SEPTEMBER 15, 2011-OCTOBER 23, 2011


BEYOND THE SPECTRUM—There is a scene in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth where the alien (played by David Bowie) is driving along a desert highway and peers out his window. Everything stops for a moment, and he sees a 19th –century western family in rags looking at him as the car kicks up dust and fades into the distance. This is what a prism does when light passes through it and subdivides into the components of the visible spectrum. Now, if we were insects we would be able to see into the ultraviolet. We would have the capacity to see gloriously beautiful geometric patterns painted on certain flower petals beckoning us to come closer and transport some pollen so that the seeds of life could be formed. It is so, that we only perceive a tiny fraction of the infinitely expansive electromagnetic spectrum.

We can tune into only a small fragment of what light contains. We categorize something as invisible if we cannot perceive it with our usual and customary visual apparatus. Different animals have varied types of retinas and brains, and perceive what we call color in ways that are still mysterious. Some creatures (like my dog “Jury”) can detect molecules in the air through their olfactory systems. We may not know which odor just passed through, but the dog (and bear etc.) certainly do. This olfactory stimulus transmits a signal to the brain and then all kinds of behaviors ensue. There are creatures, I am sure, that can perceive gamma rays, x-rays and the infra-red. It all depends on how the receiver is turned and how the sensory apparatus has evolved over long periods of time. Animals (and humans of course) are capable of receiving “vibrations” and consequently sense or intuit, usually without a conviction that the feeling is “real” or not.

I am interested in the invisible and I engage this issue of stretching the limits of ordinary perception. My work is very much about the diversity of biological systems and how various organ systems transmit information and thus define a world for an organism (see “Beyond the Spectrum” versus “Eye Optics” for instance). The concept of infinity is another fascination for me. Color and optics provide but one window to the concept of a never-ending universe. So does biological adaptation and the evolutionary time-scale. My “Colour Theory” assemblage touches on Maxwell’s primary colours. Just reducing light to the (human) visible spectrum reveals in infinite variety of colour combinations.

Light (and thus color) is both a wave and a particle. The observation of this duality led to the concept of the uncertainty principle. Nothing can be measured without having an effect on the measurement itself. Light (and thus color) also possesses the uncanny characteristic that, if it were to be applied to the first three dimensions to which we are accustomed, then the fourth dimension (time) would stand still. If the first three dimensions (x, y and z) are traveling at the speed of light, time stops. So, light is simultaneously a wave and a particle but never just one or the other and it can mediate time. This is, of course, a tricky concept to express in visual terms. The daguerreotype highlighted colour illustrations are analog and endless, and the mosaic is made up of raw particles which convey this sort of fuzzy and counter-intuitive concept of unpredictability and quantum mechanics. Another example of the infinite. I wish for the viewer to float and free associate and thus relax and travel quite far.

Color can be utilized to determine how old stars are. Since the light that we see (which emanates from a star “x” number of light years away), this starlight is, in fact, ancient light. We all know the Doppler Effect as it pertains to sound (a siren in a moving car relative to the observer changes frequency: the frequency is higher as the siren approaches and lower as it passes and recedes from the observer), same for light. Electromagnetic waves (such as light) can move relative to an observer as well. A distant star can be moving toward or away from the observer. A red-shift or blue-shift in the perception of the spectra (through a prism) will occur depending on whether the star is moving away or towards as we look upon it. This is how we know that the universe is expanding.

Color also evokes feelings within us (and other creatures as well). There are universal warning colors which insects use to advertise that they are poisonous if ingested (the basis for the famous evolutionary biological principle of Batesian mimicry). Reptiles colored in red, black and yellow stripes best be avoided for their bite is almost certainly highly noxious. Even famously aggressive countries (like Germany in the first half of the Twentieth Century) use classical warning colors on their flags and symbols. Red, yellow and green traffic signals announce very different types of directions which correspond to a universal color code. Colors catalyze more subtle and sublime inner feelings of being soothed, warmed or cooled. Madison Avenue has perfected the art of subliminal advertising using complex colorations. My work reflects my experiences and researches concerning the evolution of colour in insects. I am quite taken with the variety of ways that colour communicates within and across species. Two of my collages highlight and compare the co-evolutionary specificity of the mammalian eye (simple eye) and the insect (compound) eye.

What is this connection of color to the brain to the soul? Perhaps a form of evolutionary imprinting? Certain images (starry nights) and certain specific colors and color combinations can profoundly influence mood and thus possibly healing. Many modern studies have shown time and again that placebo sugar pills that are dyed blue can promote a highly efficacious healing response when compared to the same pills colored yellow, orange or red. Maybe the pathway of light (color) to the retina and then on through the optic nerve to the visual (occipital) cortex to the neuro-humoral endocrine system thus bathes various cells which then resonate with some DNA memory of past color experience? As a physician I am very attuned to subtle and subliminal ways that human beings communicate with each other and address this throughout my work with colour combinations that please me. How will the viewer feel and respond, I am thinking?

When David Bowie’s alien character peers through time, he is using a form of refraction which we do not understand. Our optical dynamics allow us to pierce light into a small section of a vast universe. Light is an expression of energy and discovering certain of its properties has opened up vast areas for which we have only more questions, and very few answers. It’s various and curious properties such as color are complex, vexing, but at the same time simple and beautiful. My work is very much about this duality. Close observation, connecting ideas, treasure hunting, asking questions all lead to ever more questions. Art and science are identical modes of inquiry. Each is an appreciation for the unknown, the invisible, and the goal is to get closer to letting go and surrendering to the universe which we barely comprehend.

(published in Central Booking Magazine, September 2011, Volume 11, Issue 3)