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I am interested in exploring our journey towards ‘the singularity’ and what will life be like for humans afterward. In the mid-fifties two mathematicians, Stanislaw Ulam and John von Neumann had a conversation, in which von Neumann spoke of "ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue."



Deploying strategies of flatness through grids, I dig into historical images as a kind of archaeological process. I juxtapose images of modern technology with painterly strategies deployed historically by early modernist painters. In Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘Counter-Clock World’ the earth has entered a sidereal shift in which time moves backwards. I think of my practice within this fictional world and how it relates to a reverse modernist practice that exposes the idealism of that time to our present dystopian gaze. Recently I stumbled on two images, both of power stations, which represent and bookend the moment when time went into reverse and our journey towards the singularity began.I am engaged by both the promise and collapse of utopian modernism. There is a parallel between the aesthetics used in the control room display systems and in the painterly devices of modernism.


The theme of alternative futures is central to my work through both science fiction and the use of imagery from nuclear technology. I am proposing to exhibit paintings on the theme of nuclear reactor control room operators. I propose to exhibit a large painting and a wall of research photographs and drawings. I am continuing to develop the themes started in the paintings shown in ‘The Potato Eaters Discover Cold Fusion’ 2014.



The Potato Eaters Discover Cold Fusion was a solo exhibition of large and small-scale paintings integrating the Modernist aesthetic of flatness and the grid motif, with a figurative approach to painting starting from an archival image of a nuclear reactor control room dated 1963. The eight paintings, sourced from this image, were displayed in one room and in another room archival material mixing historical images of nuclear science with science fiction novels was displayed, proposing an alternative future past. This body of work forms part of a dual enquiry: firstly, exploring how the specificity of painting has the capacity for imagining ‘alternative futures’ through its appropriation and reworking of archival material. Through the discipline of Painting this enquiry creates an innovative assembly of information. The act of painting is performed as a process of visual archaeology, where the generation of repeated versions and permutations based on the same source material opens up the image to multiple interpretations, allowing for a re-imagining of a future that the archive promises but remains unrealised. Secondly, this enquiry intervenes in an art historical narrative, contributing to a debate within the international field of contemporary painting, involving the recuperation of the Modernist legacy, ‘swerved’ through the subversive deployment of representation.


VIMEO video here





Published in Sean Cummins