Artists have long been fascinated with the origin and nature of the universe. Timed to coincide with the International Year of Astronomy, the exhibition ‘Universal Code’ presents responses from a broad range of contemporary artists to cosmology and ideas of the universal in our current information age, a time of significant scientific and technological development as well as rampant globalization.
Whereas once the sky suggested the limitless, now a network of satellites enmesh the globe in a massive field of signals that unite the world in a “universal” web of telecommunications. Enabling instantaneous connection across vast distances, the new technologies also render visible what was formerly hidden at the bodily and even the cellular level. Corporate communications networks and digital technologies have in effect refigured the contemporary sense of the world and the universe by transforming historical understandings of time and space. In response to this current condition, ‘Universal Code’ presents artists who look back on the modern era to consider the universe, the infinite and the eternal from a range of differing religious, scientific, philosophical and cultural positions.
Works in the exhibition draw and reflect on scientific discoveries related to the universe and the nature of life, from the mapping of intergalactic space, through to research into the microcosmic world of DNA coding. However, the exhibition is not purely a celebration of scientific and technological advance. While many artists seek to engage the viewer in the awe and enigma of concepts of the universe, they are also concerned with shifts in the geo-political order brought on by the digital revolution, coupled with unresolved tensions that exist between differing belief systems.
Many of the artists look back to former times, including the pioneering era of space exploration, to elucidate aspects of the human condition in the current moment. Others address the increasing levels of surveillance that have developed in recent times and the incursion of satellite positioning systems into the private life of the individual. Still others ponder the disconnect that persists between differing cultural and religious beliefs, thereby questioning the myth of a globalized and connected world.
‘Universal Code’ is the latest in a series of summer exhibitions organized by The Power Plant that bring together Canadian and international artists from a variety of cultural positions to reflect on topics driving the development of contemporary culture. The exhibition includes artists who explore the intricate relationships between our evolving understandings of the cosmos; the production of scientific and cultural knowledge; cultural and religious belief systems; information technologies and global power relations. ‘Universal Code’ considers the response of artists to these relationships in the aftermath of globalization, reflecting the current complexity of the world we inhabit. Ultimately their response is poetic, positioning the universe as a void full of potential but also as a field riddled by elision and enigma.