MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
NOVEMBER 1 – NOVEMBER 30, 2002
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2002 AT 8 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
722, 11 AVE S.W, CALGARY, ALBERTA
SCIENCE BOY AND THE GOLDEN AGE is a collaborative exhibition that brings together two artists whose recent works explore the mechanical and metaphorical terrain of panorama, spherical and multi-view perspectives. Founded on similar boyhood principles of the spectacle and scientific delight, the artistic practices of both M.N. (Hutch) Hutchinson and Paul Robert reveal an intriguing commitment to scientific play and its relationship to Enlightenment, its decline, and its re-emergence into what could be referred to as “New Age Irrational Romanticism.”The essay that follows is as much an exploration of the conceptual and material territory both artists are attempting to traverse in their works as it is a by-product of my own aesthetic and theoretical inclinations. I am very thankful to both Paul and Hutch for indulging my curatorial desires by their willingness to dive, head first, into the abyss of collaboration.
Lissa Robinson, Curator
M.N HUTCHINSON was born in Calgary in 1958. He attended the Alberta College of Art from 1977 to 1981. He consequently worked as a professional photographer with national and international clients until 1987. After graduating with a BFA (Distinction) from the University of Calgary in 1991 he attended the Banff Centre for the Arts as a resident artist, later returning to manage the photography facilities from 1993 – 1996. Since then he has taight at several universities and colleges. He has co-directed Truck: an artist run centre and sat on its board, while also being active on the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation board. He has received a Canada Council mid-career grant as well as Alberta Foundation for the Arts grants. His work is in public collections of the Alberta Art Foundation, Glenbow Museum, Edmonton Art Gallery, Calgary Civic collection as well as several private collections. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary. He has shown in Toronto.
PAUL ROBERT is a Canadian interdisciplinary artist whose interest centres on the rationalistic foundations of the modern world. Having a diploma in Religious Studies, training in linguistics, and a degree in Communications, he became interested in pursueing a career in art after travelling to Europe (how cliché). He completed a two-year program at Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton and then transferred to the Alberta College of Art & Design in Calgary where he obtained his BFA in 2002. In addition to maintaining his artistic practice, Paul spend his first year out of school as Programming Coordinator of The New Gallery, a Calgary Artist-Run Centre. He is currently living in Halifax, working towards his MFA at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
“What is a magic lantern without its lamp! As soon as you insert the little lamp then the most colorful pictures are thrown on your whitewall. And even though they are nothing but fleeting phantoms, they make us happy, as we stand before them like little boys, delighted at the miraculous visions.”
Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
Newton visualised time as an arrow flying towards its target. Einstein understood time as a river, moving forward, forceful, directed, but also bowed, curved, sometimes subterranean, not ending but pouring itself into a greater sea. A river cannot flow against its current, but it can flow in circles; its eddies and whirlpools regularly break up its strong press forward. The riverrun is maverick, there is a high chance of crosscurrent, a snag of time that returns us without warning to a place we thought we had sailed through long since.”
Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries
“UFOlogy is the mythology of the space age. Rather than angels, we now have extraterrestrials. It is the product of the creative imagination. It serves a poetic and existential function. It seeks to give man deeper roots and bearings in the universe. It is an expression of our hunger for mystery, and our hope for transcendental meaning. The gods of Mt. Olympus have been transformed into space voyagers, transporting us by our dreams to other realms”
“Camera, as all-seeing god, satisfies our longing for omniscience. To spy on others from this height and angle: pedestrians pass in and out of our lens like rare aquatic insects.”
Jim Morrison, The Lords & The New Creatures
“A landscape – or rather a confusion of landscapes thrown together in fabulous disarray – was emerging from the warp and the weft. Was that not a mountain he could see below him, pressing its head up through a cloud of colour; and was that not a river; and could he not hear it roar as it fell in whiter water torrents into a shadowed gorge?
There was a world below him.”
Clive Barker, Weaveworld
“Outside our time and space, Llixgrijb was still dissatisfied.
‘I have created a world full of imaginary creatures,’ said Llixgrijb. ‘And yet I am alone. How can this be?’
Despite the populousness of its illusion, Llixgrijb could only watch its lovely universe from the outside. It had not forgotten its own suffering and loneliness. It was not fully a part of the creation it had made.
