San Francisco

Supertheory of Supereverything: Interview with Eric William Carroll

Like many in the scientific community, Eric William Carroll is searching for an ultimate theory of everything, but he’s doing so in a slightly different way. For G.U.T. Feeling, the current exhibition at Highlight Gallery, Carroll utilized aspects of the scientific method in combination with personal associations to create a series of collages, photographs, and sculptures that expose the unexpected, overlooked, and sometimes comically dubious connections in the universe. Initiated at a studio visit in February, this interview continues a conversation Carroll and I began then about his works in progress and any other revelations originating in his intestinal tract.

G.U.T. Feeling, installation view, Highlight Gallery. Courtesy of Highlight Gallery

Amelia Sechman: The collages in your most recent series, G.U.T. (Grand Unification Theory) Feeling, seem like an intuitive visual cataloging system. Where do the connections come from?

Eric William Carroll: A combination of theory and experience. Since the project is attempting to communicate something purely via photographs, I rely on visual similarities to make connections. But beneath the surface I’m trying to establish deeper connections.

AS: Were there any particularly extraordinary moments when you realized the connections between two things that previously seemed unrelated?

EWC: It wasn’t really a “moment,” but I had the gradual realization that everything is connected and that it’s only a matter of degree or perspective that separates something from everything else.

AS: What is it about these visual echoes and rhythms that compels you to bring them together?

EWC: Part of it is wanting to understand the world on a basic scientific level. The other part is that, image-wise, we’re seeing a huge variety of photographs appear together in the same container for the first time—by that I mean Google’s image search, Tumblr, Flickr, etc. Bringing seemingly random images together on the screen creates new connections. New photographic synapses are being formed. And also, I have a firm belief that everything is related and some things are more closely bound together than others (see fig. 3.4 and 4.2).

Fig. 3.4

Figure. 4.2

AS: Those diagrams seem to represent humankind’s impulse to reduce vastly different quantities into digestible, bite-size pieces. How does this processing of the infinitely huge and infinitesimally small factor into your work?

EWC: Well, that’s what photography does. It flattens, compresses, and objectifies. It’s up to me and the viewer to unpack that information and put it back together in a way that makes sense (or non-sense).

AS: Is your process of making connections inductive or deductive?

EWC: Yes.

G.U.T. Feeling, installation view, Highlight Gallery. Courtesy of Highlight Gallery

AS: Do you think mysticism plays a part in the relationships drawn between the variables?

EWC: Mysticism as opposed to…science? I’m trying to treat all theories on a level playing field, but I find myself more on the “mainstream” science side of things. But yes, mysticism plays a part—it is a great source for titles. I’ve already decided to call my next show The Electric Record of Universal Consciousness. A lot of what we take for mysticism is simply last year’s science. Today’s dark matter is yesterday’s “aether.”

AS: By mysticism I mean your interest in pseudo or fringe sciences and their interpretations of the world. I remember several of the theories you discovered in your research had fantastic explanations for the way things are.

EWC: Yes, absolutely. These “alternative” theories, even if they have no basis, are still visually rich and full of analogies and metaphor that, as an artist, are ripe for the picking. Some of these people are making some of the most amazing sculptures, but they don’t see what they do in that light. It’s not quite folk art—it’s folk science.

G.U.T. Feeling, installation view, Highlight Gallery. Courtesy of Highlight Gallery

AS: The collages combine both good and bad science in different ways; what role does truth play?

EWC: Utilizing the spirit of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, I can only speak of truth as it relates to me. The collages are 100 percent honest. Some are 110 percent. But like I said before—part of me really does want to understand how the world works, but I don’t want my understanding to ever get in the way of surprise.

AS: Is there an answer you’re searching for in your examination of the universe?

EWC: Absolutely not. It’s about the ride not the destination.

AS: Have you discovered anything that made you feel insignificant or aggrandized?

EWC: Every time I’ve asked a legitimate scientist to help clarify or explain a concept for me, I felt absolutely humbled. But I also feel a kinship—not only through my own teaching experience (explaining F-stops to freshmen at 8 a.m., I might as well be explaining quantum field theory) but also in our shared desire to understand the world and explain it in a language that we both struggle with and love. For some people it’s physics; for me it is photography.

Eric William Carroll studio view

AS: Would you rather be run over by a steamroller or a thousand motorcycles?

EWC: Are the motorcycles all coming at once?

AS: It would probably have to be no more than two at a time, as your body isn’t much longer than two motorcycles side by side.

EWC: I would happily take on five hundred pairs of motorcycles than one steamroller.

G.U.T. Feeling is on view at Highlight Gallery through August 17, 2013.