The Incoherent Light

Barry W. Hughes - N.E.O.P


The grid is a purely imagined space; it exists to tame the seeming profusion of nature and to impose an order effectively created by this imaginary set of relations. As such it is perhaps the most basic asset of scientific thought, allowing for the formations of hierarchies and assignation of values that only make sense within this imaginary model. The installation of N.E.O.P at The Library Project, Dublin, features on one wall the tracing of a large grid, over which a selection pictures has been arranged. This strategy of display and indeed, even the grid itself as a form underlying the work, is a nod to the sort of thinking that the pictures engage with, the abandoned or obsolete vocabularies of scientific thought and the particular assumptions that shaped them. Our understanding of material phenomena can never really stand apart from the kinds of representation that we employ to make them visible. Their physical reality remains only as a distant echo within the images, rendered all but unreadable. By comparison, Hughes’ strategy is to emphasize the tangible strangeness of both his subjects and the provisional nature of their placement within an ordered structure of (visual) knowledge.


The connection of photography to these kinds of knowledge is also quite significant, not least in the fact in that the manifest visibility of a photograph’s subject seems to offer a systematic ground for evaluation based on a simple legibility of appearances. The grid is, in fact, among the key models for the seemingly fixed relation of a photograph and its subject. This series takes its title from the Near-Earth Object Program run by N.A.S.A, but is, at the same time, a necessary recognition of the limits, the blind spots, that give form to all systems of knowledge, so often presented as an infallible progression of thought serving only to extend an already perfected series. Hughes’ has mastered this vocabulary of scientific illustration, setting it adrift from the context that seems to make it comprehensible and from the implicit assumption that its order is merely a neutral frame for the information that it contains. These pictures exploit the space between the complex manifestations of something that actually exists and the visual languages that flatten them into concepts. They intend to call into question the seeming authority of these representational styles, by showing that they are precisely that, styles, which can be taken apart and reordered in new ways, to create equally new and uncertain kinds of knowledge.

(Barry W. Hughes, N.E.O.P at the Library Project Dublin, 1 - 13 April, 2014).

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