Gem Preiz, the master of the fractal image, has opened a new themed exhibition at the Hannington Endowment for the Arts. One of the artists whose work I particularly admire (and who has therefore been reviewed frequently in this blog due to the richness of his art), Gem brings to Elusive Reality another mix of fractal images and thought-provoking context.
The core thrust of this exhibition might be summed up as “the more we as a race know, the less we understand.” Or as Gem notes in the introductory piece at the entrance to Elusive Reality:
Scientific discoveries of the 18th and 19th centuries have enabled us to apprehend more precisely … the secrets of reality.
With the recent discoveries about elementary particles, and the formulation of increasingly complex physical theories, the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries throw us back into doubt, without weakening the insatiable curiosity of researchers. Each discovery raises as many new questions as it solves enigmas, making the material [world] around us an increasingly elusive reality.
At one time, the atom (the existence of which was still a subject of dispute until the early 20th century), was thought to be the single elementary particle – it’s name literally meaning “unable to cut”. It was seen as the building block of matter, the foundation of all that there is. Yet, within a short span of decades, an entire family of elementary particles have been discovered “below” the level of the atom – such as elementary bosons and fundamental fermions (quarks, leptons, antiquarks, and antileptons). These have given rise to an entirely new model of physics – the Standard Model, as well as giving rise to quantum mechanics, whilst at the same time, offering a hint of things yet to be confirmed that lie beyond the Standard Model, such as supersymmetry and offer conjecture about yet-to-be confirmed elementary particles such as the graviton, which might completely revise our understanding of physics.
These theories, ideas, confirmations, questions and conjectures are represented in a series of Gem’s marvellous fractal images. They offer glimpses into a sub-atomic universe, where all of our constructs and monoliths become fragmented into seemingly random formations of shapes and colour. Within these pieces are swarms of objects – some ranging from the hexagonal to the octagonal to the decagonal and possibly beyond, others the spherical. They exist in globs and clouds and extrude themselves as strings or curl around in hints of familiar patterns – DNA, RNA – without ever actually being so.
From a distance, they may look faintly sci-fi: swarms of asteroids or gaseous clouds floating in space, almost natural in form. Closer up, they become fragmented, breaking into the elemental pieces noted above. Thus, they reflect the changing face of physics – a face which from a distance looks cohesive and whole, but which becomes increasingly fragmented and chaotic as we plumb their depths, as Gem notes, whilst remaining bound together by rules we are just managing to conceive or grasp, even if their nature appears to remain foreign to our complete understanding.
For those familiar with Gem’s work, these pieces, with their almost organic look and textures (be sure to have ALM enabled when viewing this installation) may seem at odds with his more familiar “architectural” images of huge monoliths and giant other-worldly structures. In this the contrast helps serve the idea that we are looking deeper, beyond the organised formality of atoms and into the mystifying world of the sub-atomic. But there is also something of an echo here of Gem’s more natural fractal forms, which itself goes back to some of his earliest installations in SL, such as Cathedral Dreamer, which matched the organic with the more structured. And indeed, the Cathedral Dreamer himself might be located within this installation for those who look, head-in-hands, as if trying to reach his own understanding of the universe of the subatomic.
There is also – if I might suggest – something of a reflection of the current climate of concern present around the globe due to the novel conoravirus outbreak: it’s hard not to see some of the elements in these images as viral strings or clusters, offering a reminder that it is not just in the world of physics where our knowledge and understanding is being challenged…
Elusive Reality is an engaging, captivating installation that intentionally gets the grey matter between the ears working due to both its visual complexity and its underpinning tapestry of meanings and interpretations. Not to be missed.
- Hannington Endowment for the Arts Hive 1 (Xeltentat Enterprises, rated Moderate)