Paul Quast luan Gallery, Athlone.
17 January – 16 March 2014
Paul Quast exhibits a large body of work in the New Gallery and River Gallery at Luan. He works in installation / sculpture and here deploys an impressive array of technology, including projectors, laser beams, prisms, lights, magnets and ferro-fluid – demonstrating an expert knowledge of physical, electromagnetic and optical processes. Quast’s work draws comparisons between our understanding of the universe in terms of physics and the social conventions and paradoxes that human civilisation has developed in order to function.
For Quast, physics is an unbiased, evolving system of knowledge, albeit based on approximations. Likewise the economics of financial and consumer markets, while promoting adherence to exact figures to achieve ‘success’, is an inexact art / science, dependent on intangible human factors such as persuasion and influence. Quast uses electromagnetic fields, optics and entropy to draw comparisons between these two paradigms and, in the process, raises pertinent questions about the nature and construction of perception itself.
In the New Gallery, Network (2014, mixed media, 240cm) consists of two neon tubes held horizontally in line by magnets, flashing alternately like neurons (and, very rarely, at the same time) to demonstrate our limited understanding of how the brain’s impulses reflect thoughts and concepts.
Apogee (2013, mixed media, 40x40x25cm) is a square-tiered form that incorporates nine interlocking cogs, which turn at a tired and halting pace, squeezing a brown ferro-fluid towards the centre. This highly effective work offers a view of cyclical monetary accumulation – suggesting the failed optimism of industrial cycles such as the Fordist systems of production – which has become clogged by ‘monetary waste’ oiling its mechanics.
The main piece in the New Gallery, 101 (2014 mixed media, variable dimensions) is an image of a slow swirling galaxy (number 101), projected onto a suspended screen. Loose change is provided to be thrown at the galaxy image,where an electromagnetic force may, if you are lucky, lock coins on to the dark centre of the image. There’s an almost Orwellian reference to Big Brother forcing austerity on its citizens, amplified by the black hole of the galaxy sucking in our money. The comparison between unknown universal forces and the current economic situation is well made here.
Also in this space is Hail (2013, mixed media, variable dimensions) comprising four laser pointers on tripod forms placed close to the floor, which project intense green laser beams through prisms and lenses to create a series of focus points on the opposite walls. The origin of each beam isn’t immediately clear and my curiosity and sense of dislocation were increased as I circulated around the space to locate this. The beams are focused on a €50 note mounted on one wall, to which the eye is inevitably drawn. The word “HAIL” is projected onto the currency, hailing the dominance of capital.
The works in the River Gallery function mainly as optical and light wave experiments with the objective of showing light (literally) in a new light. For example, in Of a deceptive nature (2014, mixed media, 260cm), a series of lights is directed through prisms and convex lenses, mounted on an adapted arc frame. This creates a perfect rainbow arc on the opposite wall. Here, Quast is playing out the deceptive nature of light via various particle, wave and photon theories in order to deconstruct the mysteries surrounding perception. A rainbow always eludes us as we seek to approach it for gold. We can touch this captive rainbow and it does not reward us with anything more than its reflection on the wall, and broken refracted arcs overhead.
E = € (2013 mixed media, 120 x 100 x 40cm) brings the balance of forces in the exhibition into more explicit focus. On suspended scales, a globe neatly held in magnetic rotation within a C-frame, rotates from west to east, in reverse planetary motion. On the left, a tray of copper cents provides a relatively poor value to balance against the significant unit value of the planet. Finally, Continuum (Mark II) (2014, mixed media, 8cm diameter) is a suspended black globe with a mysterious aura. Rapidly rotating, and driven by internal magnetic components within a fluid, it comments on entropic processes. As the fluid dries from the inside out, the surface will eventually decay and self-destruct. It’s a compelling work, symbolic of the hidden forces affecting our world.
The technical aspects of this exhibition are impressive and are underpinned by a substantive range of research. The optical experiments are obviously highly visible to audiences, but the electromagnetic technology, by its very nature, is more covertly present. Thus, the hidden forces operating within some works are not always evident. On one level, this reinforces some of the key points of the exhibition. However, a balance always needs to be struck between the use of media and ideas. In some works, the level of technical virtuosity overwhelms the underlying themes. The less complex works, which demonstrate the directly opposing forces at play, such as Network, Apogee and Continuum (Mark II), are more appealing – they force an immediate consideration of the underlying concerns.
That said, the artist is to be praised for creating works which draw out the viewer’s curiosity at all times with largely tactile scientific phenomena, thereby avoiding the sense of distance that can result from more interactive / media based work or traditional, static object-based sculptural work.
Colm Desmond is a Dublin-based artist & writer