declared “I am nature”. Jackson Pollock’s often misconstrued (and most likely apocryphal) phrase was most likely an iteration of his will toward the erasure of any aesthetic authorship in order to better collapse distinctions between the science of art and the art of science. So there is too, inherent to Wavelength’s similar inquiry, an egalitarian leveling of strict categorical distinctions in order to more fully grasp a cosmos of aesthetic reasoning.
It remains to be seen whether the empirical and the metaphysical can be reconciled by aesthetic intervention in a contemporary discourse so laden with implicit dependence upon their continued separation. Brasile and Bianchino have a challenging task ahead of them. Their ambition is supported, however, by a long tradition of experimentation and sometimes even real breakthroughs in inquiries into the nature of being, and the being of nature.
 Hegel, in Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), wrote of his intention “To help to bring philosophy nearer to the form of science – that goal where it can lay aside the name of love of knowledge and be actual knowledge – that is what I have set before me.”
Tom McGlynn is an artist, writer, and independent curator based in the NYC area. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Cooper- Hewitt National Design Museum of the Smithsonian. He has been a contributing writer to The Brooklyn Rail since 2012. Since 2013 he has been academically affiliated as a lecturer with Parsons/The New School.
“Each of us is just a little part of the Universe, so versatile and limitless. I would like to understand our place in it, our triviality in the universal and our significance in the planetary scale” – Ekaterina Smirnova
Ekaterina Smirnova is a New York based artist. She is highly inspired by science, particularly the realms of astronomy, physics and chemistry. Smirnova collaborates with scientists from around the world, interpreting their research into art. She works in multi-media formats including; large-scale watercolor paintings, ceramic sculptures, musical collaborations and interactive electronics. She spoke with Wavelength from Hokkaido, Japan where she is presently researching new projects.
WL: Your work has been recently featured on the Discovery Channel, in addition to numerous publications and gallery exhibitions. Your practice revolves around the subject matter of space exploration and technology. What is about space exploration that captures the human imagination?
ES: We are all dreamers, we like to look at the stars. But some of us go beyond appreciating the beauty of the night sky. I am talking about scientists, people who dedicate their life to exploring the unknown. Their work is very important and isn’t easy, especially when they work on something that is not even proven to be true yet and many doubt the outcome of this work (for example scientists of the European Space Agency for many years has been working on the project called LISA Pathfinder, which is designed to explore gravitational waves, but the proof of gravitational waves just happened last year in 2016.) As an artist I have a personal goal, I would like to make the scientific work more visible to every-day observers, to highlight the efforts of a large group of scientists
WL: How and when did your interest in space develop?
ES: I was born in USSR, the country which sent the first man to space. Yuri Gagarin was a big hero, every child knew his name and wanted to become him too. I would say that between this fact and that my father is an engineer and I was very interested in technology and space, I grew to appreciate everything related to space.
WL: Your reference is space imagery created by dynamic painting techniques. What do you wish to impart to the viewer with your representations of your subject matter and what are the impacts for viewers with regard to your unique processes?
ES: I often use photo references created during various space missions, sometimes I use my own photography of the night sky. But my focus is not to be an illustrator and represent something precisely, I try to give my paintings freedom and looseness. Watercolor is a perfect medium for that. I love the way water is hard to control and the textures it creates by moving the pigment. I approach my painting techniques scientifically. For example, I do experiments with self-mixed paints, I explore various waters and their behavior on paper, I sometimes even grow crystals on my paintings. All of it hopefully will attract my viewers to explore my paintings closer, discover new patterns, notice water marks, study how gravity plays a big role in my creation process. To me the creative process is as important as the subject matter
WL: In making the watercolor painting series project 67P, based on the Rosetta mission, you incorporate experimental techniques that replicate the conditions of the comet. Can you briefly explain to our readers what the Rosetta mission is and describe why the mission is of such importance to you presently?
