Weird Science

Nickel Arts Museum, Calgary - September 7 to October 20, 2001

artist statement

The Philosopher's Stone is nothing more or less than that which was to enable man's {sic} imagination to take a stunning revenge on all things. 

            Andre Breton 


If I have ever practiced alchemy, it was in the only way it can be done now, that is to say, without knowing it. 

            Marcel Duchamp

In his 1959 Rede Lecture, C.P. Snow first coined the phrase the "two cultures" to describe a widening gulf he recognized between the scientist and the non-scientist in modern Occidental society; this schism does not at first glance seem to have narrowed significantly in the intervening years. New technologies, the offspring of scientific research and development, play a central role in the lives of non-scientists around the globe at a growing speed. Recent medical and technical advances have made lives longer and in many respects easier. Science has gradually come to be a better explanation than religion for the way that things are for many people, yet it seems that a certain kind of a spiritual void has developed in tandem. 


Perhaps science is changing though. Several of the bold metaphysical connections first popularized twenty years ago in Fritjof Capra's seminal The Tao of Physics (and the less well-known The Stone Monkey by Bruce Holbrook) are now being borne out by research within the official scientific community. Some recent research apparently suggests that perhaps even the speed of light may not be the universal constant it has long been accepted as. "Thought experiments" are a widely accepted tool in the field of quantum computing. Projects like the development of chaos theory, theoretical investigations of the existence of parallel universes and the search for a Theory Of Everything, among others, seem to undermine the stereotypically "logical" basis of scientific investigation. That anomalous activity and behaviors are necessarily becoming an acknowledged component of some scientific study seems to point back historically to both the motivations and activities of its very earliest practitioners, before the "two cultures" split. Perhaps what we are seeing is simply that however much science may seem to advance civilization, humanity never has and likely never will be content to live illuminated by the cold light of reason alone. 


This installation arose from a long-standing conceptual interest in the dominance of scientific thought and its attendant rationalism in Eurocentric culture. I am especially interested in investigations and experimentation pursued outside the strict confines of the scientific method. There are several artistic precedents for this interest. Alfred Jarry's invention of an imaginary science he termed "pataphysics" and Marcel Duchamp's ongoing pursuit of "a reality which would be possible by slightly distending the laws of physics and chemistry" are two well-known examples. I have also been influenced recently by the work of scientists Francis Crookes (who invented the radiometer), Paul Feyerabend and scientific skeptic Charles Fort.

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