An updated Thesis Draft

A paradox is a strange thing.  Since its existence is defined as a contradictory set of premises there are different ways of interpreting them. The two pursuits of art and science thrive on the paradox.  The former is sometimes concerned with the creation of situations that may lead to or are the direct result of conflicts both internal (emotional) and external (political, etc).  The latter is primarily concerned with uncovering and then deciphering paradoxes, ranging from quantum non-locality to the measurement problem.  Regardless of how either of these methods deals with any paradox, the end goal is one in the same: to gain insight into the workings of reality.

The artist and the scientist both approach the study of reality by their various methods and ultimately add new ideas and forms to it.  To engage in either is to participate in the construction of reality.  But there is a trick.  Everyone that comes into contact with these additions must either trust them to be true or hold them in a queue of skepticism until their truth can be determined.  So how does the artist or scientist go about constructing trustworthy elements of reality?  How do we define what is real in light of this and how do we engage a healthy skepticism about our world?

It is the intention of my work to explore how one can use parallels found in both art and science to explore these questions.  Artistic processes can borrow some of the visual and theoretical languages found in observational astronomy and quantum physics to construct new interpretations of old data.  Those commonalities also lead to the development of new forms and ideas, which may or may not exist as far as a general sense of what is real goes.  But they do exist, just not as what they may appear to be due to the context in which they are placed or by the means in which they are made.

One of the ways of going about these investigations I have devised takes the form of a fictional research institution, dubbed the IDRC (Institute for the Department of Research Center).  The idea behind creating an infrastructure, or in this case a meta-façade if you will, is that people tend to trust knowledge that comes out of think tanks and institutions more than they do soap-box proclamations.  The development of the IDRC is meant to be an umbrella concept for the all the components of mostly fictional objects and observations (with a healthy dose slightly altered non-fiction).

Back to what the IDRC actually is and does, here is a tentative mission statement:

The IDRC (Institute for the Department of Research Center) is committed to the development and implementation and documentation through the means of empirical methodology and rigorous testing and experimentation.  We seek to add to the widespread repository of scientific and philosophical knowledge through these means with the expectation that our ways are an insight into a category of meta-reality.  The IDRC: A trusted friend in science.[1]

There are, of course, other ways of adding to the assumed validity of this institution (is it real because it sounds real?).  I am currently in the process of building up a wardrobe appropriate to research facilities of this nature; lab coats, lanyards, slacks and bowties have been arriving in my mailbox en mass.  Additionally, there are custom patch embroidery services that will render (just about) any submitted design into a patch and nothing is more official than a patch with your name on it.  Some ideas for this patch design include slogan development, some sort of ranking system (a circle with a clock-face like “L” in different quadrants), separate patches for departments within the institution (Temporal Mechanics Dept, Pan-Ocular Operational Physics Dept, etc).  You get the picture.

All of these devices will hopefully add to the illusion that what this institution presents as a body of research is real, at least in the immediate sense.  To do this the lab coats could be placed on hooks near some of the work that will be displayed or even worn by hired actors (or even myself).  The patches could also be displayed as works themselves.[2] At the very least I intend to wear a lab coat with “official” patches during a performance later this fall, which I will discuss later.

Really, so far this is almost all a theoretical framework.  Granted, I did say that at the start, and it is an important consideration for this project.  I could go on and on about this institution and what it does and what it has contributed.  But that does not really get to some of the beef of the project, which is the actual body of work.  You can consider the IDRC the “project statement”, if you will, and the works “produced” by it the actual artwork.

There are a few different categories that the work could be put into: Artifacts, Stations, Performance Documentation and maybe a couple more, we’ll see what turns up.  The first of these categories has been growing for a couple of years and includes much of the catalog of fictional celestial objects I have “collected”.  The artifacts, or objects, could be displayed several ways, either on a large video monitor or projection much like the Lunar Landmark Navigator at the Adler Planetarium.  They could also exist as framed stills, which is far less exciting then the video pieces.  Each of these entries also has a catalog number to add to the air of being real.

Another item in the artifact category is the Trans-Temporal Phase Module, or the Trans-temporal Spatial Phase Modulator (aka Transaxiographic Phase Discriminator, Kairographic Axiometer, Trans-temporal Phase Module, Transaxiographic Phase Kairometer).  It will be displayed as a work in progress and could possibly be interactive.  There will be a little story behind it, as this artifact will be implemented during the performance I spoke of earlier.  Essentially it is a real-time video loop control mechanism, using a Wii Remote and iPad to control projected video and sound effects.  Kinda bursts that bubble, huh?  Anyway, part of the display will show video documentation of the “testing” from Performance in Artificial Space course.  If all goes well the performance could be repeated during the Thesis Exhibition as an IDRC “in-house demonstration”.

Also along those lines I have been considering the development of a Learning Station. It would function as a very hands-on experiment cart where users could manipulate devices and other items of interest developed by the IDRC.  One of these objects, which also happens to be quite easy to manufacture, is a Gravitational Realignment Visualization Console.  Basically it’s a Wooly Willy with a different space-oriented background picture.  It’s a bit more slapstick then everything else, but it is simple and I think it will add to the overall effect of the IDRC.  Also as part of this station, there could be an attendant (a hired actor or myself) that will actually be present and help with any questions a visitor might have (which would also be a pain in the ass to script) OR there is a sign on the cart that says “Back in 20 minutes” and never changes.  As for other experiments from the cart, I’m still looking into some ideas.

Some more artifacts that I have been creating are experimental astronomical photographs and paintings that resemble lunar surfaces.  These could be presented with a back-story from the IDRC’s “heydays”:

A satellite we sent out of the solar system in 1982 returned a series of compelling images. Unfortunately, the primary and secondary storage facilities that were home to the hard drives on which the information was stored were both damaged in the last bombardment of solar wind and/or other major catastrophic event.[3] However, one of our satellite technicians happened to have a ‘photographic’ (insert scientific term here) memory as well as considerable skill as a painter and reconstructed several of the images including close to 92 % of the actual geological items.”

There is also a growing library of prints made from many of the photographs from the fictional celestial catalog.  These would be presented as “archived items” from the founders of the organization.  Many of these items would be presented in frames or part of a video/projected slide show with a narrator telling the story of them.  In addition, the photographs could have light boxes built for them, mainly for a few really spectacular images.

Jumping back to the theoretical for a moment, this is all geared towards the creation of a theater in which questions of what is real and how do we generate and/or trust certain areas of knowledge get played out.  Some of the items presented in this project will no doubt be taken at face value (Wooly Willies!), which is anticipated.  However, there are parts of this project that should get any viewer, regardless of their level of skepticism, to second guess not only whether or not some of my work is real, in the non-fiction sense, but also be able to extend that line of thought to the larger bits of knowledge that make up our culture and question whether or not those are real.


[1] This phrase is borrowed from Aperture Labs, a research institution that exists in the video game Portal. Their ‘research’ led to the development of a portal gun, which the user implements to solve ‘dimensional’ puzzles.  Suffice it to say, I will come up with an original slogan soon.

[2] This is of course both a nod and jab at Trevor Paglen’s “I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed By Me” installation and book.  It is a collection of military Black-Ops patches that have been given to him by former military men.  While some of the symbolism is legible, some are near indecipherable leading to the speculation that Paglen invented some of them.  He assures us he has not.

[3] It will later be revealed that a tech spilled coffee on the computer.

~ by Nicholas Sagan on October 7, 2010.

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