Measuring Inventing Temperature: Alternative Ways Of Understanding The World

Measuring Inventing Temperature, a group exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre curated by Je Yun Moon, is based on an interesting curatorial approach, where artists respond to philosophical questions arising from the domain of science.

The exhibition takes as its premise the questions raised by Hasok Chang, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, in his book Inventing Temperature, 2004. Chang traces the painstaking efforts and controversies among scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries over how to measure temperature. He also questions how the very notion of measuring temperature was invented; what is temperature? And how can it be measured accurately? In so doing, Chang disturbs the stable ground on which scientific authority is based, highlighting the difficulty of acquiring objective data on that which is constantly in flux, changeable and relational.

The exhibition relates these scientific questions to artistic practice, deftly weaving together the work of nine emerging artists whose practices, though diverse, have all questioned the ground on which a specific idea of knowledge has been created. Challenging modern systems of knowledge production, these artists call the authority of science into question in order to open up new possibilities for understanding the world.

Nikolaus Gansterer opens the exhibition with Drawing a Hypothesis, Table of contents, 2012, a work that juxtaposes art with the discipline of science. A table is covered with small, carefully crafted sculptures of a pseudo-scientific nature, resembling prototype models, the structure of atoms or ingredients for scientific experiments. Hung alongside is a series of over sixty intricate pen drawings; similarly they are investigatory in feel but hard to pin a precise meaning to. Drawing a parallel to the idea of the hypothesis as the starting point for any scientific investigation, Gansterer’s maquettes and drawings investigate the departure point for artistic practice.

A group of large, sky-blue helium balloons wind their way through the exhibition, adding a performative dimension; suspended at head height they populate the galleries, responding to your passing by gently rocking or drifting along. In Chosil Kil’s Ducks and Drakes, 2014, each balloon is held in delicate balance, weighted by aluminium discs and copper coins – if a balloon starts to sink, a coin is removed to redress the balance and vice versa. Referencing the game of skimming stones, Kil’s succinct conceptual work playfully explores the verge of what can be measured and what can be regularised.

Kyung Roh Bannwart’s 2-channel video projection Continuation of Science by Other Means, 2014, was created for the exhibition and responds to its premise most literally. The videos show interviews with Hasok Chang and the art historian Patricia Falguières, in which they respond to questions about the grounds on which the history of science has been established. They reveal both French and the Anglo-Saxon schools of philosophy, and cover fascinating territory: a ‘fixed point’ is required to start a scientific investigation, yet how do we find a constant in nature on which to establish a fixed point? The most fundamental scientific concepts we have are metaphorically visual, are they therefore based on images?

Mid-way through the exhibition viewers are confronted with the extraordinary tactility of Hyerin Oh’s installation Temperature: existence, time and space, 2014, a series of floor to ceiling latex curtains through which one has to pass. Rose-coloured and so thin as to be translucent, this silky draped material bears an uncanny resemblance to skin. This is an early work by Oh, remade for this particular context; it draws attention to the vital role played by touch in our sensitivity to temperature.

Juxtaposing historically remote but comparable economic events, Hwayeon Nam’s large-scale video projection The Botany of Desire, 2014, references the 2010 stock market crash and the tulip mania of the 17th century, generally considered the first recorded speculative bubble. Marrying close-up stills of brightly coloured tulips with an audio recording of the CNBC News anchor’s live report of the 2010 crash, the pace of the images quickly intensifies as the reporter’s voice, astounded by the crash unfolding before him, becomes ever more desperate. This is a bold, simply constructed piece that encourages reflection on the absurdity of these historic economic events.

Discreet pencil marks throughout the galleries bear witness to Nam’s Dimension Variable, 2013, created during a live performance at the exhibition opening. Freely following the artist’s choreography, two performers lithely stretched and bent their bodies along the gallery walls, ‘measuring’ the extremity of each individual movement by writing a number in pencil onto the wall. Through this choreographic exploration of the gallery’s spatial characteristics, Nam questions the basis on which a specific set of measurements are taken, offering a dynamic and highly idiosyncratic alternative.

Measuring Inventing Temperature is the inaugural exhibition of the KCC Lab, a research-focused exhibition programme that aims to challenge presuppositions inherent in modern systems of knowledge production. This ambitious programme has got off to a strong start with an exhibition that raises fascinating questions about the grounds on which science and art are based, putting forward compelling new ways of understanding the world around us.

Words: Emily Korchmáros Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 22 July 2014

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