Humanity's Scribe: Art Review of the Installation 'Murmurs'

Science and art has always been a point of contention. They are different worlds, that seem to travel a similar path, but with different considerations and end goals. Artists have tried to penetrate the world of science for eons, some very successfully. Christopher Nolan, for example, is a filmmaker that brings huge scientific and philosophical ideas to his projects. Nolan merges the concepts seamlessly and creates a narrative that challenges the viewer, yet isn’t so dense as to be inaccessible.

With Murmurs, his installation and performance work, Travis Dodd becomes a mythic and self selected scribe for humanity. Through a ritualistic process, Dodd receives coded information that he scribes onto paper, archives and then buries in his basement for future generations. He works in a dark cold room with a dirt floor, his hands wrapped in plastic, using found materials: paper, wood, tape, plastic and copper wire. He listens meditatively as he scribes symbolic text onto sheet metal, then makes an etching of the metal. The process continues until Dodd is exhausted.   

Why is he doing this? It has to do with a theory developed in quantum mechanics known as ‘The Information Paradox.’

‘The Information Paradox’ is a complex theory in physics, but generally it states that over time the universe will reach singularity, and everything as we know it, will cease to exist. This takes place over the course of years with numbers so big they are unpronounceable, but if the theory holds true, it will happen eventually. All will be lost with no way to recover it. However, the coded information that Dodd has archived and stored will give humanity a starting point for rebuilding civilization.

All of this may sound metaphysical, and it is, yet there is a basis in scientific foundation that drives the work. It is safe to say that the work wouldn’t exist if not for science and quantum mechanics. As a gallery exhibition, Dodd live streams his process of scribing onto a monitor inside the gallery. He isn’t present at the exhibition, adding to his mythic status. Artifacts are present, for the viewers to ponder, although to purchase the work is an interesting exercise.

What is one purchasing? It isn’t a piece of art, or at least not in the traditional sense. It is actually, I think the elusive Dodd would claim, a piece of humanity’s future. The Egyptian God Thoth, whom Dodd cites as an inspiration, used ritual to bring bodies back from the dead. A scribe himself, Thoth was able to overcome the ‘Curse of Ra’ and perform miracles using his skillset and knowledge. Dodd is, he claims, using his skillset to document the information the universe will lose as it approaches singularity. Like Thoth, Dodd views his work as performing a duty. It is a mythic calling.

Whether Dodd has successfully merged conceptual artistic practice with scientific truth is just one question viewers are left with. Like any successful art work, Dodd presents more questions than he answers. Murmurs is metaphysical, psychological and, dare I say, avant garde. There has always existed a fine line between ground breaking work and art that fails to deliver its intended message, particularly when the message is vastly complex. However, Murmurs gives us not only messages to ponder, but reasons to be hopeful. Dodd sits in his cold basement working for all of us, and whether that is mythical, avant garde, or even a little bit crazy, it makes me smile with approval that he does it.