A Beginner's Guide to Quantal Strife
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Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 2006 Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication McKay, Sally. A beginners guide to quantal strife: oscillating dichotomies, cognitive assemblages and the multivalent nature of communication when people look at it: but without all the big words. Essay by Sally McKay; round table between the curator, Sally McKay, and the artists, Scott Carruthers, Crystal Mowry and Marc Ngui. Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Jan. 19-Mar. 5, 2006. ISBN 0-7727-5401-2 1. Art, Canadian--21st century--Exhibitions. 2. Carruthers, Scott, 1961- --Exhibitions. 3. Mowry, Crystal, 1977- --Exhibitions. 4. Ngui, Marc, 1972- --Exhibitions. I. Carruthers, Scott, 1961- II. Mowry, Crystal, 1977- III. Ngui, Marc, 1972- IV. Doris McCarthy Gallery V. Title. N6545.6.M325 2006 709.71074713541 C2006-900072-7
Designers: Sally McKay and Marc Ngui Illustrations: Marc Ngui Copy Editor Alana Wilcox Director/Curator: Ann MacDonald Curatorial Assistant: Erin Peck Printer: Kromar Printing Ltd.
QuantalA Beginners Guide to
Table of ContentsIntroduction by Ann MacDonald, Director/Curator Doris McCarthy Gallery UTSC Quantal Strife by Sally McKay, illustrations by Marc Ngui Scott Carruthers, Out Of Time Or Out of Space? Crystal Mowry, Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles) Marc Ngui, A Thousand Plateaus Drawings Round Table with Scott Carruthers, Sally McKay, Crystal Mowry, and Marc Ngui Alfred Jarry Sir Thomas Phillips Marx and Freud Googles Information Network Milstein Hall of Ocean Life Aerial Points of View Tao Te Ching Rabbit Diorama by Walter Potter Sharpie Marc, can you walk us through one of your diagrams? Crystal, why did you pick Versailles? Scott, why do you do so many drawings? Artists Bios Acknowledgements 50 52 55 57 58 60 62 64 65 66 70 74 76 80 17 27 37
by Ann MacDonald, Director/Curator Doris McCarthy Gallery The Doris McCarthy Gallery is pleased to present the Quantal Strife exhibition and accompanying catalogue. Sally McKay, Scott Carruthers, Crystal Mowry and Marc Ngui have embarked upon a collaboration that reveals a shared commitment to the value of intellectual curiosity and sense of wonder. Their investigations open up a world of enquiry that is ardently shared with the reader/viewer in an invitational manner that encourages the ongoing quest to seek and create meaning. Sally McKays essay introduces and translates complex ideas into a readable voyage, oering theory as adventurous discovery after discovery. The round table discussion, where the participating artists were asked to bring in a person, place and thing, and to answer a simple question about their work, paradoxically both demythologizes the artworks and opens new realms to marvel about, evoking unlimited considerations. The exercise serves as a generous acknowledgment of the inherent reciprocity involved in making and in viewing art. Elemental to this book are Sally McKay and Marc Nguis collaborative and insightful design and Marc Nguis thoughtful illustrations. The exhibition itself is intertwined with the ideas discussed in this book and oers intense visual satisfaction in many forms: Carrutherss unstoppable images each embedded with an imperative sense of uncensored honesty and immediacy, Mowrys skillfully-crafted version of Versailles a multi-layered investigation of memory, ornament, and shifts in perspective, and Nguis graceful and sweeping schematics that develop new visual thoughts based on a text that is described by many as ungraspable I am grateful to the curator and to each of the artists for their dedication to their productive obsessions and for sharing their uid ability to move between inner and outer worlds.
by Sally McKay, with illustrations by Marc Ngui
Art is like people. Ever found yourself attracted to someone you think is ugly? Or compelled to interact with the person who gets on your nerves the most? Ever look up in a crowded room and meet a strangers eyes, knowing that youre sharing something in that moment but never really understanding what it is? Of course, art and people can be predictable: a kind friend can give you comfort, and a cold-hearted enemy can do you wrong. But its the more complicated relationships the ones that make us feel like there is something else we need to say, or something else that cant be said that keep us coming back for more.
All three of the artists showing in Quantal Strife have complicated relationships with their work. Scott Carruthers attempts to bypass his own consciousness, dumping hundreds and hundreds of images from the nether regions of his mind out into the external world where he must then contend with them. Crystal Mowrys project is a personal recreation of a very famous place that she has never seen. Marc Ngui shows a work in progress, a series of drawings designed to help him understand a complex philosophy book. All of these works are investigations, the projects are ongoing, and the art itself is the by-product of a larger quest. Like an interesting new friend with hidden depths, the art in Quantal Strife is an invitation. Looking at art happens in a public context, but it is very personal. The active ingredient of any art experience is the viewers mind. Without interested people, nothing interesting happens: paintings sit on walls, sculptures inhabit8
three dimensions, video screens spit photons into an empty room. In a very real way, art is the ideas in the minds of the people who see it. Luckily, people are good at sharing ideas, and so we have a cultural context, developed over history, that lends meaning to everything we do; from playing video games to studying philosophy to cooking noodles for dinner and shopping for shoes. The images of fashion, religion, television, product design, textbook illustrations, newspapers, birthday cards, and websites all combine into a shared language that is nuanced and historical. This context of daily life is the same context that art comes from, making everyone, regardless of education, a qualied, expert art viewer. Art is dierent from most other elds of study because, unlike biology or engineering, it is possible to be an artist without any training whatsoever.9
Nonetheless, there are a lot of rigorous theoretical and historical studies of art available to us if we choose to turn to them. Most art can be appreciated on many levels without much background information, but sometimes the background helps us nd new mental connections that we wouldnt otherwise make. Some people go to school for years and years to study art theory, some people pick up what they need from books and websites, some people ask questions of friends and colleagues. Sometimes art gallery sta can provide bits of knowledge that add to the experience of an art show; sometimes there are publications like this book. The purpose of all this information is not to explain the art or nail it down to any one meaning but rather to add more ingredients to the mental stew.
Why is this show called Quantal Strife? We chose the term quantal because all of the artworks involve two or more ways of seeing the world at the same time. According to the Collins English dictionary, quantal means something that is capable of existing in only one of two states. It is related to quantum which means a very small quantity, such as an elementary particle. One of the key ideas of quantum physics is that as we attempt to determine and measure reality, we see that mutually exclusive states must both exist at the same time. This acceptance of conicting realities is something that contemporary art and quantum physics have in common. Each of the artists in the exhibition is striving to grasp a breadth of information that is probably impossible to fully communicate. Each of the projects fails and succeeds at the same time. Scott Carruthers is attempting to draw everything, to somehow encapsulate all knowledge. Crystal Mowry is trying to physically manifest an impression of a historically loaded tourist destination. Marc Ngui is trying to make a visual version of a multi-layered text. Each of the artists is consciously pushing the relationship between personal knowledge and shared cultural information. The conict between internal and external states remains unresolved and it is this strife that gives the work its tension. Carruthers10
could never actually draw everything, but his installations propose the possibility. Mowry cannot deliver a full perception in material form, but she can try. Ngui cannot produce a visual image of a theory of nonlinearity, but he can make a close analogy using diagrams and symbols. All of the artworks are simply signposts to the mental processes that they ignite.
The strange conicts in quantum physics are specic to the location and momentum of particles, and so we should be careful not to make too many philosophical connections, but the ideas do feel familiar to contemporary daily life, especially in culturally diverse environments such as cities and universities where people of all backgrounds nd ways to interrelate. We proceed with respect, knowing that we cannot climb inside each others minds to share a point of view, but when we all acknowledge that we dont know everything, we can begin to open up and share a lot with one another. This frame of reference, the turning away from the authority of absolute truth in favour of a more open-ended process, also occurs in art theory. Postmodernism is a dicult phrase that few people really understand. It is useful, however, as a catch-all for some cultural shifts that have been happening throughout the 20th century. If you could rip art out of its context and jam it in a11
nutshell, an over-simplied version of recent West