‘I must become a part of my illusion,’ considered Llixgrijb. ‘And to do that, I must don a costume, I must wear a mask. I must forget myself forever. But what—or who—shall I become?’ ”
Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin, The Jamais Vu Papers
SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES: PANORAMA, PLEASURE AND THE SPECTACLE OF A NEW AGE
In any given era the unconscious changes in perspective or worldview are often revealed through the metaphors that shape its cultural topography. Almost from its origins, and nearly universally, the Western world has fallen prey to two very distinct orientations or metaphoric leanings: linearity and ascensionism. In recent centuries, and despite rationalist leanings, ascensionism not only points to a desire to fly or soar above the earth, but also speaks of a wish to make contact with mythical beings like angels, aliens, or other celestial specters. It also marks various points in time where advancements in mathematics, optics, space travel and digital technologies opened the visual field to other perspectives like ‘bird’s or God’s eye view’, fish eye lens, the panorama and virtual reality. Such vast and curvaceous methods of representation not only reflect the natural world’s propensity for circularity, but also run counter to the traditional “linearity” which has ruled the Western view since the early Renaissance. Unlike the static space of linear perspective, curvilinear or multi-view perspectives evoke a sense of cyclical movement or time while mimicking the curvature of the eye and the way it views or experiences reality. It also caricatures the scopic or voyeuristic tendency that has so long been associated with the use of scientific instruments—many of which allow us, if only optically, “to seek new worlds, and boldly go where no man has gone before.” (1) Such notions of ‘positioning’ or worldview are really just questions of survival and reveal our human drive to not only find a place within the universe, but to assuage our unease over death and the after-life.
Ever since the achievement of rationalist perspective, linearity has governed the Western psyche. Phenomenologist, Robert Romanyshyn, suggests that the advancement of linear perspective—and other linear technologies like the telescope—established a shift in human consciousness that separated “the eye of distant vision” from the previous flesh-centred experience of the body moving through and sensing the world. (2) In 1932, Canadian artist Ivan Jobin wrote on the problem of curvilinear perspectives. (3) He claimed that the advent of skyscrapers and airplanes offered such radically new heights and expansive points of view that it was necessary to modify traditional rules of perspective and introduce curved lines. Such declarations bring attention to a previously obscured, yet growing lineage of artists who continue to explore curvilinear or spherical perspectives through the use of convex mirrors, cartographic projections and digital or panoramic cameras. And just like the cleverly distorted reflection painted in Arnolfini Wedding Portrait by JanVan Eyck in 1434, 360 degree panoramas also contain an element of the uncanny, precisely because they rely on the sensation of immanent invisibility—or rather, the familiar made strange, and the unseen made visible. A desire by artists to view or represent the world through such seemingly subjective or otherwise dreamy configurations of objective reality is likely to be symptomatic of a culture that has remained far too focused on a rationalist ideology that planted its roots during Enlightenment.
In her book, The Female Thermometer: 18th Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny, Terry Castle explores the way in which “the rationalist imperatives of Enlightenment worked paradoxically to produce what Freud called the uncanny, and what she describes as the impinging strangeness of the eighteenth-century imagination.”(4) Her claim suggests that the impulse to classify the world of knowledge through its fervour of rationalist self-control was in itself responsible for the “repression of the real” and its re-appearance in the fantastical or romanticized other. This radical shift in perspective is essential to any reading of the modernist ecology; and also to understanding contemporary Western culture’s obsession with UFOs, ghosts and other strange sightings or events. Given such a premise, it is no surprise then that the rise of scientific materialism produced such romantic and illustriously orchestrated spectacles as the panorama, diorama, and phantasmagoria or that, 300 years later, such inventive and sensationalist devices continue to hold us in their illusory grip.
Among the many artists working today who are exploring themes of perception, identity and scientific play through the spectacle of curvilinear perspectives, and through what can only be described as an aesthetic of invention(5) are two artists M.N. (Hutch) Hutchinson and Paul Robert. Like the practitioners(6) of Enlightenment, both artists have a shared, even vested interest in optical or perspectival mechanics, and are simultaneously engaged in traditional processes relating to historical descriptions of the physical world (i.e. photography and cartography). Beyond the mechanical elements that drive their investigative productions, the work of both artists reveal a desire to play with notions of time by appealing to the moving or changing body; and in differing ways attempt to resurrect the sensing or dreaming body(7) engaged with the world, rather than the still, distant and observing (disembodied) eye set forth by rational perspective. In looking at both Paul and Hutch’s artistic oeuvres one can immediately discern that their chosen methods or tools of production are not only used as technological appendages or extensions of their bodies, but also run counter-intuitive to their traditional functions or applications. In other words, they go against the grain, go against what we expect, and go against the typical reasons we have for engaging in the scientific process.
