Janne Seppänen - Unruly Representation

Being in a time where many artists (and people in general) blurt out "quantum mechanics" at the drop of a hat in any conversation on any topic in order to sound clever, I admit to being suspicious of this piece from the beginning. Gratefully, Seppänen delivered an excellent, knowledgeable piece, getting deep down into the nitty-gritty, refreshing some basics of physics and chemistry and giving me a headache by the end. I loved it.

What Quantum Mechanics looks like, apparently.

What Quantum Mechanics looks like, apparently.

Intersectionality between the arts and sciences is a passion of mine. STEAM power, as a friend in glaciology refers to it (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), is one of the best chances we have going forward to communicate the importance of difficult studies and subjects to the average person. It seems to me to be an integral part of making arguments for research-based information and action on climate change. This kind of work, though, requires a more meaningful, thorough engagement with science than artists tend to take. Many I’ve met in the arts community, eschewing authority by their very nature, tend to prefer trends and buzz words around science, consumable tidbits that are dropped at the first sign of admitting others may know more than oneself. Thoughtful writing like this gives me a great deal of confidence moving forward in my own attempts to bridge the gap in a meaningful way.

Seppänen offers a useful format in that pursuit, first delivering heavy, migraine-inducing context for the more ephemeral questions further on. This gives a grounding for the audience, something a little more solid to stand on. Rather than questioning the nature of photography alone, he first describes the actual natural processes by which photography captures an image, then speaks on specific qualities and relates them to larger philosophical ideas. That specificity is important, because people tend to not give a damn when presented with something far away, emotionally "blurred" by distance. It’s the same reason we have difficulty experiencing empathy when presented with large numbers in disaster statistics, but tend to feel obligated when someone in crisis directly asks for our assistance.

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”  ―  Oscar Wilde,    The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Breaching the philosophical and existential questions of reality and its documentation is an impressive undertaking for such a short paper, especially one so well executed. He dances around the notion of the Trace tearing away a part of the Object, like the old trope of a photograph stealing your soul, and uses that to explain the electromagnetic resistances that make up everything around us, as well as describing some fairly complicated processes light and transmission. Then, not satisfied with such a clever leap, he extrapolates that further to images being sent from another planet. While I think there is a way to make this more accessible for larger audiences, the amount of data here with which to derive that more accessible piece is fantastic. I look forward to researching the author more to get a good handle on this form of communication for my own purposes.