Still Life with Peaches
Internet Flash Video
In a still life, fruit, vegetables, flowers are often caught at their apogee, the moment of consummate ripeness. Even if a piece of fruit is depicted in a state of decay, that depiction is an arrested moment. The piece of fruit is caught momentarily, frozen, detached from its natural process of maturation and decay. What you get is immortality at the expense of process and cycle. An infinite present without regard for the processes leading up to and following the moment of capture.
It’s hard to find examples of immortality in the biosphere, but we can begin to approach the idea in geological terms. Let’s take for example Uranium-238, which is mined from the Earth and processed to create isotopes that power our nuclear power plants and fill our nuclear warheads. Actually, Uranium does decay. It emits alpha particles and over time it is no longer Uranium. But, the half life (the amount of time in which an element loses half of its substance through the process of decay) – is 4.7 billion years. Under the conditions of exponential decay, every 4.7 billion years, a quantity of Uranium-238 loses half of its substance. When one half life is finished, another begins. And after 10 half lifes (47 billion years) a 100 pound block of Uranium-238 will still weigh .2 lbs. After 47 billion years (over 10 times our current estimated age of the Earth) at least part of that block of Uranium is still sitting here.
Returning to the fruit, If it is to be immortal, it shall never decay. If the fruit is in the process of decaying, it cannot claim immortality. How do we grant fruit immortality in a still life without stripping it of its process of ripening and decay?
One approach is transmutation. One form of transmutation occurs when an element is converted to another element by bombardment of alpha particles (the particles that radioactive Uranium-238 emits as it decays.) Transmutation can also be achieved using an optical device (a device that creates, manipulates and measures electromagnetic radiation) to release an object from its physical constraints, to bring the object into a reality in which time can loop infinitely and be slowed or sped up, in which space can be re-sized and warped at will, in which millions or billions or trillions of instances of an object can exist simultaneously. A reality without mass or substance to be lost, conveyed to us by a medium that itself is harder to conceive of as an object than as a force: the charged particles through which electricity travels have mass, but electricity is a property of particles, a force that travels from particle to particle.
On the subject of travel from place to place, I am reminded of an interview with Tony Smith, published in a 1966 issue of Artforum, in which Smith recounts his experience of breaking onto and driving down the then unfinished New Jersey Turnpike:
The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn’t be called a work of art. On the other hand, it did something for me that art had never done. At first, I didn’t know what it was, but its effect was to liberate me from many of the views I had had about art. It seemed to me that there had been a reality there that had not had any expression in art.
The experience on the road was something mapped out but not socially recognized. I thought to myself, it ought to be pretty clear that’s the end of art. Most painting looks pretty pictorial after that. There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it.
If we agree with Smith that driving down the interstate cannot be expressed within a static frame as well as in a medium that develops over time and across space, then we might also agree that the experience of another new form of reality, Virtual Reality, will lead to an art that can only successfully communicate something of the Virtual Reality experience when that art is not bound by linear time and physical space. This still life is not that Virtual Reality experience, no more than is logging onto Second Life. It does however begin to approach certain paradoxes that an electronic ‘Virtual Reality’ makes possible.