Somewhere in Goucher’s Silber Art Gallery peeped the faintest sound of a periodic tap-tap. Where exactly it was coming from within the room I wasn't sure, but the noise was, nonetheless, excruciatingly near. Maybe someone who works for the college was just nailing something in, or an artist was still putting finishing touches on a piece of theirs—even as this exhibition, "Under The Scope," on view through Dec. 4, was already in operation.
But then, there, in the middle of the room was a tiny, padded hammer, part of a geneva drive-type mechanism, that would get lifted by the jutting claw of a slowly rotating wheel and then plopped down onto a rock within a glass case, each fall of the hammer amplified by a little speaker. It was from 'Sound Of Discovery' by Benjamin Andrew, one of the installations from an exhibit featuring seven artists all exploring the connections between visual art and hard science and the only piece in constant motion, emitting a persistent pulse—the exhibit’s most conspicuous sign of sentience.
Nearby is Andrew's multimedia poster that advertises his ‘Microobservatory Installation‘ for a fictitious project, based in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood—a microscopic underground lab that hosts researchers shrunken down to cellular, practically invisible size. There's even a microscope that, if you gaze in, reveals a little guy in an astronaut suit standing on top of a nucleus and waving back at you. And superimposed on the poster are two tablets that loop Instagram pics and vids, distilling the prospect of this post-post-modern science facility into a concept palatable to the startup-loving millennial paragon, via hashtags and simplified, giddy, Buzzfeedy demonstration videos of Andrew. One post that pops up keeps issuing an emergency call for help to the account’s followers, to be on the lookout for a lost microscopic researcher—its overuse of hashtags understates the sense that the situation is dire but also adds a nervous desperation to it.
While Andrew takes a bubbly, social media-ified approach to the hyperreal, A. Gray Lamb, in her 'Select Articles from the New Institute of Historical Cosmological Exploration' approaches the blending of fact and fiction more solemnly. In a row of numerous artifacts salvaged from a supposed space mission—among them a golden, crinkled-up astronaut suit and framed photos of gray-dusted mountain landscapes—there is a shelf of arcane recording gear and some tapes resting upright near a cassette player. These tapes are the source of astronauts’ diaries recounting their mission on a daily basis, and are in eerily mint condition. The arrangement of artifacts is precise but its mundanity can get disrupted in a matter of seconds: What if you just snatched up one of the tapes and put it in the player? What if some grim details, furtively hiding within the cassette’s transparent guts of the mission got revealed? Lamb’s organization is continually on the verge of disruption; akin to Andrew’s Instagram call for help, it similarly reveals dread in the mundane.
Selin Balci also considers space exploration, though it's from a more removed perspective. Balci’s piece is a magnified image of a series of petri dishes, with each simultaneously functioning as zoomed-in representations of cells. It's large and spreads across most of the wall—most visible, like a microscope, from far away. When you take three or four steps back, ‘Land’ forms a constellation of sorts in which the dishes are gathered in clusters that meander in a downward slope. In the past, Balci has organized them into the worldmap, and in ‘Land’ she uses these petri dishes, which quarantine the smallest of humanly known substances and each act like their own star, to emblematize outer space phenomena—the most humanly inconceivable shit ever, really. The piece is a convergence of the most extreme forms of zooming-in and zooming-out. For Balci, microscopes might as well be telescopes.
Those are just three highlights from this motley science fair of an exhibition. The work of the other artists involved includes: Elizabeth Crisman and her fascination with oral biology and the evolution of the human jaw (her piece ‘Knowledge’ is a giant poster with baggies of single wisdom teeth nailed across in rows); Lauren Kalman’s photographs of beads forming patterns along blood-encrusted human skin (‘Bloom, Efflorescence...’)—reminiscent of Balci’s constellations; and Nicole Shiflet and Kathy Strauss’s respective depictions of spermatozoa-looking creatures, which bend and squirm in Shiflet’s darklit, gloomy photographs (such as ‘the one farther back...’), and meander along a fractured seascape in Strauss’s embroidery (‘Search’). "Under The Scope" is a collective rumination on dull and little things, amid much broader questions, that goes in seven varying directions. But as you exit, it remains the work of Andrew’s ‘Sound of Discovery’ and its interminable heartbeat that emphasizes and unites the soullessness.