The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

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JUL-AUG 2013 Issue


On View
May 9 – June 9, 2013
New York

Tom Shannon’s recent exhibition elicited a long-lasting shift in this viewer’s perception of the metaphysical realm. Shannon takes as his subject, and medium, the elemental forces of the universe that define the basis of our existence, and presents them on a scale perceptible to the human mind. In making accessible the incomprehensibility of astronomical concepts regarding gravity, space, and time, the viewer is placed within the equation, rendering such circumstances relatable to every facet of our daily experience.

Tom Shannon, “Airfield,” 2013. Ash, fluorocarbon filament 20 x 20 x 10”. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy of SHOW ROOM and the artist.

The magnetic and arresting installation, “Airfield,”(2013) is a system of equidistant fluorocarbon wires, each one suspending a series of small, red, ash orbs running the width and height of the gallery. As one moves across the face of the aerial grid, limitless visual configurations materialize. The spheres are equally suggestive of vast stellar clusters and sub-atomic particles. The infinite is born of the molecular. Hovering just above the floor, the work contemplates the seemingly chaotic, yet ordered nature of the cosmos. While actually static, “Airfield” thrums with the feel of barely contained acceleration.

Elsewhere, two works are positioned in such close proximity as to threaten contact if their kinetic potential were to be released. “Nothing” (2013)is a 12 foot cubic wooden frame, also hanging a few inches from the floor. To step over its lower struts to move inside is to engage with the space both defined and occupied by the structure. The result is a transformation of the absence of matter into a near-tangible entity requiring navigation. When the entire framework moves—the angles of the joints shifting as the frame rocks back and forth—one’s sense of location demands deft adjustment. This tussle with equilibrium finds parallels on a level of minutiae rarely considered, such as retaining balance on a moving subway car or merely stepping off the curb. Fundamental physics is ubiquitous.

Nearby, a wall-mounted sculpture with long fiberboard arms titled “Fing” (2013) rolls and tips on a steel axis. As the arms wheel back and forth in a circular motion mere inches from the frame of “Nothing,the works could sustain a glancing blow. The possibility of impact is jarring and yet is appropriate considering that collision and destruction are inherent characteristics of laws governing the universe.

The hypnotic allure of “Relativity Clock” (2013) is a beguiling interruption to the space-time continuum. As a clock rotates counter-clockwise once a minute, the clockwise movement of the second hand appears to cease. In this deceptively simple disruption to a motion we take for granted, accepted distinctions between space and time are collapsed. Watching the work in process recalls relativistic axioms of time dilation and altered space-time that would manifest if one were, for example, to observe an object approach the event horizon of a black hole. For the viewer, time would seem too slow, the object never appearing to cross the event horizon. The enlightening nature of “Relativity Clock” is due in part to its expression of confounding theorems in such a minimal, yet whimsical manner.

Shannon also includes a piece over three decades old to strike a tone of reflection. “No Rules”(1977) is a large-scale wall drawing of flowing charcoal gestures evoking dusty classroom memories of equations and mathematical experiments.  It’s a clever reference to the timeline of technological advancement that has unfolded in regard to scientific understanding.

 The dynamism of Shannon’s subject is most palpably demonstrated in “Theater” (2009). To create this painting in the studio a pendulum device was set in motion, releasing sweeping arcs of paint on to a canvas below. The work was formed by the orbital rotation of the pendulum as it interacted with the forces of angular momentum: mass and gravity. The curving pattern captured by the modestly sized canvas reveals only a section of the total disc of paint that was dispersed. Because the resulting painting is so suggestive of a partial telescopic image, it hints as much at what lies undiscovered, as what is actually seen.

Shannon loosens our grasp on the certainty with which we regard spatial mechanics, and expands our awareness of cosmological principles that operate on a wide spectrum from astronomical to infinitesimal. His great skill is in harnessing the wonder of both.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

All Issues