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Andrew Stones: Atlas
Chisenhale Gallery, London


Gavin Bower

Atlas is Sheffield-based artist Andrew Stones' new installation at the Chisenhale Gallery. Footage shot by Stones at CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, on the Swiss/French border, is shown in a continuous cycle on seven screens.

Images of CERN's detector chamber, the underground Super Positron Synchrotron, and the offices of two prominent CERN-based physicists, are manipulated and transferred to the viewer. On two of the screens, the process of particle acceleration is depicted; one screen, in front of us, shows what we move involuntarily towards, while the other, immediately behind us, shows what has been passed. We are incapable of leaving the pressurised space; we are transfixed, the experience visceral. At the same time, we are excluded by the unintelligibility of the process; it is somehow larger than us, exalted, and beyond our comprehension.

Science as subject rarely generates anything more than pious forewarnings of the destructive consequences of technological innovation. The exemplary novel - a paradigmatically bourgeois and insipidly didactic art form - has been consistently used for this purpose, with Huxley's Brave New World a case in point; its vision of scientific dystopia merely emphasising the characteristic pessimism, as well as the myopia, of modernist art regarding humanity.

Stones looks to transcend the traditional and the asinine with his work, challenging the viewer with something that for most is unknowable. Atlas synthesises the postmodern critique of modernism by juxtaposing the presumption of human progress, of incorrigible evolution, with the endlessly exponential nature of scientific advance. The inference is clear; though technology seemingly knows no bounds, our mortality and limited comprehension, our sheer exiguousness, keeps us from fully partaking in that progress.

Stones posits Western man as merely the consumer of science, utilising technological advancement for his own limited purposes - in the home, for entertainment, for communication - without actually comprehending how these innovations work. This is how we are able to grasp the unknowable, by adopting the arcane for the prosaic, using what we can and disregarding the rest. This is the logical conclusion of a commodity culture precipitated on a mass level throughout the twentieth century.

In using the installation format, Stones suggests a parallel between the commodification of science and art itself. Art as a commodity - accessible in a gallery space increasingly similar to a shopping mall and consumed by the window-shopping general public - is absorbed and applied to the everyday, the esoteric meeting the exoteric. Consequently, we are able to access seemingly unintelligible bodies of knowledge, not as knowledge, but only in accordance with our needs.

Paradoxically, Atlas confronts the viewer with this dialectical movement - the contradiction of inadequacy and unintelligibility that finds its 'solution' in consumerism - whilst simultaneously asking: is this progress at all?


Till 15 August 2004
Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London E3 5QZ

 

 
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