In photographer Eric William Carroll’s brilliant, humor-laced Highlight Gallery debut, images of the ineffable and the banal stand side-by-side, demonstrating the artist’s belief that all things, big and small, play a role in the origin of the universe and our own humble place in it.
To situate viewers inside his science-informed worldview – which takes in Grand Unified Theory (G.U.T.) as well as various fringe ideas — Carroll works intuitively, combining his own photos with images from old textbooks and the Internet. They spread across three tall gallery walls and conjoin cosmological subjects and their Earthy equivalents, implying a shared essence. Some pictures appear exactly as he found them; others are manipulated. Regardless of source or treatment, Carroll’s juxtapositions tell us that while an endless number of so-called equivalents can be found or inferred, no amount of scientific knowledge can make the universe comprehensible – not even to those immersed in such arcane disciplines as string theory and astrophysics. In recognition of that fact, Carroll turns his irrepressible quest for understanding into a cosmic joke, a game of seeking out conjunctions among dissimilar things. The resulting mash-ups invoke photographic history, scientific inquiry and some fantastic leaps of visual logic.
Uncommon commonalities such as these form the core of the exhibition. Among the many highlights is a 20-picture grid (Index 29) that includes images of the artist’s eye, bike helmet and brain; a nebula seen through the Hubble Space Telescope; a stem cell; cross sections of a tomato and a walnut; the Voyager’s Golden Record (the phonograph disc that NASA shot into space to communicate with extraterrestrials); a drum kit that belonged to the late Neil Peart of Rush; an image from the Large Hadron Collider; a dahlia in Golden Gate Park; and a Calabi–Yau Manifold, the most basic unit of life according to String Theory. Where Christian Marclay surveyed film history and found it filled with clocks and references to time passing, Carroll, when he
looks at the universe, sees circles. Some of the most surprising are viewable in an amateur telescope. It’s aimed at a photograph of stars, but what you see through the viewfinder see isn’t that photo; it’s a tiny CRT screen that displays a shifting array of glowing dots — an optical feedback loop made by pointing a video camera at an image of UDFy-38135539,the second most distant object ever recorded, some 13.4 billion light years away. Appropriately, he calls this re-visualization The Big, Beautiful, Everlasting Bang.