ES: Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency (http://rosetta.esa.int) is a very unique one, because for the first time we not only explored a comet (67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko) so close, but also landed a robotic probe on it. Questions like how did water come to planet Earth and how does life travel through the universe are beginning to be answered because of this mission. One of my main focuses of this art project is the water on the comet. Water on 67P was discovered to be different from Earth, that’s why I thought it would be great if I could re-create this water and use it to paint my comet views.
WL: Can you describe the phenomenon of heavy water in general and how you create and use it in your paintings?
ES: Rosetta discovered that water on the comet has the highest level of heavy water ever found in nature. Heavy water (deuterium oxide, 2H2O) is a form of water that contains larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium (2H or D), rather than the common hydrogen. On Earth, deuterated water occurs naturally in normal water at a proportion of about 1 molecule in 3,200. On the comet 67P it is 3 times higher. The HDO may be separated from normal water by distillation or electrolysis
WL: How did you learn to create heavy water? Did you research this independently or did you speak with scientists?
ES: When I decided that it was important to use heavy water, I needed to figure out where to get it. So I started doing research. I realized that it is actually possible to concentrate it from the regular New York tap water via electrolysis. I don’t like simple solutions I guess, so to make things more complicated I had to make my own electrolysis device out of an AC/DC adapter. I had to consult a few of my friends – a chemist and an electrical engineer. Both said it was possible.
WL: Does it feel different to use water colors with the water that has undergone the process of electrolysis?
ES: Actually, there is no visual difference at all. But this is not what is important. By going a long way to create this special water to paint with, I want to share with my viewers a bit of science behind the space mission. Everyone who saw this pretty process of electrolysis (tiny bubbles of split water H and O streaming rapidly up) and heard me talking about Rosetta’s fascinating discoveries are becoming genuinely interested in this mission. And this is my main goal.
WL: Is this experimentation in your artistic process enjoyable or confounding, or both at times?
ES: I believe that artists and scientists have a lot in common. Both have an inquisitive mind. For me it is natural to do different types of experimentations, finding solutions to problems, testing and so on. Not every experiment is a successful one, which can get frustrating of course, but generally I take a big pleasure in experimenting, sometimes even losing myself in it and forgetting the main job – which is to create an artwork.
WL: Is this experimentation in your artistic process enjoyable or confounding, or both at times?
ES: I believe that artists and scientists have a lot in common. Both have an inquisitive mind. For me it is natural to do different types of experimentations, finding solutions to problems, testing and so on. Not every experiment is a successful one, which can get frustrating of course, but generally I take a big pleasure in experimenting, sometimes even losing myself in it and forgetting the main job – which is to create an artwork.
WL: Your work is often presented in non-traditional painting formats that are quasi-installation-like, such as large scale multi-panel paintings on paper in asymmetrical configurations. What are the artistic concerns that bring about these specific presentations?
ES: I always thought that rectangular formats are a bit “square,” lol, if you know what I mean. Who decided on this standard and why do we need to follow? In my opinion art does not have rules. I like to work on odd formats, sometimes adding extra paper to a standard format, sort of getting out of the canvas. For the celestial paintings the inspiration comes from the space photo collages, where an image can take a random shape, what is outside of the shape – is missing data. Unfortunately the gallery world is not really prepared for the odd formats, which often causes different framing problems.
WL: What is next in the studio? Is there a new project you are currently interested in?
ES: This year my focus is the environment. I believe this is an important and more urgent topic. At the moment I am researching snow in subarctic regions in Japan. Snow is very sensitive to temperature, so it represents climate change better than anything else. I would like to continue working with scientists and already had a meeting with a glaciologist and a planetary scientist at the Low Temperature Institute in Sapporo. In the spring I will be participating in a science symposium of the European Geosciences Union. My session is “Scientists, Artists and the Earth: co-operating for a better planet sustainability.” I would like to accentuate your attention to this big problem that we have globally, so that together we will be able to solve it.
