A group exhibition on art, science and neutrality

Sphere of Accuracies

Zone of Truth

Exhibition Catalogue text By Gary Peters

5 to 31 March 2011

Bar Lane Studios, York

Greg Bright

Tracey Holland

Luke Jerram

Frédérique Swist

The unashamedly esoteric title of this show is offered as one response to the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s claim (way back in the 1930s) that, while science presupposes truth, it is something that forever remains hidden from it. This might sound very much like a critique of science, but in reality it represents a much more challenging and fundamental attack on all thinking and doing (including philosophy) that ‘forgets’ the essential truth of Being through an entanglement with the inessential truths of beings.

What has this to do with art? Quite a lot, because in his endeavour to unveil the truth Heidegger increasingly turned to art as the privileged mode of ‘unconcealment’ and illumination, thus breaking with the aesthetics of taste and beauty, and replacing them with a post-aesthetic ontology of revelation.

Art is no longer conceived as the representation of a given (beautiful/ sublime) world but re-conceived as the ‘creation’ and ‘preservation’ of the ‘lighted’ space where truth is disclosed. Truth in art is not an end but a process of infinite dis-closure (opening/closing)-interminable revealing/re-veiling.

It is not that truth ‘belongs’ to art rather than science (it ‘belongs’ to no one) it is just that the work of art discloses truth in a way that scientific explanations do not.

However one might respond to such a way of thinking (and I cannot imagine many scientists responding with enthusiasm!), it is likely that all of the artists presented in this show would recognise something of what they think and do in Heidegger’s words even though, ironically, they are all in different ways profoundly engaged with science. All acutely aware of the aporias of re-presentation, particularly when exacerbated by any attempted visual interrogation of the sub-atomic, the microscopic and the mathematical, their work, while doing many different things, reveals a shared sensibility that recognises and confronts the transformative nature of seeing and visualising. In a culture where everything must be seen it is strange to think that it is visual artists who make us most suspicious of seeing!

Sphere of Accuracies/Zone of Truth

Science is not a knowing in the sense of grounding and preserving an essential truth. Science is a derived mechanism of a knowing, i.e., it is the mechanical opening of a sphere of accuracies within an otherwise hidden-and for science in no way question-worthy-zone of truth. (Martin Heidegger) Art approaches truth in order to witness (and articulate) its withdrawal: unconcealment/concealment-description/de-scription (writing/unwriting)- explication/replication (unfolding/re-folding). Thus, truth and error are by no means opposites as are truth and falsity; to be in error is not to be wrong but to be at a distance from the truth. In fact, errancy is essential to the task of thinking and the work of art, both understood as the pursuit of the truth.

To pursue something that is extinguished as it is illuminated; to be constantly proceeding without the certainty of a defined goal requires mindfulness rather than thoughtfulness. To be full of thought is to already contain everything within oneself, the beginning and the end. To be mindful is to be care-full, and care is always required when proceeding without certainty. Care is always needed when thought is exposed to its limit. Mindfulness can assume two main guises, both of which, within thefield of art at least, draw it back towards science in the form of accuracyand neutrality-both central pillars of this show.

Clearly, by opposing the truth of art to the accuracy of science, Heidegger pays insufficient attention to the fact that artists too must work in a sphere of accuracies. As Descartes recognised, uncertainty resembles being lost in a wood; to proceed one must adopt a method (walking in a straight line rather than running hither and thither). And given that, for Heidegger, artistic truth has nothing whatsoever to do with certainty, and that the ‘zone of truth’ within which art works is a zone of errancy in the face of truth’s infinite ‘withdrawing’, then it is not surprising that so many artists place such an emphasis on rigour, precision, purposiveness (albeit without purpose) and discipline. Here accuracy is a function of infinite uncertainty and an individual method of managing it rather than, as in science, aligned to finite uncertainty and the collective methodologies designed to eradicate it.

So, one of the ambitions of this show is to try and shift the focus away from those increasingly ubiquitous art/science dialogues continually enacted at the level of visual representation and the dubious aestheticisation of the non-aesthetic. Instead is proposed a shared but quite distinct engagement with accuracy as it is played out within a ‘sphere’ where truth is hidden (science) and a ‘zone’ where it is revealed/re-veiled (art).

Taking care-as it relates to accuracy-requires commitment to a method, understood as an individual mode of proceeding. But mindfulness also produces a form of care that invigilates both commitment and the subjective contingency of choosing this or that method: Heidegger describes such watchful care as ‘reserve’; in this show we are describing it as neutrality. Once again we can detect a rapprochement of art and science here to the extent that objectivity and neutrality are proximal and thus easy to confuse. But as the notes of a musical scale will confirm, the closest proximity of melodic pitch produces the greatest harmonic distance-dissonance- and so it is with objectivity and neutrality. In spite of its much-heralded scientific credentials and pretensions, objectivity is in essence an ethical principle: objectivity is good; subjectivity is bad. But where the moral dialectic of objectivity and subjectivity is human-all-too-human, the nondialectical, amoral inhumanity of the neutral has something monstrous about it, a severity that is as cold as it is fascinating, and it is fascination that rules at the end of the human. In Heidegger’s view, art is responsible for both the creation and the preservation of truth. This task does not require the liquidation of the bad subjective subject in the name of an impossible objectivity but, rather, the mindfulness necessary to resist the will; to rush in and gather up all the facts in the name of truth and knowledge. As Nietzsche understood it, the strongest will is the will not to will, this is the strength required to achieve accuracy and neutrality, and this show is a testament to the fascinating space illuminated by such discipline.

Professor Gary Peters

Chair of Critical and Cultural Theory,

Faculty of Arts, York St John University