In 1999, and with the help of his father, Hutch built his own version of a Cirkut camera(8), which rotates mechanically on a tripod and is also equipped with a film that rotates in the opposite direction. The impetus to assemble such an elaborate and elegant contraption came from his affinity for invention(9), a growing compulsion to create more complex narratives, and an urge to explore a mode of representation that would challenge traditional ideas about objective reality and the photographic space. With his newly constructed camera in hand, Hutch then began producing a series of oversized black and white panoramic photographs, all entitled Incident at or in … some vaguely familiar location. As with most of Hutch’s photographic works, the viewer of his panoramic images is left to contend with enigmatic narratives delineated by nonsensical complexities usually attributed to the dreaming or fictionalized world. Hence, time and space bends and heaves around itself to create archetypal scenes and characters that are at once introspective and universal; strange yet familiar. Each photograph contains elusive episodes that hint at the absurdity of life and the seemingly endless cycle of willful activities that are rendered futile by their looming or impending sense of death or gloom.
In Soap: Incident in the Garden (2001), Hutch himself (although he is not identifiable as such) stands in a garden half-wearing some sort of fabricated animal guise (is it a bear or a giant gopher?). The wearer of this ridiculous suit is casually holding its over-stuffed head while standing amongst the foliage of what appears to be the outer edge of a suburbanite garden. The sequence of events takes us past the fence—adorned with a skull, to the dark, tangled underbrush, where exposed lie the dirtied bottoms of some anonymous person’s feet. Is he dead? Hibernating? Or simply attempting to hide himself from the world? Why the reference to soap? Would he use it to cleanse the soul or wash away the evidence of a deed gone wrong? The juxtaposition is alarming, and raises more questions than answers as to the nature of this strangely synthetic beast and why he inhabits such an ominous and perplexing scene.
In another piece, Incident at the gallery (1999) we encounter a well-suited man who stands on the sidewalk while gazing out across a barren urban landscape. Has he come to sell his wares or buy some others? Has some unknown or sinister force summoned him to this abandoned place where he has now collapsed, face down, only to be found, later on, unconscious or dead? Or is the man standing outside simply recalling a past or future event that has somehow managed to seep its way through the cracks and fissures, and now sprawled itself across the floor of this once empty gallery? Or maybe the white box or photographic space is simply a surface or tabula rasa from which the artist’s psychic disturbances can be traced and then elaborately transposed.
As in previous works, Hutch remains both the active specimen and distant spectator of the photographic “incidents” that he creates through the roving eye of his mechanical and orbiting appendage. In fact, this roving eye both re-interprets and re-presents what is traditionally a static art form (or space) into one that is “time-based” and sequential—or rather, operates within a territory that is generally occupied by video or film.(10) The method Hutch implements for developing his photographs is both inventive and delightfully deceiving. The panoramic negatives are scanned, digitally enhanced, and then exported again as negatives. This manipulation of traditional photography using digital interventions, although not new, is both “progressive” and “insightful.”(11) This layering or assembling of different technologies recalls early photographic panoramas while also making reference to the mechanical evolution of large, narrative or dramatic paintings. Since the mid-nineteenth century, artists have been expressing their concern over the integration of digital and traditional methods, and perhaps revealing an unconscious fear of the potential death of all things romantic and pure. However, the photographic space, despite its convincing illusion of pure objectivity, has always contained the potential for a lie. And in the twenty-first-century digital enhancement simply makes that lie that much more seamless and easy to construct.
So, how does a lie differ from an illusion? Or does it? When a perception departs from the external world, to disagree with physical or perceptual reality, we say we experience an illusion. Whichever it is—a lie or an illusion, such tricks always contain some element of deception (and truth), whether they occur naturally or artificially. The discovery of the first impossible figure in 1934 formed a new class of visual illustrations that specifically demonstrated foibles in human perception of dimensionality. The best-known visual paradox is the impossible triangle.(12) This object, made from wood, appears real (though impossible) in a photograph taken from one fixed position. But when the same wooden model is photographed from a different angle it shows itself to not be a triangle at all.
