issues of representation

“Representation of Dark Matter,” mixed media 2015. Abdelkader Benchamma. (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Modernist me, in love with reduction and minimalism, I am suspicious of this drawing.  It is called Representation of Dark Matter, which isn't the same as a drawing of dark matter, which no one has ever seen, being a molecular void and therefore visually absent.  No, this is a representation, not of dark matter, but of Abdelkader Benchamma's idea of what dark matter ought to look like, which is a particularly subjective, layered, autobiographical presentation of one person's idea of cosmology.  So I find it not as interesting as, say, Christine Hiebert's work which makes no claims to represent anything.  

Here is a discussion between Benchamma and Maryam Modjaz, an NYU astrophysicist:  


The Benchamma drawing addresses the confusion I experience when watching almost anything on the news to do with space, or medicine or science: the text being presented is always a voice over a graphic which turns, for example, DNA into the helix, all striped and coloured with falling telomeres.  I don't actually know or understand whether the helix is a representation of a set of molecular relations that make up proteins, or if these make actual helixical structures.  I could look it up I suppose, but it isn't just this instance as graphic representations of all sorts of things abound, and whose veracity I mistrust.  

I doubt that veracity is the goal; a turning impossible-to-wrap-your-head-around concepts into graphics is.  As with the radio piece which is determined to introduce the topic in a slangy, non-threatening, cheery sort of way, I feel vaguely patronised.  The act of thinking about dark matter, its invisibility and its power, is full of possibilities and so rich compared to fixing just one idea of it in a giant drawing. However, in the absence of a million other images of what it might look like, this is the one that begins to represent it, that fixes it.  This is a disservice.