Navigating the Uncertainty Principle
October 11, 2019 – April 5, 2020
CAG Façade and off-site at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station
Photography by SITE Photography
Can the gravitational pull of a black hole be contemplated by regarding a teacup? What happens if we think about a protest march in terms of positively and negatively charged particles? How might we map our subjective perceptions of what scientists call “spacetime”? Ingrid Koenig’s artistic practice, which traverses the fields of theoretical physics, social history and philosophies of knowledge, asks these questions through works that manifest on paper as drawings, graphic scores and visual thought experiments, as well as in participatory projects developed between artists and scientists. As Artist-in-Residence at TRIUMF particle accelerator centre at the University of British Columbia, the country’s premier physics laboratory and one of the leading subatomic research centres in the world, Koenig is interested in bringing different ways of knowing into contact with one another. In its broadest sense, her work considers the possibilities of how knowledge can be translated across different disciplinary communities so that we might more imaginatively negotiate our everyday existence in the contemporary world.
Koenig’s solo exhibition at CAG, Navigating the Uncertainty Principle, presented across the gallery’s Nelson Street façade and off-site at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, draws from two series of large-scale graphite drawings: Navigating the Uncertainty Principle (2009) and Force Fields (2010). The drawings, which have been further enlarged and printed on vinyl for this presentation, developed out of the artist’s long-time interest in the visual diagrams scientists use to describe the complex phenomena of physics, such as chain reactions, thermal movement, molecular pressure, spacetime, force fields, electromagnetism and black holes. In her drawings, Koenig quite literally entangles this mode of communication with an iconography of domestic life—the everyday activities of cooking, refrigerating, repairing and washing up. In this way, she charts the interconnected currents and inescapable chaos of everyday existence, and proposes a means of visualizing those abstract laws that, while imperceptible on the scale of human action, bind our most intimate and banal movements physically—and, Koenig would argue, poetically—to the rest of the universe.
Quantum mechanics, the theoretical basis of modern physics that explains the nature and behavior of matter and energy at its smallest scale, teaches us to think about the world not in terms of things but processes instead. The properties of anything, be it a mixing bowl, ocean water or a human body, manifest themselves in a granular manner only in a moment of interaction—that is to say, through a process—and only in relation to other things. As Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli attests, “the world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events.” Drawing too is a process, a collection of events: the artist creates a form by pushing particles of soot across a surface, tracing, layering, erasing and in so doing, links a multitude of infinitesimally small points of matter, time and experience together.
Defined in 1926 by theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg, the Uncertainty Principle asserts a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties can be known; for example, the more precisely the position of a particle is understood, the more uncertain its momentum is, and vice versa. For Koenig, the Uncertainty Principle makes for a rich analogy of contemporary human existence, with its many dispossessions, fragmentation and doubt. And in this exhibition’s highly public placement, visible to a myriad of simultaneously-experienced realities in the form of Vancouver’s diverse communities coursing through daily life, Navigating the Uncertainty Principle offers a visual score to the astounding uncertainties—whether philosophical, political, social or molecular—we navigate in our minute corner of the universe.
At Yaletown-Roundhouse Station work is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program, InTransit BC.
Essay by Kimberly Phillips, curator, CAG