Eric William Carroll explores mysteries of the universe in G.U.T. Feeling, Vol. 2

Are we all connected? If so, are we smart enough to understand why? These are some of the big questions of science that Eric William Carroll constantly explores—despite his knowledge being limited to what he learned in high school science class. The Minneapolis-based artist (who also teaches at Macalester College) channels his curiosity about the universe into clever collages, thoughtfully juxtaposed photographs, and sculptures in G.U.T. Feeling, Vol. 2, coming to the MAEP Galleries on July 18.

Describe G.U.T. Feeling, Vol. 2. How did you decide to address this topic?

G.U.T. Feeling is my attempt to make sense of Grand Unification Theories (the holy grail of science that attempts to explain all the laws of the universe in a simple and beautiful equation) and the humanity within science in general. For me, it was a natural step from my work about photography, which I believe is the most scientific of the fine arts. The interactions of the artistic impulse and the scientific method have always been inspiring to me.

How is your second installment of G.U.T. Feeling different from your first?

In my first installation of the project, at Highlight Gallery in San Francisco, I based the layout of the show on Einstein’s Field Equations, a major part of his theory of general relativity. I am not a scientist, so the equations themselves are completely meaningless to me, but I did like the rhythm and movement of the form. So I used the symbols in the equation as placeholders for my pictures. The installment at the MIA is less rigid and I’m playing a lot more with scale; the largest photograph in the show is 8 feet by 11 feet and the smallest is just over an inch square. In addition I’m borrowing some fascinating scientific artifacts from other institutions and displaying them on two long timelines in the gallery.

What sorts of science experiments did you conduct to inform this exhibition?

Really simple ones—and that’s important to this project. I feel like the general public can get disconnected from science when it gets too expensive and abstract, so it was important for me to approach science with a childlike sense of wonder and a dollar-store budget. So, you’ll see some simple physical demonstrations, a little smoke and mirrors, and some tricks I’m not quite ready to reveal…

What is your favorite piece in G.U.T. Feeling, Vol. 2 and why?

I love all my children equally, but I’m quite excited about the two newest pieces in the show: Figures 26 and 38. I’ve shown them as small collages before, but for this exhibition I really blew them up, and I’m liking them at this new size. They’re both created out of many smaller color laser prints pasted directly to panels. The physicality of making those photographs was really pleasurable—I almost felt like a painter! I also made a portrait of Albert Einstein out of 1,500 dice, which was also quite fun to construct.

Describe the humor in the series. How did you incorporate it and why did you choose to do so?

The factual reality of the universe is hilarious to me. I am not a trained scientist by any means, but I have been soaking up any kind of accessible scientific literature I can get my hands on, both contemporary and historical. So some of the humor comes from the “stranger than fiction” aspects of the quantum world and astronomical scales. There is also an authoritative tone that science has (especially in the past), and when that is juxtaposed with the rudimentary ways in which we get this data (smashing atoms or peering through telescopes), it often makes me laugh. We’re humans, flaws and all, and I think the scientific tone tries to hide that. We strive to eliminate human error, but the error is what makes us human!

What do you want people to take away from the installation? Do you want them to find answers?

I’m hoping that visitors will find the same sense of wonder, curiosity, and respect for exploration and research that I do. The work is very dense and built off the backs of many archives, scientists, and organizations. By sharing the great work that these scientists have done, I can hopefully inspire some curious minds.

What if we do end up finding a single unifying explanation for the universe? Will you be surprised?

Not surprised, but disappointed. It’s cliché, but this project has really been about the ride and less about the destination. I can’t help but think that upon solving the problem, the world will be left with a little less wonder.

Do you have any future plans for adding on to the G.U.T. Feeling project?

Absolutely. I’m continuing to find new forms for ideas, and so I’m working on a performance/lecture as well as making a series of music videos. As long as the scientific community continues to discover new facts about the universe, I’ll have material to work with.

Do you admire the search for a unifying theory in any way, or does it seem like we could be spending our time in better ways?

Oh, I think pursuing the mysteries of the universe is the best way one could spend their time on Earth, no doubt.

Eric Carroll

G.U.T. Feeling is curated by Christopher Atkins and will be at the MIA until September 28, alongside James Holmberg’s Forever exhibit.