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Explode Every DayAn Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder

  • Exhibition

  • May 28, 2016 - March 19, 2017
  • Galleries

The Boston Globe‘s Sebastian Smee writes, “Markonish has convinced me over the last several years that she is one of the most audacious contemporary curators in the country.” Read the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic’s full review.


MASS MoCA curator Denise Markonish remarks, “a true state of wonder agitates, mesmerizes, and is almost forcible and shocking. It is a sudden intake of breath, a gaping mouth, a relinquishing of understanding.” As commonly used, “wonder” is sometimes mistaken for curiosity, which centers on the practice of fact-finding and explanation. In Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder, viewers experience a purer state of wonder, a state of being poised between knowing and not knowing, and defined by an experience of something truly new.

Harnessing the idea of wonder as a thematic metaphor, the exhibition featured both existing and new works by twenty-three international artists, each touching on certain facets of wonder, including: the perceptual/ visionary, the technological/scientific, the philosophical/meditative, time/cosmos, and illusion/fear.

Co-organized by Markonish and Columbus, Ohio-based artist Sean Foley, Explode Every Day was inspired by a course that Foley taught at Ohio State University and a long-running conversation between the co-curators. The title for the exhibition was inspired by the writer Ray Bradbury, who often spoke of the need to retain a sense of wonder: You remain invested in your inner child by exploding every day. You don’t worry about the future, you don’t worry about the past—you just explode.

Jonathan Allen (London, England) is an artist and writer whose work addresses the various magics at play within late modernity. His work has been featured in many exhibitions, live projects, and publications, most recently at Tate Britain, Frankfurter Kunstverein, and David Risley Gallery. He is an associate curator at The Magic Circle Museum, London. jonathanallen.info

Jen Bervin (Brooklyn, NY) is a visual artist and writer whose works combine text and textiles with conceptual elements and a minimalist’s eye for the poetic and essential. Her work has been exhibited at the Walker Art Center, The Power Plant, The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, and others. Bervin is the recipient of a Creative Capital grant, a Robert Rauschenberg Residency, and is currently an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute. jenbervin.com

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (Cambridge, MA) are filmmakers, artists, and anthropologists working at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University. Their work has been screened at the AFI, CPH:DOX, Locarno, New York, Toronto, and Viennale Film Festivals, and exhibited at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Centre Pompidou, and the Berlin Kunsthalle. Their 2012 film Leviathan was lauded by critics and won numerous film awards.

Jason de Haan (Calgary, Alberta) creates sculptures, drawings, and videos that recognize potential in various unconventional systems, objects, and sets of conditions. Often incorporating non-human forces, temporal shifts, and unforeseen outcomes, de Haan seeks spaces where the invisible, serendipitous, and residual reveal their contingencies. He is represented by Clint Roenisch Gallery, Toronto, ON. jasondehaan.net

Tristan Duke (Los Angeles, CA) has a background in photography and has long been interested in optics, visual perception, and optical illusion. Through his work with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Duke became involved in stereoscopic (3D) photography. Most recently he has been exploring laser holography, and hand-etched holograms. dadabiti.org/tristan-duke

Sharon Ellis (Los Angeles, CA) is a painter of timeless landscapes that highlight the interplay between a visible world and an equally present, invisible one. Ellis juxtaposes light and dark values, creating new sculptural forms coupled with deep spaces. Her subjects—taken from nature—are painstakingly rendered with multiple layers of transparent glazes, resulting in surfaces that are spacious and immaterial. Ellis is represented by Christopher Grimes Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

Tom Friedman (Easthampton, MA) makes extraordinary works that explore perception, logic, and possibility. His painstakingly rendered sculptures and works on paper inhabit the grey area between the ordinary and the monstrous, the infinitesimal and the infinite, the rational and the uncanny. His work is often deceptive, its handmade intricacy masked by a seemingly mass-produced or prefabricated appearance. Friedman is represented by Luhring Augustine, New York, NY. tomfriedmanartist.com

Christopher Gausby (New York, NY) is an artist, calligrapher, and writer who has reinvented the illuminated manuscript form to create book works meditating on philosophy and aesthetics. These works are in the collection of the New York Public Library and the Newberry Library, Chicago.

Hope Ginsburg (Richmond, VA) creates multidisciplinary works that take the form of live events that explore the images, objects, and spaces that they generate. Her pedagogical project, Sponge, is headquartered at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, where she is an associate professor. Her recent Breathing on Land project began at the Robert Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, FL. hopeginsburg.com

Laurent Grasso (Paris, France) has long been fascinated with the visual possibilities related to the science of electromagnetic energy, radio waves, and naturally occurring phenomena. He uses imagery culled from cinema and art history to create works in video, sculpture, painting, and drawing, which set up ambiguous juxtapositions of time and space. Grasso is represented by Sean Kelly, NY, and Galerie Perrotin, Paris. laurentgrasso.com

Pierre Huyghe (Paris, France) creates films, installations, and public events that blur the traditional distinction between fiction and reality, revealing the experience of fiction to be as palpable as anything in daily life. His playful work addresses complex social topics, such as the yearning for utopia, the lure of spectacle in mass media, and the impact of Modernism on contemporary values and belief systems. Huyghe is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery, NY, and Esther Schipper, Berlin.