For more information about Ekaterina Smirnova, visit her website
Ekaterina Smirnova was recently featured on the Discovery Channel speaking about the Rosetta Mission. Watch the video here
Carol Salmanson is a Brooklyn-based artist working with light and reflective materials. She recently took a break from her busy schedule to speak with Wavelength about her practice.
WL: What are the particular properties of light that interest you?
Light both beams into you and surrounds you. These qualities allow me to build whole worlds around the viewer with color and shape, ones that touch their memory and experience. In addition to being a visual artist, I have a background in renovations and in dance, which are both concerned with the way space touches the viewer’s emotions. Light allows me to create a special kind of place for the viewer to enter.
I also use the special properties of LEDs in the same way a painter would. LEDs come in a different colors, shapes, sizes, and transparencies, to fit their specific intended industrial purpose. I have been collecting LEDs and now have more than 150 different kinds, and I can combine them in an infinite number of ways, especially once I add contemporary reflective and transparent materials to the mix.
The way I work with my various materials permits me to make art that forms two-dimensional work reminiscent of painting, and the light radiates outward to suggest metaphorical spaces.
WL: You have an extensive body of work using light. Was there ever a time when you worked in another medium?
I painted for many years, and as my work progressed I added reflected pigments that suggested a space extending inward and outward. This allowed the objects painted on top to move and stay still at the same time, which was my intention. It was a natural progression from there to working with light the way I do, because light does nothing if not stay still and move simultaneously. The influence of my past work is clear, and the evolution was a natural one – although it sure didn’t seem like it as it was happening.
WL: How does the medium influence the structure of your art?
It was a bit of a struggle to make work that wasn’t about fabrication. I’ve made some beautiful work within the limitations of the materials I used, such as prisms, slender fluorescents, and stainless steel, and I continue to do so. But it got to the point where the fabrication process eclipsed my artistic experience, and I became extremely frustrated. In desperation I started creating the Gesture Drawings, which are much more fun to make.
Incorporating the hand into my work is deeply meaningful for me. The work is no longer a hard, industrially derived piece of art, but a way to use all of my components to form the piece. And they really are drawings – I start with a gestural pencil drawing and drill holes by hand for the wiring, and I can shape the final result.
The Gesture Drawings emphasize that at its heart industrial materials always have a purpose, that technology is the tool and not the goal.
WL: Are there any new light technologies you’re considering implicating into your work?
My most recent infatuation is for the new “neon” light strips, which are LED tape encased snugly in thick molded diffused silicone. Unlike neon, and unlike LED tape strips, you can bend it any way you want, even tying the stuff in knots. I’ve tried getting samples in the hopes of using them for a project I have coming up, but they are too new to be easily available. Last week I received the fourth sample from the fourth supplier in China (there are none yet in the US that carry all the kinds), and I decided, not for the first time, that the use of “cutting edge” technology was starting to displace my making art. The samples are now in a box on the shelf.
Carol Salmanson is currently featured in “The Particle and the Wave” at Index Art Center of Newark, New Jersey. They are located at 237 Washington Street.
Wavelength speaks with Eric Valosin about his recent artist residency, art and spirituality and his interest in the “techno-sublime.” Valosin is currently featured in the exhibition “The Particle and the Wave” at Index Art Center of Newark, New Jersey.
WL:Let’s begin by speaking about your work in a general sense.I characterize it as an interdisciplinary practice informed by theology, philosophy, metaphysics, physics, spirituality and digital technologies.Can you share some essential concepts with our readers?
That’s a pretty good characterization. It more or less started with a curiosity about contemplative spiritual experience and an interest in the intersections of art and religion. But I wanted to sidestep the dogma and polemics that often cloud religious art, so I began to dig into mystical traditions (Zen, Christian Mysticism, Sufism, and the like) for their access to the primary stuff of spiritual experience. That led me to philosophical questions about being, existence, and what it means to have experiences at all, and I followed them down the rabbit hole toward metaphysics, epistemology, and phenomenology.
