Worlds Within Worlds

Michael Rees and Kenneth Eward. What unites the output of both artists is their use of the digital, their questioning of matter and the mentioning of the word ‘otherworldliness’ to describe their sculptures (and the inevitable mentioning of Plato’s cave… I seem to be pursued by this allegory lately…).

Putto 2x2x4 by Michael Rees

If I understand Michael Rees’ work correctly, one of his interests is the relationship between the material and the digital. As one exhibition catalogues tells us, Rees finds it undesirable, to divorce digital practice from the world of objects’. In fact he uses digitality to create physical art works. What does that mean in practice? The creation of a sculpture starts in a computer programme and is then transferred to machines that cut out his designs just like a prototype of a commercial design object. What Rees seems to do then, is to ‘finish it off’ by hand. But even on the computer he experiences the process as ‘sculpt[ing] as much with light as with material’. This process, as well as his forms and his choices of material, have given him a reputation for defying categories: his work is neither ‘drawing, sculpture, [n]or film, even as it expresses the characteristics of each of those media.  In other words, Rees’s work is neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral, nor is it simply their amalgam’. At other times, it has been described as not portraying ‘deformity – but an organic expression of possibility’.

Based on some of Rees’ own statements, one could say that his work is all about possibility. Seeing technology as something that frees him from ‘worrying about how an object is made’, he is ‘free to wonder about the limits of objects and words, to investigate the enormous liminal territories of what I know.’ He goes on to provocatively state that ‘the way a thing is made today is less relevant than the intention of the maker’. So are the material processes for him not that important after all? Are material processes subservient to ideas? Or is it just a comment on the spirit of our time – a time where certain material processes are irrelevant?  The statement can be read either way, and possibly in a few others. While I brood over its meaning, a reviewer is moved to the grand conclusion that

‘Rees’s art confounds our preconceptions and delights our proprioceptions, forcing us to reconsider our terms of engagement with ourselves, with others, with art, and with life itself.’

I love art reviews…



The artist Kenneth Eward also uses digital means to create sculpture. Only that he also places his sculptures and images inside a virtual gallery. The virtual exhibition called ‘Intangibles’ deals with our inability to perceive the ‘strange’ goings-on at the molecular level. As much a ‘celebration of the natural world’ as an evocation of ‘otherworldliness’, the ‘sculptures’ and images emulate landscapes of the world we inhabit with enlarged features of the ‘molecular world’. What we are meant to feel is that while these features do evoke associations with familiar materials or landscapes, this space is ‘far beyond the reach of everyday experience’. Ian Hacking once described this sensation as being confronted with ‘worlds within worlds’. And for Eward they are worlds: ‘The surfaces of molecules have hills, valleys, gullies and caves just like their geographical counterparts.’

Eward repeatedly refers to the geography of these ‘places’ and parallels their exploration with the ‘geographic frontiers crossed by early explorers’. ‘Today’s scientific frontiers are just as real’ he writes. Scientists have the ability to visit this ‘other world’ by creating computer models from data they obtain, for instance, with the help of a scanning tunnelling microscope. This is also, how Eward creates his art – only that he further manipulates the resulting forms. Working in the virtual seems to help Eward to express the qualities of that particular ‘landscape’, which he describes as ‘both functional and dynamic’:

‘Virtual sculpture, though lacking a tactile dimension, has its advantages over physical sculpture: laws of physics do not necessarily apply in a virtual gallery and it becomes possible to create artwork free from physical constraints…or to (by choice) remain constrained.’

So the molecular world remains a space that cannot be touched – although this space is/shapes things potentially everywhere around and inside us. It is invisible to our senses. Or is it?

Strangely, the descriptions of the two artists’s work reminded me of an interview with Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the artist-in-residence with the New York Department of Sanitation. In this interview, she talks about food being cherished and eaten – and then the leftovers (and packaging) get chucked into the bin ‘into another dimension’. Rubbish is the ‘invisible space’ that we decide not to see, not to make visible. The people who work with rubbish are considered ‘intangible’. But, as the artists emphasises, rubbish will keeps on coming back to us from this other dimension to ask us questions about ourselves and to remind us that we cannot ‘not see’ it for ever. This made me wonder about what kind of questions are still going to come from these other ‘invisible’ or ‘intangible’ spaces that the other two artists are talking about… or in what other ways the molecular and rubbish will meet in the future… ;)

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One thought on “Worlds Within Worlds

  1. Pingback: Does my bug look big in this? - Microscopy, Distance and Power « Mutable Matter

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