The installation Inter-State integrates concepts of art, science and futural thinking through its two related works, which are placed in close proximity. The first work is a large-scale backlit print depicting a re-imagined scientific periodic table of elements, mounted in a hanging light box. The second work uses an old-fashioned manual microfiche viewer, accompanied by a complex soundscape played through headphones. This allows viewers to examine the imagery as a whole, or in forensic close up, by instigating slow scans across groups of ‘elements’ in close proximity using the scientifically arcane microfiche print reader.
Inter-State re-conceptualises the periodic table as a relational mesh of forms, contrasting its elemental reduction and tabular characteristics with Wu Xing’s inherently circular five phases, and their generating and overcoming interrelationships. This is achieved by re-imagining each element as being part of a deeply related collection of codes, quotes, thoughts and pictorial impressions of non-linear processes and philosophies, inspired both by Tony Fry’s re-futuring theories and the Wu Xing philosophies. The choice of the 1970’s vintage reader also draws attention to the claimed cycles of ‘necessary obsolescence’ that permeate and underline much contemporary design thinking.
In sympathy, the headphone sound is created in a 12-minute cycle with five passages, inspired by the Wu Xing’s ‘generative’ cycle of Wood-Fire-Earth-Metal-Water. Within each passage overlapping sounds suggest one of the five Wu Xing ‘overcoming’ interactions, such as Water overcomes Fire. Each of the five passages concludes with a sonification of a relevant group of elements from the periodic table, using the atomic numbers of these elements of one group to control an audio synthesis process that morphs a so-called ‘noisy sound cloud’. The transforming of this process predominantly controls the energy in a frequency band of the successively chosen atomic numbers from the group, along with other correlated ongoing changes. In this way the implicit challenge of the destructive cycle becomes reflected in the somewhat tense, foreboding atmospheres of the sounds.
In all of these ways Inter-State actively contrasts and combines modern scientific ideas and processes of elemental organisation with the relational thinking of selected contemporary artists and philosophers and the ancient processes of the Wu Xing, seeking to embody the relational imperatives of an emergent re-futuring practice.
TEAM: Keith Armstrong: Director, Roger Dean: Sound. Original imagery developed by Stuart Lawson. Quotes drawn from Tony Fry's Refuturing philosophies.
PARTNERS: Australia Council For The Arts, UTS Gallery, Curated by Tania Creighton and Eleanor Zeichner, QUT Creative Industries, National Science Week 2016, Sydney Science Week 2016, Sydney Design 2016, UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, QUT Creative Industries, Thanks to John Grosso, general manager, eBeam Film LLC, CT, USA for production of 105mm microfiche transparencies.
This project has been kindly assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Keith Armstrong is supported by a part time senior research role at QUT Creative Industries.
Inter-State contrasts the historical tendency for the formal atomisation and structuring of knowledge with relational understandings of our world as a series of interactions and relationships between phenomena. Both ideas are incorporated into the work, simultaneously finding a balance between the related traditions of art and science. The visual form of the work mimics the periodic table that is central to science classification – whilst the content ‘descriptions’ of each element suggest fundamentally relational models of understanding, thinking and acting. A powerful example of this relational process lies with the classic Wu Xing model that suggests how (e.g. Wood (木 mù), feeds Fire (火 huǒ), creates Earth (土 tǔ), bears Metal (金 jīn) enriches Water (水 shuǐ) which in turn nourishes wood.
In many ways the periodic table resonates with ideas of human development and progress – and yet that progress, despite its successes has often proven insensitive to the underlying natural order that is now in many cases far out of balance. Hence the art-science artwork Inter-State suggests that by shifting cultures towards a profoundly relational ways of understanding (as epitomized by the Wu Xing), we may then be able to create more sustainable pathways towards long futures. Hence each imaginary element in the table draws us to reflect upon ideas and quotes from futuring philosophers and artists, who call us strongly to develop our relational imaginations.