The turning point came when I looked around inside that rabbit hole and realized that the postmodern philosophical landscape looked very different than the metaphysics that led me inside. I asked myself how I, as an artist, was going to approach this topic when the vast majority of mystics I was reading lived 700 years ago and had no concept of electricity, let alone cyberspace or globalized world-views.
My art is thus an attempt to reconcile the 14th century mystic with the 21st century philosopher and facilitate a contemplative spiritual experience for the viewer. To that end I create interactive work that blends old and new media. I adopt traditional mystical strategies and push them through new technologies and emerging world views.
I ask myself how one can have the “unmediated immediacy” of mystical encounters in an era when, purportedly, everything is now mediated. Instead, I strive for a highly mediated spiritual experience. I’ve taken a liking to the term coined for this by Hal Foster in relation to Bill Viola’s video installations: the “techno-sublime.”
WL:Your work is often comprised of a fleeting set of experiences, coupled with your interest in dispersing, deconstructing and reconfiguring information.Is it better for the viewer to know or un-know this tsunami of data to comprehend the work?
In this framework, knowing is unknowing, and vice versa. The 14th Century mystic Meister Eckhart often said that if God is beyond comprehension, the only access point is to negate anything you can comprehend. This negation is the backbone of the “apophatic” style of mysticism, meaning “negative knowledge,” and is one of the strategies I adopt, both visually and conceptually.
Deconstruction may be an attempt to “know,” but when you realize your subject is unknowable, it actually pushes you further into an edifying, mystical “un-knowing,” or apophasis. As I work I always keep paradox and ambiguity in my crosshairs. I know an installation is working well if the viewer enters with both a sense of wonder and utter confusion.
WL:Tell us about your piece for “The Particle and the Wave”
Hyalo 3 (WaveParticle) is part of a series of installations that optically blends painted color and projected color, inspired by stained glass, mandalas, sacred geometry, and geometric abstraction. In the vein of traditional mandalas, I borrowed from the gallery’s floorplan and architectural motifs as well. In honor of the occasion, the imagery also contains a diagrammatic nod to the double slit experiment, which marked the discovery of light’s particle-wave duality.
Hyalo 3 was created on site and painted directly on the gallery wall. Like a sand mandala, it will be there for the duration of its use, and then be scattered into the river, so to speak, painted over when the show ends. Its impermanence is tied to its site-specificity.
More significantly though than its responsiveness to the architecture is its responsiveness to light. The projection onto the painting is carefully calibrated so that the resulting iridescent color blend shifts and permutes in response to the gallery’s ambient light, other works in the gallery, and the viewer’s viewing angle. It also causes the image to take on an ambiguous dimensionality and float in a space that seems other than the wall.
Furthermore, when the viewer walks in front of the projector, the projection is blocked and the painted colors are revealed within his or her shadow. My hope is for all this to create a relational bodily awareness in the way minimalist sculpture does, but accompanied by a sense of wonder and shattered perceptual expectations. I hope for an altered awareness of self within the highly mediated space, which leads to an active state of contemplation.
I’ve always seen projection as a metaphysical medium. From Plato’s cave to stained glass windows, various models of projection often go hand in hand with searches for truth and divinity. I like to think I’m continuing that tradition into the digital age.
WL:You are very much a problem solver, what new challenges did you take-on for this current piece in “The Particle and the Wave?”
I’ve come to expect unforeseen challenges when installing site-specific new media projects. Every venue has its own set of surprises to overcome; ceiling mounting to what turns out to be a padded fabric drop-ceiling, hanging on what turns out to be a painted plexiglass wall, computers crashing, equipment missing, inaccurate dimensions, incompatible file types, you name it.
Thankfully, this installation was devoid of many of those unforeseen challenges. Instead, many of the foreseen challenges were particularly tricky ones. This show made for very difficult color calibration, because of the fluctuation of the other light based pieces around mine.