The Institute For Figuring (Los Angeles, CA) engages in science and making, steeped in the belief that ideas presented in abstract terms can often be embodied in physical activities. Founded in 2003 by twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim, the IFF develops exhibits and programs for museums, galleries, colleges, and community groups internationally. The IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef is one of the largest science+art projects in the world. theiff.org

Nina Katchadourian (Brooklyn, New York) creates works in a wide variety of media including photography, sculpture, video, and sound, playing with notions of the everyday, humor, language, and nature. Most recently, she was part of the 2015 Venice Biennial, and Chronicle Books published Sorted Books, a celebration of a 20-year long project. Katchadourian is represented by Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, CA. ninakatchadourian.com

Michael Light (San Francisco, CA) is a photographer focused on the environment and its relationship to contemporary American culture. He has published the archival works, Full Moon (1999), which used lunar geological survey imagery made by the Apollo astronauts to show the moon as a sublime desert, and 100 Suns (2003), military photographs of U.S. atmospheric nuclear detonations from 1945 to 1962. michaellight.net

Charles Lindsay (New York, NY) is a multidisciplinary artist interested in technology, ecosystems, semiotics, and esoteric forms of humor. He creates immersive environments, sound installations, sculptures built from salvaged aerospace and biotech equipment, videos, and photographs. Lindsay was the first artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute. charleslindsay.com

Megan and Murray McMillan (Providence, RI) have been collaborating since 2002. They make interdisciplinary projects that incorporate video, installation, performance, and photography. They often start their process by building large sets in their studio or on location. That set then becomes the stage for video and photographs with choreographed actors who activate the set in a filmed performance. meganandmurraymcmillan.com

Ryan and Trevor Oakes (New York, NY) are twin brothers who have been engaged in a conversation about the nuances of vision since they were children. They explored their mutual fascination with vision throughout grade school and during college at Cooper Union’s School of Art in New York City. Since graduating in 2004, they’ve continued their dialogue with their jointly built artworks addressing human vision, light, perception, and the experience of space and depth. oakesoakes.com

Demetrius Oliver (New York, NY) uses prosaic objects such as teakettles, light bulbs, and umbrellas to evoke poetic associations between physical materials and abstract ideas. Both introspective and transformative, Oliver’s practice investigates the cosmos from the vantage point of the studio and the gallery. demetriusoliver.com

Dario Robleto (Houston, TX) is an artist whose multifaceted practice links careful research with romantic earnestness and conceptual precision with unorthodox fabrication. His sculptures, prints, and wall works combine esoteric materials and processes to explore forgotten, little-known, or as-yet unfamiliar corners of history, art, and science. Robleto has had over 30 solo exhibitions since 1997, most recently The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed at The Menil Collection in Houston, TX. He is currently an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute. dariorobleto.com

Rachel Sussman (Brooklyn, NY) spent nearly a decade developing the critically acclaimed project The Oldest Living Things in the World, researching, working with biologists, and traveling all over the world to photograph continuously living organisms that are over 2,000 years old. University of Chicago Press published the accompanying book in 2014. Sussman has exhibited her work internationally and received numerous awards including a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship, and has spoken at TED, The Long Now Foundation, and UCLA, among others. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute. rachelsussman.com

Julianne Swartz (Kingston, NY) works with sound, kinetics, and a range of lo-tech materials to make sculpture, installations, and photographs. Often using optics, magnetism, and the concepts of space and time in her body of work, her installations invite attentive visitors to slow down and sharpen their senses. She is represented by Josée Bienvenu Gallery, NY, and Lisa Sette Gallery, Phoenix, AZ. julianneswartz.com

Chris Taylor (Providence, RI) exploits the friction generated within a material and process that is a production of convention, tradition, and history. Particularly examining glass, Taylor has learned to blow it upside down and also reproduced a 16th-century Venetian goblet, whose technique was lost for over 500 years, which he planted next to the original in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fred Tomaselli (New York, NY) draws upon art historical sources and Eastern and Western decorative traditions to create works that explode with mesmerizing patterns through the layering of resin, pharmaceuticals, and organic materials. More recently he has been transforming the front page of The New York Times with gouache and collage. For Explode Every Day, Tomaselli shows an historic sculptural work from the late 1980s. He is represented by James Cohan Gallery, NY.

About the Catalog
Accompanying the exhibition was a comprehensive catalog that gathered, for the first time, contributors from diverse fields to investigate this elusive topic and unite them through contemporary art.

The book consists of essays on the history of wonder; wonder and psychology; and literature, science, and unusual natural and paranormal phenomena; as well as in-depth artist interviews and special artist projects. Contributors to the catalogue include: Lawrence Weschler (author of creative nonfiction), Kay Redfield Jamison (clinical psychologist and author), Maria Popova (writer and blogger at brainpickings.org), Barbara Maria Stafford (art historian), Jill Tarter (astronomer and former director of the Center for SETI Research), Robin Ince (comedian and co-host of BBC radio’s The Infinite Monkey Cage), Stefan Sagmeister (graphic designer), Mary Ruefle (poet), Sam Green (filmmaker of The Measure of All Things), Steve Holmes (curator), and the exhibition curators. The catalog will be edited by Markonish and co-published by Prestel.

Suggested Reading
Lawrence Weschler has become the one-stop go-to interlocutor for curators developing shows around the theme of Wonder. Read his conversation with Explode Every Day curators Denise Markonish and Sean Foley and two other articles here.

Double Vision: The Art of Trevor and Ryan Oakes, Lawrence Weschler

The Institute for Figuring, Online Exhibitions

100 Suns: A Note on the Photographs, Michael Light

The Echoes of Hearts Long Silenced, The New York Times on Dario Robleto’s work to turn pictures of repeating waveforms into the sounds of beating human hearts

The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed, Dario Robleto at The Menil Collection

Jen Bervin and Dianna Frid in conversation, BOMB

Megan and Murray McMillan, In What Distant Sky, 2013-16