Similar to this type of visual paradox, and in contrast to the more intuitive deceptions found in Hutch’s panoramic photographs, are the perceptual mappings constructed by Paul Robert. Each “map” is constructed and performed using very calculated and discernible formulas or tricks. Delighting in the optical artifice made possible through the mathematical tools of linear perspective, stereoscopes and cartography, Paul explores the metaphoric territory of these exact sciences while exposing and juxtaposing their fallibility and deceits. Thus, similar to Hutch, Paul attempts to bridge, quite seamlessly, both the objective and subjective realms. The three-dimensionality of his work tends to operate in a way that expands our usual relationship with optical illusions, and consequently alludes to or makes us aware of the significant role that the placement, physiology and participation of our bodies plays in our visual perceptions.
In Chance Angel (2001) and Part and Parcel (2002) we find two installation-based sculptures composed of an assortment of seemingly cryptic or randomly placed forms made from simple materials like cardboard, butchers tape or MDF. Both sculptures are designed so that two distinct words (chance and angel; or love and rule) can be read when the viewer is standing on two exact points relative to the piece and to each other. The use of such sparse and unassuming materials is significant in how it attempts to subvert, both conceptually and aesthetically, the supremacy of classical perspective while at the same time applying its methods to reveal a message. The title of the second piece, Part and Parcel, also alludes to the idea that the universe is made up of parts that sometimes work together to reveal its secrets, and at other times do not. Without discovering this privileged position the code may never be broken. This idea is also related to Paul’s choice of words, Love and Rule, which are quite opposing concepts. Love is fluid and feeling while rule is rigid and rational. So not only are we seduced by the mysterious configurations of his forms, but we are also lulled, Quixotic-like, into a reverie of our own dualistic natures directed by the pairing of these words and by Paul’s chaotic yet sagacious constructions.
In Untitled – stereoscope (2002) we encounter another work, which is fabricated with similar materials, but with content that is more intrinsically tied to its environment. The piece functions in a similar way to a stereoscopic viewer, except that the left eye sees the inside of the gallery it inhabits while the right eye sees a back-lit photograph of the same scene taken shortly before the opening of the exhibition. While most of the artworks are in their proper place, the photograph reveals the installation process (i.e. the presence of a ladder and a broom) and a ghostly image of Paul, in the distance, contemplating another artwork. The photograph is scaled and aligned in such a way that the stimulus from the right eye matches, quite precisely, to the stimulus on the left. As in Hutch’s panoramas, Paul’s stereoscopic mirage turns a once predictable viewing space into one that takes a bit of a quantum leap. Here, two distinct perceptions seamlessly merge and deceive its viewers into thinking they are witnessing a present day event, only to realize moments later that they have been seduced by a trick. Before them hangs the specter of a past event, constructed and staged by the artist himself, and made to overlap the present, and thus bending itself, and the viewer, both forwards and backwards in time.
This notion of time or space bending back unto itself runs parallel to the panoramic incidents operating in Hutch’s work, and is the filament that weaves the various elements of Science Boy and the Golden Age together into its lair of apparition, spectacle and other perceptual intrigues. Inside the exhibition, a panoramic camera, periscope and the cartographic method become the all-seeing, swiveling eye that is used to uncover, examine, chart and then re-examine the hidden space or “collaboratory” constructed below the gallery through its complexity of circular patterns, distortions and unconventional narratives.
The word “collaboratory” was a term coined by William A. Wulf that merged the word laboratory (exploratory research) with the word collaboration (co-creative production).(13) Such a model of production is not new in the visual arts, which has its roots in the playful strategies of the surrealist exquisite corpse and in the conceptualist happenings of the 50’s and 60’s. In his surrealist manifesto Andre Breton wrote that the collective production of a sentence or drawing “bore the mark of something that could not be created by one brain alone” and that it “provoked a vigorous play of often extreme discordances, but also supported the idea of communication between the participants.”(14) Today, many collaborative processes not only occur within contemporary art practices, but also within the various systems which support them. The sometimes necessity of a closer collaboration between curators and artists often happens due to both the development process of the work and its presentation within the gallery. For Science Boy and the Golden Age, my wish to bring two similar, yet highly diverse artists together to work both as individuals and collaborators was based on a strong curatorial desire to facilitate their vision and development of a show rather than impose my own. As with many contemporary art practices, the artist often creates his or her work with a specific location and concept in mind; and in the case of Paul and Hutch’s collaboration, the potential of a shared conceptual and physical space influenced the artists, and their work, and in turn the site was revised and transformed by the creation of a laboratory, their individual explorations and then finally, the installation of their completed works in the main gallery.
