“Distinguishing the signal from the noise requires both scientific knowledge and self-knowledge: the serenity to accept the things we cannot predict, the courage to predict the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” - Nate Silver
“A graphic representation is not merely a drawing, but often entails a heavy responsibility when deciding on how to proceed. One does not ‘draw’ a graphic representation in a solid form; instead one constructs it and rearranges it until every relationship between the data has been revealed.” – Jacques Bertin, 1977 (quoted by Sandra Rendgen in INFORMATION GRAPHICS, Taschen, 2012)
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
distillation /ˌdɪstɪˈleɪʃn/ n. 1 the action of purifying a liquid by a process of heating and cooling. 2 the extraction of the essential meaning or most important aspects of something.[i]
Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions by American artist Eve Andrée Laramée consists of an array of tall metal stands, clamps, PVC tubings, glass beakers, flasks and vials. Although much of the equipment looks standard from afar, the installation is a dysfunctional and mythological sort of laboratory that highlights the inherent but often unnoticed subjectivity in scientific inquiry.
First conceived in 1994, Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions has been showcased in numerous exhibitions including Facts Are Slippery[ii] at Rice University Art Gallery and Unnatural Science[iii] at MASS MoCA.
In this fantastical and visually dazzling Apparatus, many of the glassware are hand-blown with various cloudy or luminous turquoise solutions and copper wires attached to large exotic flowers contributing to the spectacle of a giant chemistry experiment gone amok.
Upon close inspection, a second level of complexity is revealed by the seemingly unscientific words and phrases such as “HANDFULS”, “LEAP IN THE DARK” and “UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES” delicately etched into the glass, exposing a sense of insecurity and imprecision behind the process of science.[iv]
Last but not least, Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions not only evolves and adapts through each incarnation in different contexts, its state of being also changes over the course of any one exhibition setting as water evaporates and metal gets oxidized. This double temporality mirrors the fluidity of science and the obsolescence of new technologies.
In her artist statement, Laramée affirms, “I am interested in the ways in which cultures use science and art as devices or maps to construct belief systems about the natural world. I try to draw attention to areas of overlap and interconnection between artistic exploration and scientific investigation, and to the slippery human subjectivity underlying both processes. Through my work I speculate on how human beings contemplate and consider nature through both art and science in a way that embraces poetry, contradiction and metaphor.”[v] In an interview, Laramée further iterated the similitude of the process of art and science by saying, “To me, my art is my research. While my work has its place in the art world and the art market, what really drives me is the research. I make art about the things I am passionately interested in that I do not understand.”[vi]
“In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies-the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
Reality: Two Views
At the close of World War II Picasso is said to have been confronted by an American soldier who complained that he could not understand Picasso’s paintings because everything was distorted; the eyes were displaced, the nose in an odd place, the mouth twisted beyond recognition, and so on. “And what do you think a picture should look like?” asked Picasso. The G.I. proudly whipped out his wallet and showed a tiny photograph of his girlfriend: “Like this!” Picasso studied the photograph and said, “She’s kind of small, isn’t she?”
– taken from Robert L. Solso’s The Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious Brain
“While reflection, cognition, and interpretation of art are all enhanced through our memory for past experiences and subjective logic, it is the intrinsic structure of the brain that provides the canvas on which perceptions are painted… Art and science contribute to this magnificent process, each providing its own view of what the world is, each telling its truth about a single reality.”
- The Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious Brain by Robert L. Solso