Induction, Spillage, Distraction, Inundation

River: Michael Fernandes
June 16 – July 15, 2000

a response to the exhibitiion by Kevin Matthews

We spend a lot of time pretending we’re not immersed, the way a fish isn’t wet, the way we seem to exist discretely, independent of environment. All the while, we recieve signals and corruptions from the fields and corridors through which we move. Each space gives us its incidental messages, even the most innocuous environment is suggesting, offering ideas and opinions. Perhaps the less attention we call to their influence, the more pervasive it is – we are made and undone by environment.

So alludes Michael Fernandes’ installation; in traversing the staircase, up – or downstream, we catch fragments and germs of thoughts. Each one seems to refer to a moment calved off in interception, as we pass through, or alternately it flows by. Seemingly at random, utterances spring abruptly from different points on the two sides of the passage. The experience simulates passing someone in a corridor or overhearing an adjacent café table for only a second – a phrase left open-ended, infectious. These moments may slip by us, but elision has its part in erosion.

Aptly, the River is not restricted at all, but flows outdoors and in. As its “source”: a stack of incidental junk captured under a blue tarp. Outside: a floating wisp of a voice, a whistling sound that may momentarily provoke or engage the senses of passersby. In the stairwell between is a flow and ebb of stimuli, distractions. On the way down, for a moment, the flow is turbulent, almost forms a node where a wall cavity acts as what Fernandes calls an eddy. Here, the ideas flirt with settling, but all the while the river carries on. How does all this interact with the viewer, how does this installation shape the space that it occupies? Not in an obvious or specific way, but in a way that does call to mind some of the physics of intangible things.

Asked to sketch relativity briefly, Einstein once explained, “It was formerly believed that if all material things disappeared from the universe, time and space would be left. According to the relativity theory, however, time and space disappear together with the things.”

Others have said that you can’t step in the same stream twice. Partly because it flows on, partly for reasons Heisenberg could surely explain. Stepping out after the first step in, you took some of its substance with you.

Fernandes treats the stairwell as a real circulation space, a stream, permeable and hard to occupy. The text invitation to the piece suggested some study of binary conditions, but don’t expect to dwell between the poles, instead, if there are binary oppositions, they are not opposed like sides of a coin, but rather like shores. There’s no standing still, at least not in any absolute way. Then again, maybe the shores are in fact poles – like complementary magnetic poles, which engender an electromagnetic field. Such a field is sensible only to a body moving through it, experiencing electromagnetic induction. Any body in motion through the region pervaded must feel some influence.

This, too, is a rendering of the continual wash and silting that we walk through in our civilisation. Radio waves and EMFs, with their subliminal influence and unknown long-term impact, play over our bodies as strangers’ conversations do over our minds. Constantly, insistently, and gently, they wash through with profound and subtle effect.

It’s not just that identity, thought or experience is context sensitive, but rather that there is only context anyway. What we take to be objects are manifest patterns, intersections of so much radiation. A pattern of patterns, subject to interference, flux. This is a River that portrays not flux as in fluid, but flux in Faradays, essence of generators and electric motors. This flux act on us bodily, it interacts with our nervous system in a way analogous to the stream of snippets. An individual, mind or body, is a nexus, a skein of signals bound for interference. This sort of influx does not clean but corrupts, energies bathe you and your essence is not as a pebble in the stream, but a school of fish or a net, shaper and shaped of the field you share with countless influences. It’s an intricate and ferocious set of sets of subtleties, and at some depth of analysis, the intricacy becomes elegance, and there is the metaphor after all – slippery, but forceful, and calling attention so quietly to the immanence and impermanence of all the influences that go to make up this swift continuum.