Fiona Annis: Knowledge is Futile

To speak of knowledge is futile. All is experiment and adventure. We are forever mixing ourselves in unknown quantities.

-Virginia Woolf, The Waves, 1931.

The artist, Fiona Annis, often works closely with text and sources from literature ranging from science fiction to philosophy. With curator Vicky Chainey Gagnon, she has selected five quotes to be interspersed with her images in the exhibition space. Our hope is that these quotes can function like the discovery of an intriguing document buried deep in an archive. As you ponder these ideas, you will be bringing the images into a complex dialogue that embraces the unknown.

Exhibition view.

As Woolf explains, it is easy to get lost in the chaos of an endless and ever-changing expanse of information. Does gaining more knowledge simply complicate our view of the world? It often seems that the more we look at art, the more we gather endless amounts of data, a clear pattern never forms, always adding new exceptions to the rule. This skepticism and poetic sensibility underpins much of Annis’s work.

Science is also rooted in this deep fascination with the unknown. Though we often think of science as classifying, discovering, measuring, pushing the limits of observation requires curiosity and imagination. We cannot see the chemical reactions of photographic development on the molecular level, nor can we see the gravitational forces at work in our solar system, yet we wonder at the tangible results and seek to understand them. There is still so much we don’t know, as we continue to explore the human brain, the depths of the ocean, and the furthest reaches of the universe. We can expand our understanding of knowledge beyond empirical data to include inherited knowledge and creative expression.

Science and art both continually grapple with new ways to capture, explain, or represent. Fiona’s work questions whether this is a futile endeavour, providing rich territory for contemplation in this exhibit. Even though she is engaged with the process of learning, her art does not provide easy answers. It calls us to search for meaning in a multitude of places and accept that knowledge is not the ultimate goal, but rather to revel in the wonder and mystery of the unknown.

Fiona Annis, Désastre (finding North). Archival inkjet print from silver gelatin negative, 2018.

This stunning print is part of a series exploring the creative possibilities of the mythological conception of chaos. Annis’s interest in astronomy and alchemy informed this study of the transformation of matter. Annis subjected light-sensitive silver gelatin paper to crushing and other manual manipulation in the darkroom, resulting in these textural abstract forms.

Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything is on at the CRAG now until September 4, 2019.