Pseudo-science, electromagnetic energy fields and psychics at The Tanks at Tate Modern
Inspired by conspiracy theories, New Age ideas and research into 'new science', artist Jon Fawcett's work is object-based, using large scale, specially-engineered, military technology. For his first major solo show in 2010, he designed 'Blessor', a working quadracopter drone that deployed tangerine-flavoured icing sugar, stationed with a mercenary armed with a replica machine gun. For his latest project at The Tanks at Tate Modern, Fawcett produced two works, 'Whum' and 'EIR' - taking visitors through energy fields and unsettling conversations with psychics.
I came across this while looking into the 'conspiracy science' around the Philadelphia Experiment - a supposed experiment by the US military to 'translocate' a battleship from one place to another
'Whum' is a slowly rotating, 7-metre wide wheel made up of nine cylindrical vessels containing undisclosed materials, with a further 10 pods around the wheel. As it turns, 'Whum' creates a folding force or “torsion” between itself and the vessels, affecting anyone in proximity to it - a process based on research into the pseudo-science around Einstein's unfinished Unified Field Theory and the Philadelphia Experiment conspiracy theory. Its counterpart, 'EIR', is made up of six booths, each manned by a psychic who take visitors through a questionnaire on their background, beliefs, interests and skills. The psychics are not there to provide insight, but to ‘screen’ participants for recruitment with a secret organisation. Here the artist delves deeper about his stance on conspiracy theories and interest in electromagnetic fields...
Dazed Digital: What's the scientific theory behind the energy field around Whum and how will it affect visitors?
Jon Fawcett: The scientific theory relates to the idea of torsion - the folding of a field of energy as it rotates within another, static field. The simplest analogy is a drinks can folding as you twist it. I came across this idea while looking into the 'conspiracy science' around the Philadelphia Experiment - a supposed experiment by the US military to 'translocate' a battleship from one place to another. It was said to involve advanced physics based on Einstein's unfinished Unified Field Theory, using torsional electromagnetic fields. Whum, on the other hand, deals with fields of another kind. I am at this point not going to disclose what is in the pods that make up the wheel and its surrounding field - other than to say it has been expensive and quite complicated to assemble all of the elements.
DD: What do you want to achieve with the pieces?
Jon Fawcett: I am interested in the reality of the fields created by 'Whum'. When people enter the space, they are implicitly involved in the fields it generates. They might feel something. They might just think about something happening to them but not feel something. In either of these scenarios, a question can be asked whether the effect is in fact generated by the pods, or is created by someone's own ideas about them. This is an interesting space - between these two understandings of effect. And what is the difference in the end, on the person? The effect is the same. What I am clear about however, at this point at least, is that, while there have been some very specific materials and behaviours put into the pods, I am more interested in people's questioning of the nature of any effect; if the pods are in fact affecting them, I want them to feel that effect without prompting or - at the other end of the belief spectrum - if they are creating something themselves, I want that effect to be totally generated by them, rather than by something I tell them is there.
DD: What is it about new age sciences and conspiracy theories that fascinate you? Do you maintain these beliefs yourself or are you merely observing them?
Jon Fawcett: My position on these beliefs, for the purposes of art at least, is completely neutral. I do of course have my own interface with the worlds I am linking with - I would not be able to work with the people I work with if I was not able to communicate with them on a level. But in terms of the work, for me these ideas indicate a striving for independent thought and action, a stepping away from institutional or prescribed ways of thinking and seeing, of finding something new and personal that means something to people. Anything that shifts people in that direction, is, on the whole, a good thing I think. In another sense they are just wonderful materials to work with. In a world so rich with activities, materials, perceptions, it seems natural to try to make art with them. And the more rich and vibrant the material, the more interesting.
DD: What lasting impression do you want to leave with the audience?
Jon Fawcett: I want people to feel disturbed, to perhaps think about reality in a different way, or perhaps in a different direction. I want people to be confused, to want to find out more, to think more about what I have made and what it represents. I want people to feel liberated and empowered, to feel that materials, processes and technologies which they perhaps thought were beyond their reach are, most definitely, right there in front of them. And finally, I want people to enjoy the work - it's a crazy, fun and funny (I hope) thing, to work with all of this material, to mash it up and create these wild, over the top entities.
More info on Fawcett's Whum HERE