A gut feeling is a personal, intuitive response. Unmoored from rational or scientific thought, it is a subconscious impulse best followed. For his first solo showing at Highlight Gallery, Eric William Carroll presents work from his gut -- images that attempt to visually string together large-scale phenomena with small-scale methodologies in support of another G.U.T., the Grand Unified Theory. In the high-ceilinged Kearny Street gallery, Carroll's meticulous installation of photographs, collages, and an augmented telescope give way to playful juxtapositions, curious studio experiments and aesthetic investigations with imagery from mainstream to fringe science.
G.U.T. is "the holy grail of the scientific world." Through this presentation, Carroll provides evidence of its existence, leaving the particulars of scientific proof up to the physicists. The exhibition layout follows the path of Einstein's field equations, mimicking the up and down of numbers, exponents, and divisions. Knowledge of G.U.T., Einstein's field equations, or physics in general isn't necessary for a satisfying viewing experience. Carroll does all the work for you, presenting the results of his own attempts to parse through the curvature of space-time as a linked series of images imbued with lighthearted earnestness.
Take Index 20 (Recreation of LHC Event with Toilet Paper Tube and Tinker Toys, LHC Event (CERN)), a framed work of two images within one matte. The "recreation" is just as it is described, a small rectangular black and white image of a handmade scientific model. Below it, a circular window in the matte reveals a colorful digital rendering of the same event. Both images are fabrications, in a way, leading us to wonder how we privilege one understanding of the Large Hadron Collider over the other.
Again and again, Carroll's work offers up alternatives to traditional scientific images. An astronaut's footprint on the moon closely resembles a red wine stain, which also closely resembles a grape juice stain. A 7" record is echoed by images of Saturn's rings (or is it the other way around?). Many of the works, like Index 20, question the way in which scientific data, and therefore our understanding of the universe, are presented to the lay public. One large, deep blue print on the back wall shows a page from a Braille picture book depicting the famous Hubble Deep Field image. There are many ways of absorbing the information around us, Carroll posits, even if we can't wrap our heads around Einstein's field equations.
Central to G.U.T. Feeling are Carroll's attempts to bridge the micro and the macro with human-scale elements. Ironically, his work addresses a realm of science named after parts of the body -- G.U.T.s are seen as a step towards a T.O.E. (Theory of Everything). Carroll pulls the viewer into his system of associations by highlighting objects between these polar extremes. Index 31 shows a girl flying in the air above the familiar torus of a Slinky. Index 49 compares dry, cracked earth with the branches of an aquatic plant and the delicate diminution of bones in a human hand. Dice captures a gleeful explosion of the small white cubes, mimicking the frenetic movement of atoms. My favorite piece in the show humorously compares "a swarm of ancient stars, a sneeze, and a desk covered in dandruff."
There is a spookiness to an exhibit in which every aspect is so considered that you feel as if you've entered the mind of the artist, an unfamiliar and otherworldly place. This is compounded in G.U.T. Feeling by the black grid pattern on the gallery's back wall, calling to mind not just graph paper, but Star Trek's Holodeck, emphasizing the blend between science and fiction within the contents of the room. The show produces a welcome feeling of transportation, or, in my case, a thrilling sensation of absurd interconnectedness.
G.U.T. Feeling is on view through August 17, 2013 at Highlight Gallery in San Francisco. For more information visit highlightgallery.com.
All images by Eric William Carroll; courtesy Highlight Gallery, San Francisco.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED