TEXT

Chantal Faust 2011
What if we were to know everything? What if it were possible to accumulate all of the knowledge that has been, that is being and that ever will be? Would we have everything or be left with nothing? These questions provide the framework for Steven Dickie’s practice that focuses on social and municipal structures and draws references from fields including the sciences, utopian literature, modernism, politics, experimental music and geometry. Through an elegant remodelling of analogue instruments, Dickie’s sculptural inventions, sound experiments, drawings and performances form a kind of retro future-aesthetic that offers a synthesis of hope and failure, transmission and obstruction, everything and nothing.

Not fit for purpose, a bespoke chainmail suit lies in a foetal heap on the gallery floor with one steel glove outstretched. The lumbering costume was designed as a prêt-à-porter Faraday cage, based on the 19th century apparatus built to protect whatever was inside its shield from external electric fields. Dickie has carried the great weight of his self-made enclosure during a number of performances including Everything reveals nothing (2010), during which he demonstrated the operation of The Hunt for the Unavoidable Future, a meticulously crafted fusion of a mass of radios and a keyboard. Radio frequencies supplanted the traditional musical scale and the artist’s composition of white noise sought to discover a chance moment of synchronicity within the cacophony of sound waves. With its slick finish in white, black and grey tones of cellulose paint, this anomalous piano-tuner machine sprouting precisely 88 aerials appeared as if it had somehow dropped from a virtual cloud of 3D computer graphics.

The metal shell that both screens and encumbers and the modified transceiver are part of a growing collection of instruments devised by Dickie in his endeavor to attain what he describes as ‘a trajectory to all knowledge’. Other devices in his cabinet of curiosities include the extended spectacles from Causes from the Future (2011), a respectable set of rectangular frames with orbs that shoot out to form two transparent cylinders ending some distance away from the wearer’s face, the deliciously swollen lens endowing the 70s SLR camera in Too big to fail and the twelve sided rhombic dodecahedron: a geometrical shape that continues to make cameo appearances within Dickie’s practice and which he regards as the leitmotif for all knowledge.

There is a certain nihilistic tendency that infuses the artwork’s titles, but if this is all a folly, it is a serious one indeed. Within these beautifully crafted displays of potential nothingness, the retro-amplified monuments work to suggest that for the artist, this quest for the gathering of all past and future knowledge need not ever achieve an endpoint. There is something all too human about these pursuits, something that makes you think that Dickie already knows the answer to his question and that this really is a tale about the journey. Of course, the demon that is conjured here is Laplace’s, who articulated his idea of scientific determinism in 1814 when he dreamt of an intellect vast enough to comprehend the universe as ‘the effect of its past and the cause of its future’ and for whom there would be no uncertainty because ‘the future just like the past would be present before its eyes’.

Dickie’s prosthetic eyes literally try to see into the future. As opposed to a depth of field, their perspective offers a depth in time that nonetheless renders us blind. What we are presented with instead is a prismatic reflection of an instant. And perhaps this translation, this reenactment of a desire to see the limits is, in Blanchot’s terms, a fortunate thing because it allows ourselves to be ‘masters of the absence’ in that it renders the void of nothingness into a something. Each time Dickie presents his orchestra of white noise he teases our fear of an infinite nothingness while simultaneously rendering a score that could, just maybe, give us everything.

Unwieldy costumes marooned on a gallery floor, oversized eyeglasses posing on a terrazzo plinth, and reconditioned drawings of unrealised utopic sketches for a future that never was. All of these symbols of invention and expansion left idle recall the work of another artist who depicted the burden of the pursuit of knowledge in an engraving that was made five centuries ago. Melencolia I is an allegorical portrait by Albrecht Dürer wherein a winged being sits morosely with her head in hand, surrounded by untouched objects of science and art. Beside her a large polyhedron with the faintest of skulls etched upon its façade has bizarrely lodged itself within the frame, an epistemological figure that echoes Dickie’s scattered dodecahedrons. The angel’s wings may have been superseded by chainmail, but the meditation on human ambition, the search for knowledge and the limitations of time remain the same. It was perhaps this pursuit that Bruce Nauman was referring to in his famous spiralling neon of 1967 that declared: ‘The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths’. Steven Dickie reveals.

TEXT

Chantal Faust 2011
What if we were to know everything? What if it were possible to accumulate all of the knowledge that has been, that is being and that ever will be? Would we have everything or be left with nothing? These questions provide the framework for Steven Dickie’s practice that focuses on social and municipal structures and draws references from fields including the sciences, utopian literature, modernism, politics, experimental music and geometry. Through an elegant remodelling of analogue instruments, Dickie’s sculptural inventions, sound experiments, drawings and performances form a kind of retro future-aesthetic that offers a synthesis of hope and failure, transmission and obstruction, everything and nothing.

Not fit for purpose, a bespoke chainmail suit lies in a foetal heap on the gallery floor with one steel glove outstretched. The lumbering costume was designed as a prêt-à-porter Faraday cage, based on the 19th century apparatus built to protect whatever was inside its shield from external electric fields. Dickie has carried the great weight of his self-made enclosure during a number of performances including Everything reveals nothing (2010), during which he demonstrated the operation of The Hunt for the Unavoidable Future, a meticulously crafted fusion of a mass of radios and a keyboard. Radio frequencies supplanted the traditional musical scale and the artist’s composition of white noise sought to discover a chance moment of synchronicity within the cacophony of sound waves. With its slick finish in white, black and grey tones of cellulose paint, this anomalous piano-tuner machine sprouting precisely 88 aerials appeared as if it had somehow dropped from a virtual cloud of 3D computer graphics.

The metal shell that both screens and encumbers and the modified transceiver are part of a growing collection of instruments devised by Dickie in his endeavor to attain what he describes as ‘a trajectory to all knowledge’. Other devices in his cabinet of curiosities include the extended spectacles from Causes from the Future (2011), a respectable set of rectangular frames with orbs that shoot out to form two transparent cylinders ending some distance away from the wearer’s face, the deliciously swollen lens endowing the 70s SLR camera in Too big to fail and the twelve sided rhombic dodecahedron: a geometrical shape that continues to make cameo appearances within Dickie’s practice and which he regards as the leitmotif for all knowledge.

There is a certain nihilistic tendency that infuses the artwork’s titles, but if this is all a folly, it is a serious one indeed. Within these beautifully crafted displays of potential nothingness, the retro-amplified monuments work to suggest that for the artist, this quest for the gathering of all past and future knowledge need not ever achieve an endpoint. There is something all too human about these pursuits, something that makes you think that Dickie already knows the answer to his question and that this really is a tale about the journey. Of course, the demon that is conjured here is Laplace’s, who articulated his idea of scientific determinism in 1814 when he dreamt of an intellect vast enough to comprehend the universe as ‘the effect of its past and the cause of its future’ and for whom there would be no uncertainty because ‘the future just like the past would be present before its eyes’.

Dickie’s prosthetic eyes literally try to see into the future. As opposed to a depth of field, their perspective offers a depth in time that nonetheless renders us blind. What we are presented with instead is a prismatic reflection of an instant. And perhaps this translation, this reenactment of a desire to see the limits is, in Blanchot’s terms, a fortunate thing because it allows ourselves to be ‘masters of the absence’ in that it renders the void of nothingness into a something. Each time Dickie presents his orchestra of white noise he teases our fear of an infinite nothingness while simultaneously rendering a score that could, just maybe, give us everything.

Unwieldy costumes marooned on a gallery floor, oversized eyeglasses posing on a terrazzo plinth, and reconditioned drawings of unrealised utopic sketches for a future that never was. All of these symbols of invention and expansion left idle recall the work of another artist who depicted the burden of the pursuit of knowledge in an engraving that was made five centuries ago. Melencolia I is an allegorical portrait by Albrecht Dürer wherein a winged being sits morosely with her head in hand, surrounded by untouched objects of science and art. Beside her a large polyhedron with the faintest of skulls etched upon its façade has bizarrely lodged itself within the frame, an epistemological figure that echoes Dickie’s scattered dodecahedrons. The angel’s wings may have been superseded by chainmail, but the meditation on human ambition, the search for knowledge and the limitations of time remain the same. It was perhaps this pursuit that Bruce Nauman was referring to in his famous spiralling neon of 1967 that declared: ‘The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths’. Steven Dickie reveals.