Monday, June 10, 2013

Caleb Charland: From the Basement to the Backyard

Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Rockport, Me.
July 27 - Sept. 22, 2013

Potato Power
The blurb on Caleb Charland's new exhibit at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art declares that his photography "springs from a place of wonder," and that's certainly as I will show later. But first, I think we need to look at the satirical componenet of his work, the part that portrays an image that alternates between the ludicrous and the possible.

Artistotle, I think, said that tragedy shows us the human possibility for noble actions whereas comedy points out our foibles, our many foibles. A photograph at Charland's web site (I'm not sure whether this photo is the show, although similar ones are) called Potato Power is a good starting point for this interplay between the ludicrous and wonderful possibility.

The photo depicts a floor lamp in a potato field with a number of leads going from the lamp's socket to the ground. The leads are actually attached to nails stuck in potatoes that have been uncovered from the surrounding rows. Well, of course, you can get electricity from potatoes by sticking a copper nail and a zinc nail into a potato. The chemical composition of the potato sets up a flow of ions from one nail to the other. In other words, a current. An electrical current.

So, you begin to wonder. Is it possible to power our country on potatoes? But, then you realize that would take a lot of potatoes, and a lot of power expended to grow those potatoes. The net effect would be probably be a loss in power production. And yet, what if we could mechanize and automate potato growing? But, now, we're back to same type of system we live with now, and you just have to laugh at how stupid and smart we are.

And yet, the photo reveals something else. There may be an answer in nature in which energy production is not as ruinous to the environment. Obviously, a time-lapse photo, Potato Power shows in the background sky, arcs of light made by stars. Stars are powered by fusion, which releases energy (and no radiation) while fusing hydrogen into helium. There, in the natural world, is an energy answer, but, to date, our technology has not been able to harness it. Perhaps we can; or perhaps, we will find some other source beneath our feet or above our heads.

Caleb Charland
Wooden Box with Horseshoe Magnet
Courtesy Center for Maine Contemporary Art

One last word on a photo of an object in Charland's show called Wooden Box with Horseshoe Magnet (left). At first look, you think there must be a trick to the nails lined up in midair, but, of course, it's magnetism. The nails are connected to some type of string. I wonder what would happen if the nails were connected by a thin copper wire. Would the opposite poles of the magnet cancel out, making the nails fall to the ground?