All the variables come into play to get the right effect – the color and value of the paint, the reflectivity of the pigment, the strength and angle of the projector, the hue and saturation of the projected colors, the alignment of the projected image, the gallery lighting, the other artwork nearby… I sort of imagine the calibration process like trying to balance a razor on its edge; one RGB value point too far in any direction and the image looks cheap, flimsy, and flat. Every time one of the other pieces in the gallery flickers or changes, so does my color blend. I finally ended up having to build a computer program that would algorithmically help me find the right starting point for the projected color, spend several hours adjusting from there, and then ultimately tweak some of the projector’s display settings – something I don’t normally have to do – to finally find the right effect that would also withstand the range of lighting conditions it would have to endure.
But I’m a firm believer that the best discoveries in art come from co-opting interesting mistakes and finding workarounds to unexpected challenges.
In fact, that’s how this whole Hyalo series came about in the first place. About four years ago, In the spirit of mystical negation, I had originally been trying to get the projected color to negate the painted color entirely, resulting in a grayish field of light that would only reveal its color in the viewer’s shadow. I had it working well in some small studio experiments, but when it was time to install an exhibition it started behaving very differently on a large scale.
It turns out that the acrylic paint I was using was actually slightly reflective because of its plasticity. That caused weird, iridescent reflections to be thrown all over the place, and the color blend was wildly inconsistent depending on my viewing angle. I initially wrote it off as a failed project, but luckily had some mentors and friends who helped me see the potential in this accident. I ended up recalibrating the projection to take advantage of those inconsistencies and create what would evolve into the Hyalo series.
For the record, I did then go back and experiment with other paints to also achieve my original negation idea. An example of that, UnKnowledge II, was recently on view at Aljira in Newark in the Viewpoints 2016 show (shameless plug).
Unknowledge II, 2014
WL:You recently did a residency at Ohio State University’s Pulse Laser Holography Lab.Can you tell us about the residency and what you discovered there?
That was a real honor, and afforded me a whole new respect for particles and waves. Under the auspices of NY’s HoloCenter, I had the opportunity to study with holography legends Sam Morée and Harris Kagan. Sam was one of the pioneers of art holography in the ‘70s and is generally considered one of the most important and influential living holographers. Harris is a professor of holography at OSU and one of the physicists on the team at CERN that discovered the Higgs particle. Four other artists and I spent a week learning the physics and mechanics of holography from them and producing several types of holograms.
For those unfamiliar, Holography is the process of encoding three dimensional information into a two dimensional surface. It’s actually very similar to darkroom photography, but uses laser interference patterns to record a three dimensional image.
Holography purists would oblige me to clarify that Tupac was not actually a hologram, nor are HoloLens or other digital augmented reality technologies true holograms. I found out the hard way that Holographers are very touchy about these sorts of technicalities.
In true holography you essentially split a laser beam into two beams. The “reference beam” shines directly on the light sensitive film, and the “object beam” reflects off of the object first, then bounces onto the film. The film, which has a light sensitive emulsion with roughly 40,000 times higher resolution than most digital cameras, records the way the light waves constructively and destructively interfere, creating a microscopic pattern unique to that object.
After developing the otherwise transparent film, if you shine the reference beam on it again at the right angle, it reflects and diffracts off of the interference pattern and reconstructs the object beam. In other words, the light coming off the film reaches your eye in the exactly same way it would have if it came directly off of the object itself. The result is a 3D image that exactly matches the object from every viewing angle and seems to float in space in front of or behind the surface of the film. As far as your brain is concerned, it is the object, optically speaking.
This residency was special in that its at one of the few labs with access to a pulse ruby laser. In order to have an image, you have to have a stable interference pattern throughout the duration of the exposure, which in our case were up to as long as four minutes. That means nothing can move more than the distance of half a wavelength of light that whole time. Any sounds in the room are enough to jostle the air around the laser beam and blur the interference pattern. Even the microscopic life cycle of your cells provides too much movement for a stable image. This rules out many subjects as too unstable.
However, what took the ordinary continuous wave laser four minutes to capture, the pulse laser could capture in 20 billionths of a second! Since almost nothing moves that fast, stability is no longer an issue and almost any subject matter is fair game, including people and moving objects.
