The Quantum Realm
“...it seems strange but somehow I feel more convinced of the reality of the yellow ball in the video ‘Glitch’ than of the actual people in the other pieces ...even once I knew their narratives were genuine, that they did exist, somehow they didn’t convey a sense of authenticity...” (1)
Despite the predicate that only a small number of people can understand it, the emergence of Quantum Physics has had a significant impact on our perception and experience of the world and ‘has most thoroughly broken with our everyday comprehension of reality’ (2). Enabling the development of transistors and personal computers, lasers and compact discs it has also given us fantastical phrases like ‘black-holes’, ‘string theory’ and has promoted ideas of ‘space time continuum’ and multiple dimensions. Filtering through to the general consciousness (3) it’s theories question the basic belief that science is about facts and certainties, proposing rather that it should be more concerned with randomness and possibilities.
Una Knox’s 4 ½ feet to the left, behind me, Sarah Roses’ Glitch and Pilvi Takala’s Players all unfold at a meandering pace and feature subjects whose agency appears to be located outside of themselves. Taking place within a closed space and/or system, in various ways, each video communicates an odd sense of intimacy (as though something personal was being awkwardly revealed) within a constructed, parallel or virtual reality.
The aforementioned question of authenticity within Knox and Takala’s videos serves to provide another layer of experience for the viewer. Although both works employ a documentary style artifice they are obviously staged or re-staged and the legitimacy of their narratives - a community of Nordic and American online poker players living in a hotel in Bangkok and an archivist whose temporal lobe epilepsy makes him endure ongoing déjà vu – thus becomes an accompanying question to the viewing of the videos, fostering a welcome sense of ambiguity and intrigue.
Players is to date the only video work in which Takala has represented herself in multiple form. In many of her other works she would take over a character or an identity whilst here Takala herself is being taken over. Functioning as a sort of avatar for all the members of the group her movements are determined by the previous actions of the ’real’ players. As she is simultaneously, each and all players we see her experiencing the same activity from various perspectives. Whilst these leisure-based pursuits are enacted one of the players tells us about the groups lifestyle and their application of Probability Theory in place of decision-making.
The subject of 4 ½ feet to the left, behind me, Steve Woodhouse, a museum image archive manager, appears analogous to a patient in Oliver Sacks The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat as he recounts the affects of his condition. The environments that we encounter him in, particularly the clock tower in which he stands behind the device, staring at the cogs and cranks while behind him time (or a least the clock; the face of time) is reversed, is reminiscent of a scene in a story by Jorge Luis Borges.
Roses silent video Glitch transposes elements of the board game ‘Mouse Trap’ into a human scaled environment where a slowly rolling yellow ball and other everyday objects are filmed alongside projections of computer generated depictions of rotating pieces of blank paper and transparent cubes. The videos intensely saturated colour scheme, stylized floor of black square tiles as well as it’s clear reference to play are suggestive of the films of Erika Beckman whilst the cause and effect type actions which unfurl throughout provide an obvious allusion to Fischli and Weiss’ The Way Things Go. The absence of human subjects (although we see a foot at one point and later on a cat) encourages the viewer to engage with the activities occurring in the video at a cerebral level. Unable to physically take part we are left to mentally will things to move, a feeling that is enhanced by the computer game aesthetic of the work.
When considered together there is a patent presence of the conceptual leitmotif of the trap in all three videos. In Rose’s the reference is inferred by the borrowing of imagery from the ‘Mouse Trap’ board game, whilst in Takala’s the trap seems self-made by the players who surrender individual free will to a communal commitment to live by rules of chance, where the decision of who pays for dinner is made by the ‘flipping’ of cards. As for the subject in Knox’s work his trap is internal and neurological in nature and thus inescapable. At one point in 4 ½ feet to the left, behind me the ‘character’ (Woodhouse is also an actor and is therefore playing or reenacting himself) of Woodhouse describes the experience of his reality, “images pass me by like a film strip, one after the other, after the other”. The description of a film-strip moving through a projector is one of the attempted explanations I’ve heard given of quantum physics. Energy appears, within the limits of our perception, to move in a continuous flow but at the quantum level it is really ‘packets’ of energy gliding along with nothing in between - single frames becoming a moving image. (4)
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1: Excerpt from notes made after visiting the exhibition at Transmission.
2: Žižek, Slavoj from the essay Quantum Physics with Lacan in The Indivisible Remainder - On Schelling and Related Matters (Verso 1996)
3: The popularization of Quantum Physics is reflected by it presence within mainstream entertainment such as the late 80’s - early 90’s TV series Quantum Leap the first episode of which included an explanation of string theory to the main character (an thus by extension the audience) as well as in variousepisodes of The Simpsons including the Homer³ story in the Treehouse of Horror VI (1995) episode and the more recent feature of the ‘Springfield Supercollider’.
4: Quantum Physics is often described as ‘modern magic’ and so is perhaps to us what photography and the film was to people at the start of the 20th century. In both instances the re-representing or re-describing of the physical world radically changed the perception of it.