Upon entering the main exhibition space one is able to see how vastly different both artists’ works appear to be. However, with some time spent, one can begin to enjoy the shared conceptual and physical spaces that both inhabit and in/form these articulated objects. Central to each piece is the source of their perceptual mapping: the project room, which has been filled with both artists’ personal stuff, arranged collaboratively, and then adjusted to suit their individual purposes. A web of tangled extension cords hang down from the ceiling, and a white tent, containing a TV, glows from its position against the far back wall. A long worktable, covered with a plastic, polka-dot tablecloth is almost completely shrouded in a strange pile of cameras, lenses, toys, beer bottles and a plastic skull with red blinking eyes. Behind the table hang two wooden boxes filled with a vast collection of Doc Savage books, asthma inhalers, a chemistry set and contact lens containers. Strewn about the room are all sorts of light boxes and optical devices—some of which project a kaleidoscopic of still or moving images across the crowded room littered with its chairs, an arrangement of hats, instruments, pizza boxes and other curious instruments. This labyrinth of oddly familiar paraphernalia was installed approximately two months prior, and is the stage set, point of reference or “still life” for all the works produced in Science Boy and the Golden Age.
For Hutch’s piece, as in most of his photographic works, the space downstairs becomes the darkened and secluded “stage set” from where he can perform, witness and insert his characters into one long meandering narrative. For Paul, this co-created space is the reference point from which he can formulate and build his mathematical and monolithic map or “spectralized landscape.”(15) The “hidden” room, both a figurative and literal representation of the artist’s studio and psyche, is only accessible to viewers through three mediated perspectives: 1. Hutch’s photograph; 2. Paul’s drawing; and 3. a hand-built periscope. Thus, the claustrophobic space remains for the viewer, an elusive, almost imaginative place of production or orientation that manifests in all the works as a distant memory or an eerie specter. In this way, all that is real or objective is transformed into something ‘of the mind’ or the imagination. Such strategies mimic the precarious position inhabited by curvilinear perspectives whereby both the fictional realm and the everyday familiar can seamlessly merge, mingle and ultimately co-exist.
Such a significant shift in perspective or worldview is symptomatic of the alterations in human consciousness that have taken place over time due to advances in technology and other scientific discoveries. Developments in quantum physics have forever altered our sense of the world by forcing us to consider that what we observe with the naked eye might not be a true reflection of reality, and that the very act of observing itself may play a role in shaping or affecting the way (or what) we see. The physical world, as in the exhibition, is central to technology. The cultural dream that guides the creation of a technological world is in many respects a map of our continuing struggle with the realities of our incarnation and the limits it imposes, not the least of which, is our mortality. Galileo’s first telescopic step towards a consciousness that detached the eye from the context of its human embodiment is now being replaced by a new style of psychological being. Here, ascensionism turns in on itself. Rather than looking out across a vast panoramic view—while soaring up into the heavens—we are instead now virtually immersed while at the same time looking down through the lens of an orbiting telescopic that takes us deep into the pulse of the human laboratory. Here, as in the scientific world, developments in virtual reality (cybernetics) and other digital technologies have brought us back, full circle, to the realm of total sensory or panoramic experience.
Hutch’s piece, a 25-foot long colour photograph, is ‘filmic’ in its presentation of various scenes and characters that meander in and out of its undulating, kaleidoscopic surface, and runs the length of one wall. On its first edge we are confronted by a close up caricature of the artist (Hutch) who is gazing intently at a lens, almost daring us to enter his domain. Each of the twelve or so panoramic scenes have been photographed with the Vistarama 7, which in theory, loops back onto itself, thus creating a seamless view of the “whole” room, in one long and flattened format. As in all of his panoramic works, Hutch is using a mechanical tool to provide viewers with a “mediated perspective” that would otherwise be impossible to see—that is, if we relied only upon our physiology or the naked eye. With this new panorama, Hutch confounds the logic of space and time, even more so, by offering us multiple views through a continuous and dreamlike ‘wave’ or ‘time warp’ of familiar patterns and unsettling characters and situations. Although we can stand back and take the “whole” piece in at one time, a more detailed examination requires us to be physically engaged with the piece by walking down its long corridor. In experiencing this work, I am reminded of a book by Clive Barker, titled Weaveworld, where the main character is momentarily suspended over a wondrous, magnificent carpet–into which an entire world, with its strange array of characters and magical apparatuses, has been most intentionally, and intricately woven.
The narrative pays homage to a parade of characters that have visited some of Hutch’s past photographs, but which also makes an interesting analogy to Plato’s Allegory of a Cave (also reflected in movies like The Matrix) and to the cycle of life. Plato tells the story of a group of people who, like Neo, live in a dark underground cave (the matrix) where reality is based entirely upon one facet or singular point of view. Just like the cave dwellers, Neo soon discovers that his entire life was mere reflections or shadows of a much larger truth. In Hutch’s narrative the blurred face of a man stares naively into the watchful “eye” of a camera. In the background we see a naked man who faces the stairwell wearing a sign that reads kick me. Vulnerable and unaware, this man appears to be in a state of middle-age parturition. As we continue through the curious narrative we encounter a cycle of characters whose costumes and activities reflect various states of being and becoming: the pupil, the scientist, the plumber, the madman, the patient, the specimen, the examiner and then finally the artist/visionary (or post-modern angel of death) who is wearing a black leather coat with his all-knowing, cynical glare. Throughout the long ‘film’ the only other characters presented are a group of shadowy figures or “puppeteers” who are the expressionless forms holding the pulleys and pressing the appropriate buttons. Hutch’s transition into an enlightened being seems to happen shortly after his suspension above the table, where like a specimen, he covets a silver hat that keeps in or keeps out some form of electrode or alien brain waves. A few moments later, he is re-costumed again, standing up on a chair with rays of light streaming down upon his inquisitive face. In the next frame, Hutch has disappeared from the space, and then re-emerges as a half-naked cowboy mimicking the scene from Jeff Wall’s photograph entitled Untangling (1994). Not by coincidence, this metaphorical untangling leads us to the last frame where Hutch, the artiste, stares through the camera in a way that makes us believe he now holds the knowledge or awareness of something he hadn’t before.
The fact that Hutch’s psychodrama (the interdependent and changing selves of a man transformed into a more enlightened being) is set within a labyrinth-like laboratory provides fascinating musings on the art and science dichotomy, and to the peculiar fears we have about our bodies, technology and the cycle of life. Hutch’s photographs help to remind us of life’s absurdities, and to accept them as a finite and sometimes sinister part of our cultural and physiological landscape. By denying death many of us deny ourselves access to the richness and sensuality of living; and in a culture that tends to deny the validity of near-death experiences or UFO sightings (that is, as necessary mythologies rather than factual occurrences), Hutch’s sensual and intuitive narratives help us cope by ‘mapping out’ some of our most disturbing fears and experiences.
For cartographers, however, this ‘mapping out’ the land is intended to create a measured reflection of reality or a graphically true representation of geographical space. So, what does it mean, then, if the territory being marked is actually being used to simultaneously reflect or delineate our internal and external experiences or realities?
In Paul’s most recent excursion into spherical and cartographic methods of perspective, we find an object informed by its uncanny relationship to the curved and distorted format of Hutch’s panoramas, and to its potential as a poetic marker for the mapping of worldviews. Situated on the opposite wall of the gallery, Paul’s 7-foot high by 12-foot wide ‘space age’ spherical map contains the same arcing lines, and convex architecture found in Hutch’s panoramic photographs. However, here it is achieved manually through the cartographic method rather than through the photographic machine. On the opposite wall, we have a “flattened and distorted sphere” constructed from cut pieces of unfinished MDF, and then attached to the wall. Its gridded surface, like a dot to dot, is overlaid with a complexity of curved, intersecting white lines that graphically represent the same room, but is mediated through a much more sparse and minimalist aesthetic. To the left of the sphere sits a shelf holding an arrangement of papers and an old worn softball showing traces of an inked on grid. The stark simplicity of the wall piece is contrasted by the compulsively filled pages of sketches, diagrams, measurements and mathematical formulas that were used to ‘map out’ his unique and laborious ‘world view’. Through Paul’s cartographic metaphor, linearity is traded in for a curve, and ascensionism has been inverted to poetically reflect our desire to transcend life through the practicalities and appreciation of everyday things.
