This post is part of a series on the current 2015 MFA Thesis Exhibition. Each post is authored by a graduate of Washington University’s Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.
In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble discovered galaxies beyond our own, revealing that the universe was infinitely larger and more complex than previously imagined. A few years later, H.P. Lovecraft created a series of stories that described a new kind of fear, a cosmic terror instilled in his protagonists by the unfathomable vastness and strangeness of the universe.
Years later, abstract expressionists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko created paintings that were said to evoke the Sublime Void of the Romantics. Their paintings elicited emotions from viewers that few had in the past. During the same time period, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about the angst a conscious being feels when faced with the concept of nothingness.
Later still, after the moon landings, critics and academic writers hailed a new wave of science fiction films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris as embodying the Sublime. The groundbreaking special effects used in such films were described as recalling the paintings of the Romantics.
Finally, over the last few years, in part because of the discoveries of the Large Hadron Collider, there has been an outpouring of writing on physicists’ new understanding of the concept of nothingness and on the void of empty space. The Void, it turns out, is vastly more complicated than ever believed, and, in fact, could be the seedbed of creation.
Artists pursuing an MFA are creating a context for their work. We create personal narratives and in some cases invent mythologies for our work. My own process of creating my thesis work can be seen in this light. Through the process of research, I have drawn connections between history and culture that have not been made before.
I have uncovered an unknown thread in the paradigm of human thought, one that suggests that there is an unwavering and fervent interest in our relationship to the unknowns of reality. We do so through every venue possible, through science, through fiction, through philosophy, and through visual art. In my own work, I draw upon this complex history to create work that not only distills and deconstructs these ideas, but furthers them. Bringing these ideas and concepts into physical space through painting and sculpture helps us in some ways contend with them. Making these concepts concrete in reality, regardless of their source being from science or from fiction, gives them a tangible presence that helps further our understanding of their original context.
Unified Field is the title of my piece for the MFA Thesis Exhibition. This title works several ways. It references a hard sought after “theory of everything” in physics. It describes what the piece should do: take up the viewer’s full field of vision. It also alludes to the concept described above, a unified thread of thought through history, a bringing together of disparate concepts.
By Brandon Daniels (Washington University MFA student, Class of 2015)