The Limit
of Representation

"The Limit of Representation" exhibition project started while I was working on a light installation "The Collapse" at Max Planck Institute in Garching, Germany.

At the time I started a series of drawings in my notebook after a huge break of probably more than 15 years of not painting. I noticed many of my interests in painting that I had in early years of my development, when I was between 16-22 years of age, have a lot in common with scientific visualisations that I am now researching.

During this process I have written a text "The Limit of Representation" that became the foundation for his whole exhibition.

In this show I presented 22 new painting developed during my stay at the Bildraum studio, including initial drawing studies for these paintings. This is the most comprehensive exhibition of my work so far, creating a bridge for understanding of my previous installation work about hidden structures and principles.

What is currently done at Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, in the quantum many-body systems division, are quantum simulations. Quantum simulations measure the interaction of atoms at the quantum level, something that neither classical nor quantum computers are currently capable of fully recreating.

By analogy, in the 50s and 60s, aerodynamic measurements were done in air tunnels, when digital computers were not powerful enough to do that. Today, these experiments can be simulated on a digital computer without the use of tunnels. It will also be possible to simulate quantum measurements on quantum computers, once they reach that level of computation.

These drawings can be understood as and effort of quantum simulations at the level of painting. The motivation for this research is to explore the connection between physical laws and process approach to painting, and the limitations of the digital computer as a medium for representing the quantum level.

Drawings are the result of direct interaction of mediators (artists), tools and surfaces. I tried to purify the movement of all formal deliberations. When the drawing is reduced to a repetitive function, an elementary unit of motion, surrendered to errors and physical properties of color and surface, the results of these artistic experiments irresistibly resemble particle motion, generative growth structures, the Lorenz equation, Brownian motion, subatomic particles, electron trajectories...

Drawings are not reproductions, but the result of interaction, spontaneous structure, created by a series of deliberate and spontaneous actions, coincidences, discoveries and emergencies.These results insinuate that the artist can participate in the discovery of cognition by speculative methods.

Performative lecture held on Zoom on 04/03/2021
This lecture and video presentation are part of the project Coexistence II: Spaces of Light, curated by Martina Kontošić and organised by WHW, that explores the possibilities of building new production and exhibition methodologies and alternative discursive approaches through light-sound interventions.

The Limit of Representation
(artist statement)

A single atom floating in an electric field, large enough to be seen without any kind of microscope.

Laguerre-Gaussian laser modes

To see is to touch.
Nothing is really seen, only represented.

We experience reality through our senses. Through them we are gathering information and interacting with our surroundings. Those senses have been calibrated by millions of years of evolution to satisfy our needs for water, food, reproduction, avoiding danger... We are fine-tuned to see what we need and disregard what is not relevant for our immediate survival or experience.

Our eyes see just a fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, primarily visible light, and even there just a limited frequency range; we don’t see infrared or ultraviolet1. Our senses can’t register radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, or gamma rays. And the fact is, this is not even the most limiting factor. We don’t see with our senses but with our mind. For us to see is to have a comprehension of something, to understand what we are seeing. The act of understanding is an act of seeing. And to understand it is to recognize it. To recognize something means it has already been experienced before. It means that we are seeing new things as old ones, as something that we have already seen.

The quantum realm shows us what really is the act of seeing. As an act of touch, in a sense, it is an aggressive act, an act of bombarding a certain object with photons or other waves. To see something, we need to bounce billions of particles or waves from the object’s surface so we can receive them with our devices or senses. In a way, if we don’t touch it, if we don’t interact with it, it doesn’t register for us, it is not there, it doesn’t exist2. In quantum physics this is called a wave function collapse, when a particle from an undefined state (superposition) collapses into a defined, measured state. Before the collapse the particle’s position wasn’t defined, in a sense, we defined its position by measuring. Physicist call this interaction ‘observation’.

To hear, to see, to sense, to touch are ultimately all the same. To see the unseen and the unseeable, we need some sort of representation. The unseeable is a hypothesis, a theory, a construct that hasn’t been proven yet. When we prove it, when it becomes part of our habitual experience, we can finally see it. But to do so we need to adopt it to our experiential realm, to existing old ideas, in order to construct the new from the old.

Can we see things that are at the verge of our senses or of our mind? What is the limit of representation? Is it a fact that we need to represent the new as the old in order to understand it? Something outside immediate experience is automatically unseeable or unseen. We can only see it through the image of the already seen. We need to symbolically represent it, show one thing as something else, closest to the one we want to show. Something close to our existing experience. The further it is from the accustomed, from our scale, the less understandable it is, the harder it is to see it.

To represent it is to try to see it, and representation is the impossibility of seeing as it really is.

Is this where art comes in? To touch the untouchable, to sense the insensible? Many disciplines are operating in this domain – art, science, philosophy, religion – trying to understand our position in reality outside the immediate environment. What differentiates art then? Should it go further?

I believe we should try to understand the constructs of cultural narratives, shield ourselves from existing ones, from the reflection of the system that we are immersed in. Only then might we be able to see outside of our reality and get a glimpse of what is beyond. Otherwise we will never be free from ‘the game’ we call life. There are too many reflections and feedback loops in it.

…the sentence ‘this is an armadillo’ can be used either to accurately represent anything that is an armadillo or to misrepresent anything that is not an armadillo.3

(This sentence is related to a mysterious book called the Voynich manuscript, which is dated to the 15th century. The text was never deciphered, but drawings represented in it show animals looking like armadillos, which were not known at the time – they were only discovered much later as part of the ‘New world’.)4

Hrvoje Hiršl

People who have aphakia, or the absence of the lens on the eye, have reported the ability to see ultraviolet wavelengths.

Does the Universe Exist if We're Not Looking?
Eminent physicist John Wheeler says he has only enough time left to work on one idea: that human consciousness shapes not only the present but the past as well