In ‘The Science of Imaginary Solutions’, currently showing at Breese Little, the object is front and centre of what is an incredibly wide ranging exhibition that quite literally spans millennia. In their new space in Bethnal Green, a series of works and subtle juxtapositions probe the ways in which object-led narratives are so eminently malleable, prone to changing tides in both scientific and philosophical thinking. The works are multidisciplinary, encompassing photography, sculpture, painting and text, while simultaneously touching on the museum, the archive, the gallery and the lab.
Specific works tap into multiple paths of inquiry, some of which reference archaeology as much as they do art historical movements such as Dada or Surrealism. A good case in point is the combination of Steven Claydon’s ‘Convolute’ (2012) and Marcel Broodthaers’ ‘Les Animaux de la Ferme’ (1974) which greet the viewer as they enter, forming an informal kind of gateway into the exhibition. Claydon’s busts evoke gothic architecture and Greek and Roman mythology, while the resin casting and bamboo fungus used to create them makes them equal parts geological sample. Broodthaers’ surrealist posters featuring rows of different breeds of cow labelled with the names of cars, brings to mind ‘The Treachery of Images’ by his contemporary René Magritte as much as it does the type of dour instructional poster you might find in a school classroom. From a different angle, in fact, ‘the treachery of objects’ could have been an alternative title for the exhibition.
Stephen Thompson’s photographic series ‘Antiquities of Britain, British Museum’ (1872), portray items such as helmets, chess pieces and artisanal glass held in the collections of the British Museum, several of which were found in the River Thames. At play are not only the objects in their original context but also the amusingly clipped, Victorian reverence underlying the framing of these images, (and by extension the hindsight with which we view that approach today).
Arguably the conceptual lynch pin of the entire show is its oldest object, a Neolithic stone basin and pestle used for grinding grain. The object transcends the full scope of significations, from functional tool of human development to loaded archaeological, historical and social cornerstone. When considered alongside the most contemporary work, Andy Holden’s ‘Felt touches only observed’ (2016), the exhibition feels as though it comes full circle. Holden’s building plaster and emulsion paint tower is totally fabricated and seemingly functionless. At the same time, if cut open the piece would reveal multiple layers, colours and shapes, suggesting allusions to rock sediment or perhaps dendrochronology. Its materials date it to the present, while its almost comical form references the artist’s interest in animation.
The title of the show neatly encapsulates the exhibition’s conceptual expanse. Taken from playwright Alfred Jarry’s description of the nonsense philosophy ‘pataphysics,’ it demonstrates the blurred duality of science and imagination, twin building blocks of our conceptions of the world. Here both pillars and everything in between are very much open to interpretation.