While doing the annual tidying up of my room I was happily reunited with my exhibition catalogue of Anna Fricker’s and Patrick Sutherland’s ‘Paper Topographies’ (thanks to the nice lady at the reception of the Institute of Physics for pointing the publication out to me!). The catalogue is a cute black-and-white paperback that fits nicely into any handbag. On opening the catalogue, the first explanation one is given about the images is that they originated from ‘research work undertaken to investigate the de-inking of paper using high-intensity ultrasound’. In the mind a non-scientist this instantly evokes a mental yawn, whereas in the mind of an artist, the word ‘deinking’ might possibly create the question whether this work is meant to be a radical re-configuring, questioning or parodying of painting.
The second section then sheds some light on the idea behind exhibiting these ‘scientific images’ outside of the lab: the desire to show the ‘otherwise unobservable’ and the visual challenges these images present to our conception of our everyday world. According to the catalogue, the images (produced by a scanning electron microscope) ‘take us… far past our comfortable world of our everyday vision’ and make us aware of ‘the scale of the territory we are looking at’ including the ‘peculiar otherworldly structures’ that can be found there. Is what we see what this space really is about?
‘Handsheet formed from repulped Sapphire paper printed with solid Indigo ElectroInk, gold sputter-coated. Captured via secondary electron imaging at x100 magnification.’ (The magnifications range from 40x to 9000x.)
One could argue that the images appear ‘otherworldly’. Some do, in fact, resemble moon craters or David Cronenberg film props, but others could simply be frozen rope, ice flowers, rice pudding or products of children’s craft classes. Only that they are not. This is a nice mind-messing: there is another world within our ‘known’ world which sometimes looks like things we know and sometimes doesn’t. And, does it really look like this – or is it just an interpretation of the technology we use to generate these images? Is what we see what this space really is about?
Patrick Sutherland, commenting on the images, has similar associations. He argues, that because the images have been taken out of the context that makes them intelligible, they ‘come alive with other potential readings’. This could potentially have a negative ring to it, but here, not being shown the correct way of interpreting the images is seen as something positive, even when the associations different people will have are ‘undoubtedly revealing as much about the workings of their own psychology as about the images themselves.’ It would be interesting to record people’s thoughts while they look at these images. Do they just trigger wacky associations or do they make you think about the everyday world in different ways?