Ontologically, we could regard the particle as fundamental unit of our civilisation. Following Campagna, I characterise ‘our’ civilisation generally as Western Modernity, but not bounded by geography — for its ontology underlies capitalist, communist and socialist nations across the world, excluding only those small societies that embrace a truly different ontology, and have been marginalised for doing so. Ours is perhaps rooted in European Modernism, but borders have ever been porous. Grounded in rationality, it values science — simultaneously particular and totalising — as well as the binary bit of digital computation, and the individual unit as a serial position oriented toward production (Campagna 2018).
My drawings based on points would seem to embody this. But as mentioned, this ontology also values the line or the border which delimits, separates and contains. There are thus many contradictions — in contemporary reality at large, in artistic practice, and in each of us as individuals. A methodology that zooms in and out of spatial and temporal scales, I hope, exposes and embraces contradiction as one of the artist’s most powerful tools, and as part of human nature — therefore this methodology adopts the term topian, which informs both utopian and dystopian perspectives.
Space in our current ontology is reduced to precise numerical coordinates, and time to the instant, the nanosecond. The philosopher Byung-Chul Han describes contemporary society not in terms of acceleration, as many others do, but atomisation: acceleration implies a direction, and in his view, time has dissolved into directionless points and we jump from one to the next, having lost any sense of duration (Han 2017). Another contradiction can be located here: Campagna sees each instant and each point as a portal to a different existence and another ontology, and Han seems to agree, arguing for ‘the art of lingering’ instead of jumping from one point to another.
The individual particle, then, links micro to macro — as in physics. A microscopic virus causes a global pandemic in humans, just as a bacterial infection strikes olive trees in Greece (McGrath 2020), both causing wider economic effects. Degradation takes place point by point, step by step as entropy inevitably increases over time. A geological perspective encompasses a broader view of species and timespans than an archaeological one.
Artistic methods at this level of ontology, therefore, might interrogate the point or the pixel, as in my drawings. Archaeologically, this has meant focusing on the limited and the particular, as Foucault (2002) describes in The Archaeology of Knowledge: building up a surface, an image and an idea, and then expanding outward, instead of delineating a boundary. A focus on the material scale means embracing the fragmentary and the metamorphic, and confronting intangibility through materialisation. Architecturally at this scale, I transposed from one material, and one scale, to another, through drawing, photography and printmaking, exploring also the synthetic materiality in between physical and digital to make fragments into large-scale topographies.
Moving upward in scale, Campagna (2018) sees processes of ever-finer measurement and binarisation resulting in classification and taxonomy: the very bases for scientific rationalism. Thus, a rational ontology rests on absolute language which only permits things to legitimately exist that can be characterised as serial positions oriented for production of other things.
Artistic methods at this level of ontology, therefore, might also interrogate language, as in Arévalo’s work. Her poem, which expanded on the limits and possibilities of the friezes as potential productive conflict opportunities, contains the lines: ‘Humans playing pretend, mimicking gods and titans, creating universes / whose foundational taxonomies / have culminated in irreversible chaos; in isolated voices and fragmented spirits.’ Focusing more specifically on cultural heritage, one of her other exhibited prints reads:
Now more than ever, mainstream taxonomies must be reframed so as to acknowledge emerging institutional imaginaries, embracing contemporary archaeologies and topographies, and respond to shifting historicities. With this reframing comes a growing need for the reorganisation and configuration of already-existing collections from the largest, most powerful — both culturally and politically — institutions in the world, which hold a plethora of displaced material culture that beg to be reunited with everything and everyone they have left behind.
In terms of the silences unearthed by archaeology, she writes in her poem, ‘Gaps that come as visual manifestations / of metaphysical voids’. She says that ‘utopian thinking […] helped emancipate established ideas (and ideals) imposed onto the friezes themselves, allowing them to embrace alternative forms. These two parts of the project met at the intersection between the factual and the fictive, the academic and the literary, the found and the constructed, the real and the utopian’ (Arévalo 2020).