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Art and Science: Creative Solutions, cont.

Thomas Allen also turns to old science books as a source, not for the images but for the stories inherent in them. Science in these books is used to explain the natural events that once were the domain of creation myths. The cultural stories are also woven into children’s science books, and Allen’s attention to science began with those childhood tales and a home chemistry set. Mixing colored chemicals in test tubes, Allen was more interested in the surprising results than in demonstrating principles. He works in the darkroom the same way, experimenting with selenium toned papers, various developers, fogging and negative manipulation to get the desired effects. The photographs have a deceptively simple appearance that are a reminder of the models used to teach children the concepts of science. In The Earth Is… a book is opened to a page picturing the planet earth; a spiral of turned pages curl under the open page, literally depicting orbital rings around a center nucleus. Shadows cut the orbit into night and day, demonstrating the effect of light and the revolution of the planet. The paper spiral sits atop the flattened book; it can be seen as a pedagogical device to explain the difference between a flat world concept and a round one. Once the round world is established, the rings might be seen as the expanding edge of the universe, our knowledge expanding along with it. Allen’s darkroom philosophy is similar: We can’t know everything ahead of time, we need time to discover. He is a tinkerer who maintains a sense of wonder both in the process and the results.

The foundation for David Goldes’ large black and white photographs was laid in his childhood curiosity about natural phenomena. His work reflects an adult’s view of a child’s wondering. Goldes followed this interest in science all the way through a master’s degree in molecular genetics from Harvard University. Working as a molecular biologist at the Medical School by day, he took photography classes at the Boston Museum School at night. He discovered that the academic approach to science gave him more information than he really wanted. The answers curbed his curiosity and did not leave enough room for his own questions. The triptych, from the Waves, Particles, Etc. Series, shows his need to set up problems and find solutions. When Goldes stages “natural events” with light and water in the studio, it is akin to the home scientist mixing potions to see what magic they will make. In all three images- Cone of Light, Radiating Bulb, and Magnifying Glass, light falls over surfaces in darkened rooms; smoke transforms the beam of light into a radiant object; shadows and reflections interrupt the experiment taking place. Scratches on painted glass act as reverse lenses while a magnifying glass focuses a light beam and alters its form. Unexpected projections spill into the void, becoming new evidence that alters the original hypothesis. The deep, rich black of the photographs draws us into the hushed stillness of these very active spaces. The light is no longer just illumination, but a symbol of knowledge and information. Beyond a simple demonstration of cause and effect, the work is about the paradigm between theory and perception, what we think we know and what we can only guess at. As Goldes put it, “Each generation approaches physical phenomena in the world, and tries to explain it with the information of that age. Our wager in life is how to bridge the physical and the informational. How do we keep track of our own biology and our perception of things which are not in the intellect?”3 The work is a series of quiet questions and mutable answers, shifting through light and over time.

First published as an exhibition catalog for Art and Science: Creative Solutions, curated by Karen Wirth for the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1996