When worlds collide

No Place
Stephen F. Fisher
Third Space Gallery
May 4 – June 16, 2007
The graphic source material for this work includes geological diagrams found in science texts and comic illustrations from the science fiction and fantasy genres. By bringing these illustration styles together in an art gallery setting I hope to generate a situation of aesthetic estrangement that is both amusing and critically engaging.
-Stephen Fisher, 2007
When worlds collide
by Peggy McKinnon
The art of scientific illustration–the graphic representation of an aspect of the material world in a way that facilitates understanding–is a utopian practice. Theoretical and instructional texts on geology exemplify this practice through block diagrams or cross-sections that show how, under ideal conditions, certain natural phenomena arise. For the sake of clarity the cross-sections are rendered as hypothetical and thus represent no existing land mass–no place. The illustrator creates an idealized world in which a concept is expressed visually and presented in a context that quarantines it from outside associations.
Stephen Fisher appropriates block diagrams from old high school geology texts and reproduces them in huge acrylic wall paintings where they float, isolated and without context, in a No Place void resembling outer space. Since isolation from complicating influences is essential to the plausibility of such floating islands, contact with another such entity shatters the illusion. Using comic-style illustrative tropes—sharp directional lines that indicate rapid outward movement and destructive force–he depicts their collision. By fusing two separate genres of illustration, Fisher orchestrates a clash of utopias between the empirical world of science and the more elastic sphere of fantasy illustration. Inside the conceptual isolation chamber of the white cube, an aesthetic explosion takes place. The islands crash violently together, crumbling and grinding into oblivion.
Unlike scientific diagrams where there is no representation of organic growth and decay, Fisher’s carefully layered paintings echo the striated, sedimented composition of natural land formations—a gesture toward the geological fragility of the earth itself. The viewer is offered a glimpse of a fictitious explosion that will ultimately dissolve into nothingness. As in a graphic novel, where the image disperses in a natural resolution over the course of several panels, the wall painting will disappear at the end of the exhibition, painted over in preparation for the next show. Although no figures are represented, human culture constitutes an implied and foreboding presence, active in the work’s ultimate obliteration.
Historically, the human impulse toward utopianism manifests itself in the mapping of boundaries on artificial representations of Earth. In this exhibition, Fisher introduces a new installation: four monochrome globes suspended from the ceiling, each representing one element of the Four Colour Theorem (a method by which cartographers delineate separate regions on a map). On each globe, small hand-drawn block diagrams reference the wall painting in miniature motif. By painting over the standardized 3-D representation of the earth and displacing the accepted configuration of continents in favour of iconic references to an imaginary No Place, Fisher emphasizes the artificiality inherent in state-imposed borders, and our own individual notions of place.
The literal definition of “utopia” is “no place.” Utopia conjures Thomas More’s imaginary, model society-hence the connection with Fisher’s improbably simplified geological scenarios. Both the globes and the original textbook diagrams are static representations, free from decay—eternal models of a place that does not exist. Like the utopias of novels and sci-fi worlds, the painted utopias of No Place are impossible, artificially-grounded creations. The Edmonton Journal’s Gilbert A. Bouchard locates this practice within the ideological realm of cultural geography: “Fisher forces the viewer to explore the very underpinnings of how we construct wildly different and often conflicting ideas of ‘place’ at both individual and societal levels.”1 By rendering icons of geological science using a simple comic-style art mark, Stephen Fisher invokes larger socio-political issues around land use and ownership, culturally enforced boundaries, and our increasing estrangement from the land under our feet.
– Peggy MacKinnon
1 Bouchard, Gilbert A., “Visions of Utopia,” The Edmonton Journal (January 19, 2007): F9.
with visiting artist Stephen Fisher in attendance
Stephen Fisher, an emerging visual artisty based in Halifax, NS, will be presenting large-scale images of impossible catastrophic events painted directly on the gallery walls, drawings and planetary globes.
The imagery in No Place is a metaphor for utopian existence. Fisher reassigns geographic diagrams from their textbook domains—the realm of science—and releases them into inky-black space, floating in a vacuum. This space is devoid of context and free from disturbance until these “floating islands” come into contact with one another. Because isolation is vital to their utopian subterfuge, contact with another such entity immediately renders their existence implausible. Their fragile balance as a perfect landmass is destabilized and the utopian façade is destroyed. The islands crash violently and disastrously, crumbling and grinding into oblivion. You, the viewer, are invited to witness this suspended, frozen moment.
Third Space Gallery receives annual operating funding from the NB Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport and support from its membership, volunteers, the Telegraph Journal, Picaroons Traditional Ales, T4G, and Punch Productions.
Exhibition continues until June 16, 2007.
As artistic director for Third Space Gallery I am pleased to present No Place by Stephen Fisher, which is one of the first exhibitions selected from proposals from artists. The selection committee, comprised of local artists Cliff Turner, Alexandra Flood, Meghan Barton, Karina van der Linden, Elizabeth Grant and myself, reviewed close to thirty individual applications in the fall of 2006. This exhibition furthers the mandate of Third Space to exhibit work by emerging artists and introduce Saint John to challenging and experimental art practices. No Place also features the essay When worlds collide by Halifax-based writer Peggy MacKinnon.
How do we define place? Physically, our collective notion of place has changed over time. Earth has been constant, then flat, then round, the centre of the Universe and now a speck of dust in an incomprehensively large and mostly indefineable comsos. Most of us relate to place in physical ways, such as where we live, work, play, and how we travel between these spaces.
Stephen Fisher takes abstracted geological diagrams from science textbooks and comics and re-imagines them floating in an incomprehensively large and mostly indefineable comsos. As such, they become perfect metaphors for Utopias—literally, No Place, floating islands. When I see these images I think of the authors and artists who have imagined the future based on the past and the present. I think of the floating island Laputa from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, or Hayao Miyazaki’s Floating Castle, The Castle in the Pyrenees painting by René Magritte, the floating Black Fortress from the 1983 sci-fi film Krull, and scores more.
Fisher’s immense wall-painting, filling a good chunk of the gallery space, represents a frozen moment, one with a fixed lifespan. After June 16, it will disappear as the gallery prepares for the next exhibition. Renewal and change are the only fixed markers of gallery life, indeed any life, and there is no room for a lasting utopia here.