Gaia not big on hoovering

Or at least that was Aristotle’s view, more normally phrased as “nature abhors a vacuum”.  This post was commissioned by readers of GofaDM, or at least one of them suggested the topic to me – so, in this case, the buck doesn’t even slow down here!

The Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Invisible: Art about the unseen 1957-2012.  This exhibition has generated plenty of controversy with such delights as plinths without sculpture and empty picture frames on offer to the attendee.  I believe this helps the viewer to use their imagination as they engage with the art.  Disappointingly, I have seen no mention of a textile exhibit – even in a purely republican context.

I had thought of presenting an entirely empty blog post as my response, but decided that this was rather a cheap joke (not that this fact would usually stop me) and could be confusing as it would not be clear to what the absence of words referred (or didn’t refer).

The art cognoscenti who have been to the exhibition have given very positive reviews, or so it seems from a cursory skimming of the internet.  My own review will be written having not seen the exhibition, and so for me the art is truly unseen (though will only cover the period 1966 to 2012 as I feel ill-qualified to review items I haven’t seen by dint of my non-existence) which seems to be in the spirit of the endeavour.

It strikes me that the very presence of frames and plinths will tend to confine the invisible art and constrain the imagination of the viewer – and it places an imposed curatorial structure on any encounter.  I’m also concerned about the cultural baggage that the extensive use of the colour white brings – when the art is invisible, the risk is that the walls, floor and ceiling will dominate the experience and I am not convinced that white is sufficiently self-effacing or neutral a colour.  It surely cannot be right that the pure white emulsion generates a greater emotional (emulsional?) response than the unseen art itself?  I find myself wondering: what is the colour of the void?  I presume if there is nothing there, then there can be no photons and so it must be black (or at least perceived as such by our feeble senses) – though this does run into trouble if one considers the quantum foam with the instantaneous creation and annihilation of particles (and anti-particles) that perturb even the best kept vacuum (a phrase which suggests, to me at least, a new source of competition between British villages).

Even the building housing the exhibition is an issue, its form will impose itself unwanted into the viewer’s consciousness.  No, the only venue suitable would be the depths of interstellar space – preferably surrounded by an opaque and unreflective dust cloud – where the viewer can experience the art unaffected by the petty irrelevances of quotidian reality.  I realise this will be hard to achieve with our current technology – unless some invisible art hitched a ride on the Voyager probes – but it is worth the wait.  The delay will also enable the works from the 20th and early 21st century to be viewed as part of a broader cultural perspective of the art of the invisible.

Now I come to write this, I am forced to wonder whether dark matter is not made of WIMPs or MACHOs as so often supposed.  Maybe the universe is actually gravitationally bound together by the invisible art of much older civilisations being displayed to its best effect?  Perhaps by encasing our modest output in planet-bound concrete we are denying future galaxies the chance of life and are accelerating the much anticipated heat death of the universe.  Not something I’d want on my conscience…

Wimp

I talk not of any candidates for the substance of dark matter – though I have been reading about them recently – but of your electronic interlocutor.  Whilst I may be weakly interacting, that is down to my limited social skills rather than any inability to affect electromagnetic radiation – I am, in fact, reflecting, absorbing and scattering it even as I type (and they say men can’t multi-task!).  Nor am I a particle (and so have no fear of the triangle – and there may be a small prize for anyone who – without the aid of internet search – (a) understands that allusion and (b) is willing to admit it) and I do not consider myself especially massive – though I realise the later is very much a matter of your point of view.

No, I refer to my rather limited panoply of the more traditional manly attributes.  I have previously alluded to my need to dash away a less than manly tear at the cinema or theatre – and now admit that this weakness extends to the opera (only once, and La Traviata is quite sad) and the radio, television and books.

However, I don’t, in general, consider myself to be especially squeamish – to be honest, I don’t even know what a squeam is.  I tend not to watch the myriad of hospital dramas that infest our screen not out of any fear of the sight of blood – I’ve seen my own often enough, gushing out of my arm into a small plastic bag – but due to a lack of interest in the genre.  So, when I sat down on Sunday night to watch Michael Mosley’s new 2-part series “Frontline Medicine” I had no reason to fear.  I’ve watched his medical series before – and even made it through his excellent “History of Surgery” with barely a qualm.

Truly, pride cometh before a fall.  Within five minutes I was forced to the adult equivalent of hiding behind the couch – in my case, standing behind the bookcase concentrating on the ironing (the couch is too low, and it backs directly onto the wall).  Even “watching” thus insulated from any sight of the screen, the sound track alone was sufficient to make me decidedly queasy on more than one occasion.  In fact, I seemed decidedly more queasy than a lad whose foot had been mostly blown off by an IED.  Despite my rather eccentric mode of viewing the programme was fascinating and horrifying, depressing and uplifting in equal measure.  Some of the injured required 150 units of blood – nearly 50 years of normal donation for a chap like me – which does make me wonder where they obtain so much blood?  For the interested, O neg is the most useful as it can be given to anyone – my own A pos satisfies only a rather more limited market.

The physical injuries that the quality of medical care rendered survivable was truly extraordinary.  The injured (and, as yet, uninjured) did seem to be uniformly young: the sort of age I normally see wandering around the university or wowing me with their musical prowess – and I suspect the same is true for the enemy combatants as well, though I doubt they are offered much in the way of medical care by their “sponsors”.  I fear it is all too easy for the idealism of the young to be used by their elders – and not always for very laudable ends.  Sadly, it remains far easier – and oft seems more popular – to injure and maim than it does to heal.

Still, as I said the programme was far from unremittingly depressing, in many ways it was a story of heroism, quiet determination and great skill – and as so often with war, lessons are learned that will benefit “normal” life.  It would just be so much better if we could learn these lessons via less pain and suffering.  Next week, will be looking at rehabilitation – so I hope I may be able to return from behind the bookcase to a more typical viewing position (for a start, I’ve not got an hour of ironing – and, before you ask, I’m not offering to take any in!).