Neutrinos They Are Very Small

Image: Sally McKay

(how small are they?)

Most of the time, I'm fairly competent, and occasionally am blessed with flashes of brilliant wit. Other times, the brain farts and all thought becomes constipated.

"New-tree-knows?" I stammer.

We are discussing a conversation I normally avoid--quantum physics.

Toronto artist, Sally McKay, allays my fears, "I read a quote once, if someone says they totally get quantum physics, they are either insane or lying."

That makes me feel better, and I cross out "explain quantum physics in ten words or less" from my handy interview note-pad. Now, if only I could understand what oscillation was and why it was giving Sally McKay so much trouble.

As mentioned last week, I went to talk with McKay about her work in the Neutrinos They Are Very Small exhibition, featuring the work of fellow artists Rebecca Diederichs and Gordon Hicks, and curated by Corinna Ghaznavi. The show runs until Dec 10 at the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre in Kingston.

So why neutrinos? And what do they have to do with art?

Back in 2003, Diederichs, Hicks, McKay with Ghaznavi, each to varying degrees, grappled to wrap their brains around quantum physics. So naturally they decided to take a trip to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. Or should I say take a trip down, perhaps, as it is actually a long way down. Two kilometres in fact. Even looking at the photos of the tour made me feel claustrophobic.

Neutrinos They Are Very Small, the exhibition title taken from a poem by John Updike, was the culmination of this thorough investigation into neutrinos instigated from that initial visit. Collectively, the trio collaborated on the Black Box, an experimental installation which followed the "Heuristic Procedure for Generating Art Items". Individually they investigated neutrinos as well. The current exhibition presents the crew's latest findings.

Rebecca Diederichs' work explores Where Impact Occurs, a thought that has haunted me ever since finding out indifferent neutrinos, which according to McKay, "pass through us all the time", rarely yet occasionally collide with our internal organs. Diederichs' abstract renditions reverberate with colourful constructed collisions in large digital prints.

Gordon Hicks' serene and meditative works--Large Field, Three Equations Describe the World, and Untitled (loop_01)--are probably the most esoteric and transcendent in the exhibition.

Sally McKay's The Trouble with Oscillation is comprised of three parts: a web component, a live performative lecture, and an installation. While seemingly separate units, they are integral to the entire package, and yet you don't have to experience all three to enjoy the work. Even for the web component, McKay insists the viewer should slip in and out of the narrative at will. Narrative is the connecting factor McKay uses to link art and science together as both physicists and artists use narrative to structure their theories and arguments, and she makes a strong link between art and scientific abstractions.

When I was originally asked if I wanted to cover this exhibition, I thought yikes!--it's all the way in Kingston. At the time, I felt that meeting McKay at the Linuxcaffe at Grace and Harbord was a suitable compromise, but after further acquainting myself with the work, I really want to endeavour a trip there. Fortunately for me, the show has been slowly oscillating its way toward us, first Sudbury then Kingston and next year Waterloo. Hopefully, it won't be long until the Neutrinos They Are Very Small exhibition collides into Toronto, not unnoticed.

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