The Arc of a Wave: Wavelength’s Aesthetic Reach By Tom McGlynn

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”[1] 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

Volosin and USCO
The Particle and the Wave at Index Art Center, 2016.  Left:  Eric Valosin “Hyalo 3 (ParticleWave)” and Right:  USCO “In Memory of Charlotte Moorman”

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.


[1] 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.”


vcard.newschoolTom 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.





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