Scott Massey: Let’s Reach ‘c’ Together
The artificial divide between the realms of art and science has been blurred of late as contemporary artists both employ the tools of science in their practice and explore, and challenge, scientific properties with their work. Vancouver-based photographer Scott Massey has had a longstanding interest in questions surrounding space – both that which we encounter on a daily basis and the larger cosmological universe – and perception, and his work explores the relationship between these phenomena and the natural world. His latest exhibition at the Charles H. Scott Gallery, Let’s Reach ‘c’ Together, is a captivating collection of photographs, video, and sculptural installations that collectively employ the properties of quantum physics and cosmology to investigate how we move through space and time.
When entering the gallery for the first time you’ll be forgiven if you’re convinced that you took a wrong turn and ended up in an experimental science lab. The title of the exhibition, borrowed from a letter by Albert Einstein, refers to the speed of light which is commonly denoted as ‘c’, and all the works in Let’s Reach ‘c’ Together explore the temporal and spatial properties of light and movement. One of the first works in the exhibition, Empty Moon (for Yves Klein), is a room-sized installation comprised of an illuminated bowl finished in Yves Klein’s favoured blue hue that seems reminiscent of both the moon and a “Finish Fetish” object from the 1960s. A milky substance slowly drips from the ceiling and collects in the bowl, a meditative action with which it is nearly impossible to avoid becoming transfixed. The work is a composite of Klein’s iconic Le Saut dans le Vide and engineer Harold Edgerton’s famous Milk Drop photograph, both of which achieve their power and interest by freezing a moment in time, making something discernable that is typically invisible to the naked eye. Massey’s Empty Moon (for Yves Klein) picks up where these works left off and attempts to show the moments immediately following the frozen photographs, yet he refuses to provide the viewer with an easy or simple resolution.
Massey’s exploration of the properties of light is made more explicit in his series Heat=Light=Heat, durational videos that reveal the relationship between the ubiquitous tungsten light bulb and quantum physics. A simple action is performed in each of these studies – in one, an egg is slowly cracked over the illuminated bulb – to demonstrate the relationship between electricity, magnetism and light. These works are as much exercises in scientific investigation as they are in image making. The intricate Cloud Making (viewed under the principle of least time, or constructive interference) would also not appear out of place in a science lab; with its display of magnifying lenses and a lit Bunsen burner that transforms water into steam, the viewer is left with the impression that they are witnessing an experiment in progress. Yet toying with the properties of light and perception, Massey upsets our expectations by making the cloud of steam appear to fall rather than rise as conventional wisdom would dictate. This is an extremely compelling work that demands prolonged viewing.
Massey also uses photography to explore the relationship between the medium’s documentary potential and cosmology. In La Lune Perdue, Massey references both the history of photography (one of Louis Daguerre’s earliest images was of the moon) and its relationship to astronomy and scientific inquiry. Here Massey combines antique processes and contemporary technology to create a large and revealing daguerreotype of the moon. Another highlight is Transit (viewed through unexposed processed transparency film), a work that further references photography’s history in depicting celestial bodies and events. Massey created this work during the actual transit of Venus across the sun which occurred last year, a rare event that only transpires twice every 105.5 or 121 years. The photograph of the eclipse is accompanied by a video work comprised of footage that Massey shot while capturing the transit of Venus with his lens.
While the work is ambitious, and the underlying theories and histories quite weighty, the exhibition is engaging, unusual and refreshingly surprising – you don’t need even a rudimentary understanding of quantum mechanics or the history of the photographic medium in order to appreciate the work. Massey’s strength lies in his power to create objects that function both as exercises in scientific inquiry and as investigations into the formal, aesthetic qualities of light and form, creating a new visual language to represent intangible properties rooted in theories of vision, space and time. Regardless of your interest in, or knowledge of, science, you will leave Let’s Reach ‘c’ Together with an expanded perception of the possibilities of time and space.