Engaging the Virtual

"a sleep I fell: a word or two," J. R. Carpenter, ENGAGING THE VIRTUAL, Curated by Doug Porter at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax, NS, Canada, March 9 - April 23, 2000.
My work has been the result of my overwhelming need to know. When I was very young, I believed that one could know everything. I insisted that every thought could be remembered and called upon again, that every experience was one's own to keep and to hold, that every image witnessed, real or imagined was stored forever in what I believed to be the most infallible archive - the mind. I saw as my goal in life, the accumulation of knowledge. Never would it weigh me down. Rather, it would build upon itself to form some kind of fortress - a sand-bag-dyke against a wild river flooding and ignorant, a volcanic island erupting in an otherwise endless and unknown sea. That knowledge would save me, I had no doubt. Even when I started to find myself forgetting things - the odd name, fact, street or face - well who could blame me? I started taking notes. I collected and saved things to remind me of what I thought I knew. Ticket stubs, postcards, letters, stories and dreams. Evidence. Art. Proof of the existence of meaning in the world.

Lately I feel as if I am slipping. I feel like I don't know what's going on around me, like I don't know anything any more. I don't know if falling is the best metaphor, but I hope it captures some of the loss of control I feel and maybe some of the grace. I am vaguely fearful of the ease with which I now sometimes suddenly surrender. I, who had once clung to information, revelled in every insight, pounced on each new observation - I forget things often now. I lose things. I walk right by people on the street. And in the relative scheme of things, this state of affairs seems to me to be liberating. Some days I float through, some days I fall.

When we fall asleep we are often more brilliant for our lack of consciousness. We are free to make associations. Things fall into place. And when we awake again? In the world of bodies and objects, gravity and literature, history and higher mathematics - morsels of wisdom crash about in my head. I stumble upon the insight of others and I am grateful. I let my own thoughts run rough shod, I let them go and come and go again.

In my work I have referred often to the vitrine, the collection, the archive. As I continue to work with technology, new models arise: files, folders, directories, databases. Information is everywhere and it disappears all the time. The path from point A to point B can be round-about. Guesswork is de rigueur. We are so bombarded with information that it might be as impossible to know nothing as it is to know everything. Even in sleep we have an uncanny wisdom. Even a free-fall has a trajectory.

Perhaps the pursuit of the knowledge of everything continues. Perhaps everything has changed.

"a sleep if fell" is available for online viewing here...

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