Archive for April, 2010

Very excitingly, I purchased yesterday a first edition of Hinton’s The Fourth Dimension, published 1904 by Swan Sonnenschein in the UK. This was his final attempt at explaining his higher-spatial philosophy to a popular audience and included descriptions of the revised system of colour-coded cubes and a colour plate, ‘Views of the Tesseract’. This plate is intact in the copy I have.

Inside front colour plate, The Fourth Dimension

Inside front colour plate, The Fourth Dimension

Huge thanks and respect go out to my comrade in research at Birkbeck, Iain Sinclair scholar, jazz drummer and second-hand bibliophile Henderson Downing (also involved in this great, though hopefully not Grand, project), who made the discovery in the Oxfam bookshop in Bloomsbury and tipped me off. It was £40, a very fair price, given how scarce Hinton first editions are (there are none on AbeBooks at the current time) and I can think of no other retailer to whom I’d rather give the money – in fact while there I dropped another fiver on Aldous Huxley paperbacks). Another friend, Mark Pilkington, says he has spotted a copy of the Scientific Romances in a second-hand bookshop on the South coast: at some point over the summer I plan on making the trip down to see if it’s still there.

Perhaps yet more excitingly, and certainly more rewarding, Elizabeth Zvonar has very graciously been in touch with photographs of Object of Contemplation, the piece she made inspired by Hinton’s cubes – see posts passim. She responds clarifying her practice:

As for your comments about the veracity of my practice in relationship to an accurate history – agreed. I’m much less concerned with the details and intentionally draw from my research loosely and liberally juxtaposing all kinds of ideas that don’t necessarily have a connection when looked at outside the context of art. My influences are wide and varied. My proficiency is in making objects and my intention is to make aesthetic and dynamic works that anticipate a desire for deliberate thought or can facilitate a situation for a pause to contemplate. A device to abstract the tendency for the structure of the accelerated pace we live within, enabling a moment to reflect or open up space for new thinking.

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From the photographs, Object looks like something I could contemplate for many hours: and on reflection glass, that peculiar not-quite-solid/not-quite-liquid compound, is the ideal medium in which to render them (or should that be ‘on refraction’? I wish I could experience the full chromatic effect of circumnavigating the piece). As a non-artist, I am admiring and not a little bit envious of the skill exhibited in making objects this perfectly realised. The intention of this work in encouraging thought, and resisting accelerated living, is also something I can really relate to: I get it as a researcher, and I powerfully believe in the importance of  contemplayion in an amnesiac culture that seems determined to annihilate times and spaces that enable it.

And of course, the Modernist artists with whose Elizabeth’s work engages, as she politely hinted to me in her response, were not so interested in historical or scientific accuracy as they were the aesthetic and abstracted possibilities of using and juxtaposing ideas from these sources.

Elizabeth is speaking at Glasgow CCA on May 1st, so any Scots interested in her practice would do well to attend.

Elizabeth also pointed me towards the work of Toril Johannessen, a Norwegian artist who shares our interest in higher dimensionality.  Her most recent piece, Trascendental Physics, is, as its title indiciates, Zöllner-derived. I’m a sucker for architectural work like this, and perhaps understandably, am big into optical illusions. My masters thesis was on geometry in J.G. Ballard’s work, and I wrote on his short story, ‘The Object of the Attack’, which features as a central plotting device an Ames Room. There is something inherently Ballardian about Transcendental Physics, and Ballard’s textual invocations and purturbations of geometry (see The Atrocity Exhibition for the most fully reaslised demonstration of these) cetainly participate in the cultural history of a space that is more malleable than absolute, but above anything else, it’s really exciting to see Zöllner’s optical work referenced in a piece of art: a large section of my thesis deals with Zöllner, and vision is central to his version of higher space. I’m also digging the Flatland reference in the ingenious Downward, but not Southward, and its confusion of compass navigation is a really clever way to disturb space, while its ‘rabbit hole’ location draws an arrow pointing directly to Carroll.

Given the clear object focus of this post, I think I’m going to have to pull up my sleeves and leap into some object-oriented philosophy. I know those guys are down with Bruno Latour, but that’s about it. Wish me luck!

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