Like Hutch’s ‘photographic mappings’, conventional map projection presents a worldview that no singular immobile eye could ever possibly see. However, most unconventionally, with Paul’s projection we are caught inside the fish bowl, so to speak, or rather his interpretation of “looking through” a window upon the view of his world. Using an oblique aspect of the sinusoidal projection, Paul’s oddly shaped map is constructed so that the poles coordinate on one seam along the sphere (thus, the slanted composition). The room, including the various objects, are separately measured and mapped out, and then inserted onto the grid relative to one chosen point that invariably determines the centre point of the spherical space. Such meticulous methods are not new, and echo the popular cartographic form of the early panoramic maps. These maps were non-photographic representations that flourished in Europe during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century—usually the perspective was at a low oblique angle, which was often described as the “bird’s or God’s eye view.” Originally, a hand drawn frame or projection was developed showing in perspective the pattern of the city streets. The artist would then walk the street, sketching buildings, trees and other features, which were then entered into the pre-structured pattern, after the artist returned to the studio. These maps were developed independently of the mathematical (spherical) projections typically used in science, and speak much more eloquently about how our subjective experience of the world can be embedded in our everyday depiction of reality.
Unlike Hutch’s more chaotic and somewhat sinister panoramas, Paul’s panorama is deceptively celestial and airy. Paul had discussed with me previously his notion that a graphic distortion of the basement would likely render his space inhabitable, yet, as a viewer I am able to enter, at least imaginatively, and stand where he must have stood despite its queasy orientation. Such a visceral response is caused by the slanted or tilted composition, which forces the viewer to move his or her head sideways and thereby setting off the balance of the body. This type of reaction is what makes us aware of our sensations, and highlights the significance of bodily orientation to the experience and interpretation of our world. Such subjective awareness also brings attention to the problem of using only linear systems of representation to either define our “truths” or to delineate our individual experiences.
To expand on this concept of movement or perception through individual experience, upstairs, in the middle of the gallery, is the third object, a collaborative and fabricated “periscope” that operates in opposition to its usual or traditional function. Here it provides the viewer with another panoramic or spectralized view of the subterranean lab, rather than orientating those who live, unknowingly below, to the ordered and rational world, above. A tiny video screen and viewing box is mounted on a black metal tube that is attached to the floor and rotates 360 degrees in either direction. The screen is connected to a security camera that drops down into the depths of the basement, and provides viewers with another mediated view of the laboratory. More than the other two constructions, the periscope raises the question of whether the images on the roving screen exist in real time or if they are a pre-fabricated illusion. As a link between Paul and Hutch’s individual works, the active engagement of the viewer in navigating this device mimics the curvilinear and ascensionist view that permeates this exhibition, and further addresses the relationships between technology, worldview and the orientation (or movement) of our bodies.
There continues to be much curiosity and debate surrounding the scientific and aesthetic merits of curvilinear or spherical perspectives. Perspectival methods (like cartography and photography) were originally aimed at creating a copy or facsimile of the physical world by offering a coherent illusion of that reality. Some would consider it an absurdity, “to continue advancing theories of curvilinear perspective with any other purpose than to map subjectively, perceived curves for scientific study.”(16) However, others (i.e. Ernst Cassirer) have asserted that “there might be occasions for wanting to articulate a subjective view of world rather than simply mimicking the light patterns we receive optically.”(17) Within such a context, Cassirer distinguishes between the “scientific spaces” (symbolic and mathematical) and “physiological spaces” (visual and tactile)(18) , which together, could aptly describe the more post-modernist aim of presenting multiple points of view along with a desire to explore/exploit more voluminous expressions for human consumption. However, the idea that curvilinear approaches to representation are purely a subjective problem is both doubtful, and a somewhat dubious assertion given the obvious “science” behind the construction of curvilinear space.
So, what is it that attracts people to the spherical and panoramic format? Possibly it is the voyeuristic impulse or a desire to see in all directions around you and be the all-knowing or all-seeing eye. To function as such, the panorama must be too grand, or complex, or both, to be perceivable all at once. The earliest panorama paintings exploited a taste for sensory stimulation and optical special effects based on relevant technology. Even when the panoramic or spherical image is shown flat and framed, the goal is to engage perception in the way the eye and body does, or at least experientially: both continuously and voluptuously. Although flat panoramas are mathematically consistent, straight lines that angle away from the camera become curved because the image is flat. This distortion is what adds to the fascination of the panorama and spherical map, which manifest both as abstracted space and realistic detail in unusual and seductive combinations. Like a distilled phantasmagoria, the panorama provides an interesting and tangible link between the real and the fantastical.