The workshop gave me an appreciation for new levels of precision and planning. I came away with a renewed understanding that every detail indeed matters. I learned that waiting can be a very important part of a practice. Even with very expensive vibration dampening equipment, we spent a lot of time waiting for things to settle, or for film to develop. But it was meaningful waiting. I found rather meditative.
I also discovered the holography community is extremely close knit, to the point that every serious holographer in the world is practically on a first name basis. It was really an honor to be introduced into that community, and it fulfilled a long time dream of mine to create holograms.
WL:Do you have plans to employ holography in your upcoming work? If so, where do you foresee it going?
I’d love to. Light has always been a very important medium in my work, and holography seems like a natural extension. Light is perfectly apophatic: paradoxically both particle and wave, revealing and yet unrevealed, naturally sublime in its impact. Holography strikes me as a perfect expression of what the 3rd century mystic Plotinus called “formless form.”
Theologians have actually likened mandalas to holograms as well, in that they are two-dimensional surfaces that are experienced multidimensionally, whether as the 3D temple structure they imply or even as an access point to higher spiritual dimensions. My Meditations series of drawings consists of mandalas conflated with functioning QR codes that launch the meditating viewer somewhere into cyberspace. To start, I’m interested in expanding that series into new arenas of virtual space through holography.
I had the fortune of asking Sam Morée what he saw for the future of holography. He seems to think the greatest potential for innovation is now in emerging technologies for viewing and displaying holograms, which is something I’m interested in exploring through larger scale installations that would integrate holography with projection and other media. I’m currently dreaming up some proposals and looking forward to getting back into a proper lab soon.
In the mean time though, I’ve been experimenting in my studio with “specular holography,” which is also called “scratch” or “abrasion holography,” or more affectionately “poor man’s holography.” With carefully plotted scratched arcs and circles you can actually hand etch holographic images into reflective surfaces like plexiglas. Each scratch projects a holographic glint of light that, with enough scratches, coheres into a three dimensional image that floats above or below the surface, complete with stereoscopic parallax effects.
I’m really just scratching the surface so far (literally), but you can find some really advanced examples in the work of Tristan Duke or Matthew Brand. I’m not sure exactly what these experiments will become, but for my conceptual purposes I enjoy the very analog nature of these hand-made holograms, as well as their proclivity toward geometric imagery.
WL:How do you feel about current theories in physics exploring the concept that the universe is a projection?Do you think about these things in relation to your work?
That’s one of the things that led me to Holography in the first place. Physicists have determined that all the information that describes everything that has ever entered a black hole is actually stored at the event horizon. That essentially means that all of the three-dimensional space within a black hole could be reconstructed by projecting data stored on a two dimensional surface at the periphery of that space. Scientists have extrapolated that to mean that, in principle, what we perceive to be the entire three-dimensional universe could actually be a projection of a similar two dimensional information plane at the edges of the universe. And yes, if you’re picturing the Matrix right now, you’re not far off. It does by extension lead to a universe comprised of pure “information” and dovetails with the discoveries of Planck units and quantum computing. And it just so happens that viewing the universe this way also helps make much of the mathematics of string theory work out nicely.
As I mentioned earlier, any three dimensional projection of information stored on a two-dimensional plane is basically the definition of a hologram, earning this theory the moniker, “the Holographic Principle.”
If all of reality indeed does function like a holographic projection, I wonder then, what are the implications for spiritual space? I’m eager to use holography and other methods to artistically explore the metaphysics of this new cosmological model.
In Hyalo 3 (WaveParticle) the viewer gets sandwiched into the imagery, engulfed by the projection, becoming part of the projection, simultaneously revealing and concealing the environment. That just may turn out to be exactly how the whole universe manifests.
all images courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted
Wavelength speaks with Michael Callahan of USCO, an artist communal collective founded in the early 1960’s in Garnerville, New York with fellow artists Gerd Stern and Stephen Durkee. USCO is currently featured in the exhibition “The Particle and the Wave” at Index Art Center of Newark, New Jersey. The interview addresses the history of USCO and Callahan’s ongoing obsession with technology.
