When I was a little kid my mother told me not to stare into the sun. So once when I was six, I did
-Maximillian Cohen in the film Pi
I was recently given several beautiful handmade books entitled In Between by the artist Gemma Lacey, in order to help her scatter them like vibrant seeds across England. The books contain delicate prints of sketches of the plants which inhabit our marginal cryptoforest wastelands, those of tramlines, canals and the encroaching wilderness. The density of her scribbled marks becomes increasingly chaotic moving from print to print, as nature and entropy creeps upon the realm of man’s futile attempt at order. Gemma writes that this turbulence facilitates ‘the potential for daydreaming that is held in the no-mans’ lands that we meditate on as we travel through them, all the dreams invested in those spaces’. For her the creativity erupts out of the organic chaos and gives rise to an elegant complexity. As a project it is both heartfelt and mysterious.
In Between book © Gemma Lacey 2012 Photograph © by Sarah Wainwright
The tangled sketches remind me of the Brilliant Noise video installation from the acclaimed video art duo Semiconductor. They produced a beautifully disjointed piece for Brighton’s Fabrica gallery several years ago. It comprised of an 11 metre wide compilation of NASA film close ups of the sun’s nuclear inferno. The imagery detailed spiralling fractured eruptions and molecular dissonance roaring across the screen accompanied by an intense soundtrack of hissing otherworldliness and binary annihilation. True power noise then if you like on a grand scale. Ghostly in appearance, the blistering fountains of radiation offered up a fiery vista which in turn created a hypnotic ambience in the former church’s sombre interior. Semiconductor work in a field of art that tests the boundaries between science and creativity. This interplay of systems and chaos recalls the Futurist’s mechanical pontifications and the runaway machine games of Alan Turing amongst others. When I saw it I was reminded of the minimalist glitchy electronic performances of artists like Alva Noto and Karl Kleim, of that savage machinery of destruction and renewal, which Minoru Hatanaka describes as ‘the collapse of tonal music’. For Semiconductor the liminal space is drenched in Sol’s disruptive aggression. Their video documented this visceral trauma as our eyes were endlessly drawn towards the fractal majesty of the dazzling star, the arcing sunspots echoing the tumbling pollen of the fecund plants in the drawings.
A recent night time journey, racing through the Sussex winter countryside on a train was accompanied by snow flurries which danced and electricity lines that popped and spluttered in the inky darkness, as my carriage was smothered by angelic visions. The Japanese multi-functional expression ransetsu or chaotic snow seemed somehow appropriate as my vision was confounded by the swirling static that mirrored the explosive after images of the Brilliant Noise projection. A sonic equivalent might be an instrument called a biwa, a loose stringed lute whose primary purpose Toru Takemitsu describes as having ‘the active inclusion of noise in its sound’, a deliberate attempt perhaps to represent both regimental order and flickering dissonance in parallel: an endeavour which John Maeda regards as ‘the lens through which (it) translates information into your own visible language’. Shards of opalescent petals unfurl and float upon the wind.
When thinking of this crystalline fractal ballet I am also reminded of Björk and her amazing Cambridge concert for the Homogenic tour, which set the digital pulses of Mark Bell (LFO) against the luxurious harmonies of the Icelandic orchestral Octet. The resultant interplay evoked that difficult tension between creation and destruction. Donald Ritchie’s commentary on ‘beautiful noise’ is a fitting evocation of Semiconductor’s looped film and Gemma’s drawings, channelling sublime awe as the superhuman reality of the natural universe is splendidly rendered.
Breakout film Pi from director Darren Aronofsky which sees a brilliant mathematician called Maximillian Cohen endeavour to unlock the hidden numerical structures underpinning the universe frames the notion of chaotic systems in a zone of enlightenment. Cohen is pursued by various factions who view him as the key vector to manipulating and predicting reality. Max’s mentor Sol Robeson regards the game of Go as a suitable metaphor for his quest. He says ‘…no two Go games have ever been alike. Just like snowflakes. So, the Go board actually represents an extremely complex and chaotic universe’. The film regards the iterative complexities as an integral facet of life itself, Cohen utilises the equations to encode this intensity akin to the sun’s spectral pulsations or the tumbling husks of greenery blown across a field.
The creative seeds of Gemma’s little books ultimately then speak of random chance and potent opportunity, the artist bravely faces up to the complexities of the wild and evades the mind numbing blindness experienced by Max Cohen in the film Pi, who eventually decides to turn away from the bewildering noise to sever his consciousness. In Between neatly encapsulates the primal spirit of this growth, indeed its very title speaks of liminal space and causes us to pause and wonder.