As Castle has so aptly written, “…any study of the spectralizing habit in modern times would have to take into consideration what might be called its technological embodiment: our compulsive need, since the mid-nineteenth century, to invent machines that mimic and reinforce the image-producing powers of consciousness. Only out of a deep preference for the phantoms of the mind, perhaps, have we felt impelled to find mechanical techniques for remaking the world itself in spectral form.”(19) The technological age has its roots in the Golden Age of Science where order was formed; almost miraculously it seems, out of the chaos. If we scan the modern era, beginning with the invention of photography, the scientific method, applied to the outer material world, has created even more bizarre forms of spectralization including the moving pictures of cinema and television, and most recently, “the eerie, three-dimensional phantasmata of holography and virtual reality.”(20)
As the work of artists Paul Robert and M.N. (Hutch) Hutchinson have so eloquently shown us, the more we seek “enlightenment” the more alien our world becomes; and thus, the more we seek to express those aspects of our psyche that have been repressed and hidden away. As we glimpse behind the great curtain of illusion, we begin to recognize the paradoxes and the complexities of how we construct and communicate meaning in a post-enlightened world. This recent exhibition, Science Boy and the Golden Age, although rooted in the same rational machinations that gave birth to the Enlightenment, has delightfully and most deviously, stretched the practical and traditional applications of “perspective” to find a more holistic or panoramic expression of our human experience.
Lissa Robinson, 2002
(1) Star Trek motto.
(2) Romanyshyn, Robert D., Technology as Symptom & Dream, Routledge, London, 1989 Galileo and the Moon, “in 1609 Galileo’s telescopic eye danced on the moon. Aided by this newly invented instrument of the telescope, Galileo took another step in the development of that kind of consciousness that required him to organize his experience and to make sense of the world by leaving his body behind. That instrument not only extended the range of human vision, it also detached the eye from the context of human embodiment and gave it a privileged place in knowing the world. In doing so, the telescope opened another chapter in the development of modern science. In addition, it also incarnated a new style of psychological existence.”
(3) Veltman, Kim H. Perception, Perspective and Representation in North America, p. 2. http://www.sumscorp.com//sums/articles/specchi.html
(4) Castel, Terry. The Female Thermometer: 18th Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995, Back Page.
(5) “Aesthetic of sufficiency” coined by Calgary artist, Seven Nunoda. An ‘aesthetic of sufficiency’ refers to the contemporary practice of using economically viable or physically accessible materials (new, used, borrowed, found or otherwise conveniently recycled) in the fabrication of an artwork – in much the same way that early alchemists or backyard scientists use ready-made materials or substances.
(6) Here I use the term ‘practitioner’ to refer to the many artists, inventors and illusionists who practiced and performed their craft (magic lanterns, panoramas, dioramas, peep shows, and masquerade) through the public exhibitions and shows that were popularized during the Enlightenment period.
(7) Wolf, Fred Alan. The dreaming Universe, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1995. P. 215. Citing the work of Arnold Mindell, Wolf bridges the study of physics with the dreaming universe. “The dreambody can be related to the physical body in much the same way that the quantum wave function that gives the probability of a particle’s state can be related the particle’s physical state, In quantum physics we do not deal with the physical matter because we have no way of controlling it. Instead we deal with expectancies, tendencies, and probabilities as if they were fields floating “out there” in space.
(8) Hutch’s camera is called the “Vistarama 7 (Larcsan).” Please refer to diagram.
(9) And otherwise tinker with toys, optics, odds and ends and other mechanically interesting stuff.
(10) Burns, Kay. FFWD Weekly, Visual Arts, Hutch Hutchinson: Vistarama 7, November 4, 1999.
(12) Gregory, Richard L. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 235. Originally published in 1966.
(14) Breton, Andre. “The Exquisite Corpse”, Surrealism, Patrick Walbdberg, editor, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966, p. 95. Originally published in 1948.
(15) Castle, Terry. The female Thermometer: 18th Century Culture and the Inventions of the Uncanny, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 125.
(16) Elkins, James. The Poetics of Perspective, Cornell University Press, Ithica, NY, 1994, p. 186. (17) Ibid., p. 186
(18) Ibid., p. 188.
(19) Castle, Terry. The Female Thermometer: 19th Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny, Oxford university Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 137.
(20) Ibid., p. 13.
LISSA ROBINSON lives and works in Saskatoon, and is a Graduate Student at the University of Saskatchewan. She studied painting at the Alberta College of Art and Design where she completed her BFA with Distinction. She has been awarded grants from both the Alberta Foundations for the Arts and the Canada Council for the Arts. A past Director of Stride Gallery (Calgary), Robinson works primarily in mixed media installation and has exhibited her work in galleries across Canada including the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery (Montreal), Struts Gallery (Sackville), Mercer Union (Toronto), Truck Gallery (Calgary) and most recently at The Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon).