The Discovery Room

Casson Gallery, Eastbourne College, 6 January – 6 March 2004, Eastbourne.
Selected work from 'The Discovery Room' also on show as part of 'Supernature' at Gallery DNA, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, 28 January - 28 February 2004.

Judith Alder is one of a growing number of artists exploring links and overlaps between art and science. 'The Discovery Room' is both an installation and a working environment. The first impression is that of a science lab - gleaming white units and shelves, an x-ray viewing light box, Petri dishes and scales, a whiteboard with formulas and notes, record cards and charts, anatomical images and medical reference books. There is evidence of work in progress: open files, samples, pencils and papers on the work surface, some liquid dripping from suspended bags into jars, beans germinating under glass funnels. But amidst the scientific paraphernalia, there are unusual and strange objects, oddly shaped sewn up bundles, a set of plaster casts of chilli peppers, a row of plastic trolls filled with wax. Visual and written references to contemporary artists such as Gallacio and Twombly as well as to old masters da Vinci and Dürer indicate that this is an artist's rather than a scientist's working space - or is it?

There is a deliberate atmosphere of ambiguity in 'The Discovery Room' which defies easy categorisation. The visitor is invited to explore: look, read, even touch. Opening the cupboard doors reveals stacks of neatly labelled plastic containers filled with raw materials: fat, feathers, safety pins, nylon wire, rubber bands, curtain rings, plumber’s hemp, woollen fibres, sawdust. Leafing through the files and record cards throws some light on the nature of the work carried out in this room. Each object is carefully documented; the process of making recorded in painstaking detail, illustrated with elaborate drawings, digital photos and x-ray images, in what might be an effort to find meaning through imposing order. We learn that ‘Miscellaneous Object No.1' contains among other things an old walnut, aluminium foil, grit, masking tape and polythene surrounded by a plaster bandage, assembled according to a strict set of rules. Nevertheless, as an observer, we can't verify the truth of what lies behind the surface. The x-ray image only reveals part of the unseen, and though beautiful and intriguing in its own right, is difficult to interpret by the uninitiated.

'The Discovery Room' focuses on the nature of enquiry and illuminates the process of multilevel investigation. Borrowing attention to detail and precision of procedure, control and interference from scientific research, and playful creativity and disregard of conventions from the arts, the emphasis is on the importance of lateral thinking in both approaches to the mysteries of life. Assuming that science and art share certain constructional activities, but use different conventions of verification and systems of symbols, applying the tools of science to deconstruct art and vice versa is likely to benefit the understanding of both. This enquiry raises questions regarding the correspondence between phenomena of mind and matter, between the seen and the unseen, touching on such ongoing concerns as the quest for the physical nature and essence of consciousness.

I have seen 'The Discovery Room' in three different locations: the University of Brighton, the Blue Monkey Studio and the Casson Gallery. Each time there have been changes. That should not have surprised me: as discoveries are made, old enquiries and experiments leave their marks while new questions are being raised and explored. Thus the work reflects its subject, embracing both change and continuity in its search for truth. I look forward to new discoveries ahead.

Solveigh Goett
Textile artist, researcher and lecturer
January 2004