“Is everything made of atoms?”
The voice at the other end of the antique dial phone is gentle, pensive, and crackles with soft static.
“Even thoughts? If not, what are they made of?”
The phone sits on an imposing mahogany desk, beside a mahogany chair, both positioned upon a plush Persian-style rug. Beside the phone are a briefcase full of papers and scientific instruments, three Dictaphones, and a glass of scotch.
“What about atoms, can they think? If atoms could think, would they be worried about overpopulation?”
The voice belongs to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr Abdus Salam, and the words, repeating intermittently through the receiver, are extracts from an interview conducted in the 1970s, in which he speculates on the possibility of quantum communication – manipulating subatomic particles in order to literally converse across time itself. These recorded messages, and the items that constitute a recreation of Dr Salam’s office, form one of twelve pieces in this exhibition, displayed in a reconditioned storage edifice on the Mid Wynd industrial estate.
The cold and echoic nature of the location serves the collection well, reflecting on its themes of distorting, manipulating, and travelling through time. Pakistani-born Mehreen Murtaza is the culprit behind Quantum Calls, the part-interactive installation described above. She complements this with three photographs depicting Dr Salam in various locales, his face grotesquely obscured in each – symbolic of the present Pakistani government’s active disregard for their laureate on account of his membership of the Ahmadi, a sect deemed un-Islamic and thus unconstitutional. On the opposite wall is a framed postcard, ostensibly written by Dr Salam but postmarked from the year 2018, containing a simple poem ending “[…] the conjunction of Venus + Mars / is one of the most effective ways / to send people to the stars.”
Behind a conspicuous black curtain at the far end of the white room, a doorway leads to a dimly-lit second alcove, in which a film is looping, projected onto a wall. Solaris Revisited is the creation of Deimantas Narkevičius, the Lithuanian artist paying tribute to both the original Solaris novel by Stanisław Lem and its cinematic adaptation by Andrei Tarkovsky. Envisaging the result had the director filmed the final chapter of the book – omitted from the film – actor Donatas Banionis reprises his lead role over four decades later, in a slow-moving, monotint reflection. Lingering shots of Banionis gazing into space or walking through snow-laden forests are interwoven with grainy ocean vistas; the audio mixes the character’s wistful thoughts on his planetary visit with environmental noise and Bach’s Ich Ruf Zu Dir.
Returning to the first space, the third and final artist’s work becomes the focus of attention. Sam Burford, a native of London, produces remarkable “photic stimulation” sculptures by capturing the light emanating from film screens over regular intervals, and translating the results into permanent fixtures. A wall-mounted Perspex print depicts Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a single kaleidoscopic flare of colours; nearby, a scene from Blade Runner is wrapped into a cone of celluloid, akin to a three-dimensional Richter scale reading. Most impressive is the room’s centrepiece – a condensing of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope into a snooker-table-sized physical topography, reminiscent of the desert canyons and plains of Tatooine themselves. One can recognise the uniform ripples of the scrolling opening credits, the sheer cliffs between bright skies and dark interstellar views, and the vivid spiked terrain signifying lightsaber battles.
Of the three artists’ creations, Solaris Revisited left the least impression on me, albeit largely because I am unfamiliar with the original works, whereas Quantum Calls and Star Wars Relief were personal highlights. The exhibit requires some prior cultural knowledge to appreciate many of its installations fully, but programmes are provided. Overall, this is an intriguing meditation on time, chronology, alternative realities and futures.