Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Possible Worlds

by Lauren Carroll

10 Apr 2012

Perhaps other artists are well acquainted with this scenario: I've just had a solo show, and I've spent the last three months since then writing, re-writing, theorising and questioning, what the hell was that show about?!  What did I just create? And how do I express all the strange swirling ideas contained in this body of work? Though I had my own ideas when creating the work, they've continued to change since then.

I initially spent a lot of time theorising the work in relation to objective concerns: human impacts on the planet, and how societal instability influences one's own sense of self and security. But despite my research into this area and the incessant process of analysis and rationalisation that we're all familiar with, something that has quietly niggled at me must be pointed out: at the heart of my art making practice is really just an effort to visualise, in images and installations, my own insecurities and fears, stemming from a sense of dismay at our obstinate refusal to just do better. Perhaps this is natural, and one's practice is merely a repeated regurgitation of obsessions that are eventually identified over time.

One such ongoing obsession is artists' ability to move from the realm of what is, into the realm of what could be; to envision different futures. This capacity allows artists to intervene into public discussions, and in the case of global warming, to illuminate what scientists and policy-makers have failed to. The problem of turning one world into another can in many ways be understood as a problem of imagination, the inability to see beyond the political reality of now, the widely accepted idea that things are this way because they must be.

Though many theorists have philosophised about it, the psychological impact of terror, ecological imbalance and financial crisis is too vast, too amorphous, it simply brings together too many variables. There is, however, a growing branch of study known as eco-psychology, and there's a lot of value in clinical psychologist Kathy McMahon's passionate, indignant comments. "We live in an insane culture and rather than marginalise the cries for reform, we need to normalise the pain…[we should] study those who aren't suffering these symptoms [of trauma], the so-called 'normals', who haven't allowed these horrible experiences to impact their daily lives. What sort of individual feels none of these things? Those who can't or don't feel the loss or who don't know why they are drinking and drugging themselves, that's the true tragedy."

After all, one's sense of grief connected to a relationship breakdown is well documented. The grief connected to the destruction of an ecosystem, or a war waged by one's country abroad, not so much.

Rather than try to precisely gauge the shapeless psychic impacts of environmental and economic crises, I've moved back to the realm of experience and emotion. Outside the arena of pure empirical research, and through painting and installation, I've created an alternate, self-contained world that connects experience of social and ecological traumas with ideas and theory without tipping too far either way into personal reflection or ultimate truth.

Possible Worlds is intended as a counter space of respite from the confusing world we inhabit. It is an abstracted and immersive representation of a fragile ecosystem which is threatened by unfettered industrialisation and economic growth.

Contained within the very still, very bright space of the installation, is a warning of what could be lost, a signal of a barren future we fear. It is a constructed environment that mimics the natural using synthetic materials - nylon crystal organza. It expresses a manmade reverence for nature and a vision of it in terminal decline, it expresses both potential and loss.

In its former life, I entitled the installation Stalactites: This is Happening. The new title seems to express the broad tide of ideas better than its more specific precursor. But it could change again.

Perhaps the only way to finish this passage of investigation is with more questions: How can feelings of personal anxiety have a deeper, more collective source? Why do some people feel the emotive pull of global conflict more than others? And how can we conceptualise our own futures in a broader terrain of social uncertainty?