WL: Can you tell us how you came to be a part of USCO?
MC: I was with the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Gerd Stern was having a show at the San Francisco Museum of Art and wanted to stage a multi-media event. Through a mutual friend, Michael McClure, contact was made with the Tape Center. After the performance (“Who R U and What’s Happening”) Gerd and I collaborated on various works and performances. Gerd and his wife Judi returned to Woodstock in the spring of ’64, and I joined them in August. Gerd and Judi, Steve Durkee and his wife Barbara and I took the name USCO –Company of Us– to reflect the involvement of a number of individuals as well as to play down the ego aspects of authorship.
WL: Can you characterize the development of technology since of the beginning of USCO to the present?
MC: When we started vacuum tubes were common and affordable. Solid state technology was well under way, but did not lend itself to low budget operations. Computers made by IBM and Univac due to their cost and overhead requirements were limited to large business and government installations. Even those behemoths pale in comparison to today’s smart phones. Much of the technology was still electro-mechanical, with electric motors actuating switches. Yet, it was still possible to achieve remarkable results with available technology. The main difference between now and then is that things are smaller and cheaper, but not necessarily better. (Take the control box for the Traffic sign; the solid state computerized version just sits there quietly, whereas the sixties version emits a marvelous click-click-clack-clack. So aside from being smaller, the function is the same, but the sound adds a great deal.) The integrated circuit, the basis of today’s devices, was still decades away.
WL: How have these developments influenced your practice?
MC: Not as much as they perhaps should have. Having constraints is not always a bad thing. Frequently a work came about because it was possible to exploit some aspect of some piece of surplus IBM equipment. So much of the work started with a definition or at least an inspiration from an existing object. In a way, there is an advantage to having limited resources: the choices are limited to the practical. Today’s practitioner is confronted with an imponderable number of possibilities.
WL: One of the more interesting things about your work is the adaptation of existing technologies to create new outcomes. Can you describe some of the artworks in which you’ve invented or altered technologies?
MC: I tend to view a technology along the lines of how a psychologist might view their subjects, learning by observing what it behaves, rather than the technical aspects of how it works. At the Tape Music Center this approach proved useful, taking a circuit developed for one purpose and asking “what else can it do?” What it boils down to is being careful not to stereotype or prejudge a technology based solely on its prior intended application. We made extensive use of strobe lights, which were originally invented by Harold Edegerton of MIT as an aid to working on electric motors. We incorporated them into several works, such as Triple Difraction Hex, as well as the strobe rooms like Final Flash.
WL: Is there any particular technology that still captures your imagination despite ongoing changes?
MC: Anything to do with sound, preferably something with knobs on it.
WL: The recently published article on USCO in Art Journal[i] noted how Marshall McLuhan, one of your contemporaries, saw technology as a bodily prosthetic. How, if at all, does this concept apply to your work?
MC: In many ways, we were attempting to reduce McLuhan’s theories to practice, in much the same way an experimental physicist treats the work of a theoretical physicist. Except in our case, the laboratory was the audience. Some things worked, others didn’t, but Marshall’s work provided a solid foundation, or at least a plausible rationale for what we were doing. Also, the time was ripe, in that the population was just becoming aware of life under electrical conditions. I am quite fond of the concept of media as an extension of our central nervous systems.
WL: USCO’s work often unifies spirituality and technology, how do you reconcile these seemingly polarized concepts?
MC: We Are All One. Fred Turner talks about how “technomysticism” filled the bill. “Each production required input by artists with a variety of technical skills, and the collaboration in turn required both a contact language in which the artists could speak to one another and a rationale to drive their production”[ii] Besides, technology is but the harnessing of the universe’s forces, which, deeply, are of a mystical origin. As Wallace Stevens said, in Idea of Order at Key West: