MARTIN JOHN CALLANAN: Martin John Callanan, Horrach Moyà, Palma de Mallorca










MARTIN JOHN CALLANAN: Martin John Callanan
Horrach Moyà, Palma de Mallorca
29 November 2012 – 17 January 17 February 2013 (extended one month)
Opening, 8pm, 29 November 2012

On May 16, 2008, Martin John Callanan changed his name to Martin John Callanan, by Deed Poll, sworn and sealed at the City of London Magistrate’s Court. On July 5, 2012, Martin John Callanan assumed the name of Martin John Callanan by Deed Poll, sworn and sealed by a Comissioner for Oath, and enrolled in the Supreme Court of Judicature. Through this action, at once absurd and totally in keeping with the laws of the United Kingdom, the artist Martin John Callanan (formerly Martin John Callanan) turns an administrative process into a reflexion on his own identity and the systems that validate the laws and institutions that govern our society.

We live in a multitude of systems: natural systems that affect our environment, social systems that define the possible actions in the framework of an established community, computer systems that enable and control the transmission and storage of data with which we create our memory and the image of our world. They shape our everyday reality, but we tend to ignore their existence or assume it as an indisputable fact: as the clouds floating overhead, these systems respond to a logic that is largely out of reach of the average citizen.

Through methodical and precise processes, Martin John Callanan explores the notion of citizenship in a globally connected world. The relationship between the individual and the systems that surround and affect our lives take shape in a series of works in which both the structures and the fragility of these systems are shown, sometimes by resorting to the absurd and the excess of information. The atworks in this exhibition at Horrach Moyà Gallery venture into the dynamics of natural, economic, administrative and mass media systems by means of an observation both on the cosmic and the microscopic level.

Inspired by the forms of scientific data visualization, the artist made in A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) a globe that only shows the position of the clouds during a second in February 2, 2009. This ephemeral map, made from hundreds of photographs from NASA satellites, is embodied in a sculpture created with a 3D printer and shown as an unattended object, an ignored finding, a fragile piece containing an unusual vision of our environment .

The economic system, which has raised to such notorious prominence in recent years because of its obvious impact on our lives, is a complex structure whose functioning is increasingly necessary to understand and, as much as possible, to predict or even control. In this sense, and in response to the dominance of macroeconomics in the discourse of the media, the artist chooses a microscopic view of the world economy. The Fundamental Units, a series that begins with the works produced by Horrach Moyà Gallery for this exhibition, is an exploration of the lowest denomination coins from the world’s currencies using an infinite focus 3D optical microscope at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington (UK). The images obtained with the microscope have been combined to form an extremely detailed large scale reproduction of the least valuable coins from Australia, Chile, the Euro, Myanmar and the Kingdom of Swaziland. In these images the humble metal acquires a planetary dimension and is displayed as the atoms that shape the global economy.

The reality shown by the media consists in turn of its own units, the news covering the front pages of newspapers and circulated by television and radio, websites, blogs and social networks. The speed and density of the information flow that is generated in every corner of the planet and invades all communication channels exposes us to a saturation that paradoxically makes data illegible. I Wanted to See All of the News From Today deals with this excess of information by means of a web site that automatically collects the front pages of hundreds of newspapers around the world and displays them in a grid. From these data, the artist has produced a series of prints in which the pages of newspapers form a totemic picture of everyday life in the information society.

Martin John Callanan completes this exhibition with Deed Poll, which is both the action taken in the process of change (or recovery) of his name on July 5, 2012 and the legal documents, canceled passport, letters and responses, official notice in the newspaper and other items related to this administrative procedure. Callanan thus adds to his analysis of the systems that determine the conditions of life in the societies and the planet we inhabit an action on a personal level, as an individual and citizen that participates (voluntarily and involuntarily) in the dynamics generated by these systems.

Pau Waelder, Curator

Texto en español (PDF)

Reviews in El Mundo, Diario de Mallorca and Ultima Hora: PDF (Spanish)

Why scientists should care about art

Johanna Kieniewicz on Plogs

Last week, I attended an environmental science conference with an evening reception that featured a short talk on art/science collaborations in the context of environmental science. The talk was followed by a musical performance – inspired by the fragility of peatbog environments – after which I overheard a scientist mutter “What was that? That better not have had research council funding.” He was not the only one; I heard similar sentiments expressed by several others as I walked to dinner.

On some level, I was disappointed by this response, but I wasn’t really surprised. Despite great progress amongst those who are ensconced in the world of science communication to the idea of collaborations between scientists and artists, this is something that many scientists still don’t “get”. Other researchers are openly hostile, and certainly think that scientific research organisations have no business funding this type of work.

To be fair, these are not necessarily the attitudes of people who are disinterested in art — I’d be willing to bet that a fair few of those who walked away from the performance muttering about scientific research council funding being wasted on the arts also have memberships at cultural institutions. That said, whilst being consumers of culture, few scientists really see themselves as having much of a role in its creation. In an increasingly competitive funding landscape, does it really make sense to spend research money on an art project? Does engaging with the arts mean that they are less serious as scientists?

Here, I’d like to make an argument that art is good for scientists, and that there are many reasons they shouldn’t be quite so afraid of letting artists loose in their laboratories.

Data monologue or dialogue? Data Soliloquies is an interesting book, produced by a former artist in residence at UCL, looking at environmental data in a cultural context.
Understanding the Cultural Context of your Research

Hot issues, such as climate change may not be subjects of contention within the scientific community, but it seems clear that the science is not being communicated in a way that has the necessary impact. Although art cannot directly communicate science or change minds, it can create a space for dialogue around difficult issues. Few scientists are likely to deeply consider the role of narrative in their work or the visual impact of their images, but for reaching society as a whole these are vitally important.

Artists are also likely to ask questions that scientists might never think to ask (because they are, well, thinking like scientists). A recent AHRC funding call (see, scientists there is some money in this!) posits that a sophisticated understanding of cultural values, rights, religions, and systems of belief is essential for understanding some of the complex legal, ethical and regulatory policy issues raised in several emerging areas of science and technology. Scientists aren’t trained in this (and that’s ok) — but it is important to engage with people who think about these issues in a different way.

Becoming a better communicator

In my view, art inspired by science isn’t necessarily about the communication of science—it is a response to science. In leaving the scientific arena where it is all to easy to use technical jargon, working with artists can make you rethink the way that you communicate your research. How can you convey the complexity of the problem, while also making it accessible?

A scientist who participated in the Wellcome Trust’s Sciart programme, was reflected on their experience in the report on that programme, saying “Through my PhD I learned to talk in a particular way, write in a particular way. Because of that I lost a piece of myself. Through working with [X] I found the way to become the real me, rather than this slightly objective scientist that I had become. I found my voice, which I had lost because of the scientific process.”

Becoming a better researcher

Artists examine problems from different angles and engage with information in a different way from scientists. Some might see this as a deficiency, and to be fair, you wouldn’t want to conduct science in an un-scientific way. However, I would argue that particularly in the area of scientific visualisation, there is a great deal to be gained for scientists who engage with artists.

Chiara Ambrosio, Lecturer in the History of Science at UCL, argues that art offers an opportunity for dialogue and a critique of science. When scientific data sometimes seems like a monologue, art can produce a dialogue. Artists may not – indeed, probably should not – directly challenge the way that science happens or is conducted, but they can raise questions about the purpose of the science and present different ways of looking at research outcomes.

It’s fun

Clearly, engaging with artists is not something to be done if you don’t also think that it would be fun. Artists aren’t particularly interested being a part of a scientist’s ‘outreach’ box-ticking exercise, or in being relegated to a dusty corner of the lab from which to quietly observe the scientists going about their business.

I am not so naïve that I believe that having an artist in the lab is something that all scientists should do, or even most. But I do think that more scientists should have an open mind to this approach, and be encouraged to engage with them in the right context. Far from being an impediment to scientific progress, it can be a way of making your science more relevant, more impactful, and hopefully a bit more fun. In my next post, I hope to highlight a few examples of how it happens in practice when artists actively work in labs alongside scientists.

Johanna Kieniewicz on Plogs

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