by Mary Bergstein
Field Kallop’s paintings are at once mysterious and enlightening, like the principles of physics or astronomy. Their facture is experimental: what kind of chance image can come forth from a staged demonstration of, say, the force of gravity? “I built a pendulum, suspended it from the ceiling of my studio, and began to make drawings with it,” says Kallop, “My goal was to examine, harness, and display the effects of gravity, an invisible yet ubiquitous force that has always interested me.” As these drawings resulted, Kallop interfered with the process of pendulum-drawing in a multiplicity of ways, and her drawing tactic metamorphosed into spinning, dripping, and rolling. She began to conceive of the pendulum as an idiosyncratic drawing tool rather than as a device for scientific demonstration. This led to a compelling series of abstract drawings on paper, making visible the invisible physical force of gravity. In these the course of the pendulum was sometimes diverted according to the artist’s whimsy, and the accidental qualities of drawing materials were brought into play.
But the most beautiful of these works came of the pendulum tracking its movements with bleach on textile grids. Elliptical forms appear on fabrics of a geometrically patterned background, some draped, some stretched, some with the perforated corrosions or selvage of woven fabrics in view. Stunning paintings like Stain, Sparkle, and Grid could all have been entitled “Gravity” to refer to the motif of their making. But the fact that they are not about gravity, in any meaning of the word, reminds us that these pictures do not necessarily thematize what they demonstrate scientifically. Their forms and content may come of specific scientific demonstrations, but their deep meaning goes far beyond any predictable exercise. Kallop is not exactly painting science, but she is painting about science, and all her works lead to the unknown.
These arresting, cosmic, images, have the look of the kind of nineteenth-century photographs that revealed the invisible to the human eye for the first time: x-rays, telescopic and microscopic photographs, and chronometric photographs like those of Étienne-Jules Marey, none of which were necessarily considered “works of art” in their own time. The quality of bleached luminosity against a pre-established (woven, printed, or acrylic) grid is, we might say, eminently painterly and photographic, and invites the beholder to think about scientific photography prior to 1900.
Kallop’s paintings do not illustrate episodes that can ever be captioned with words. She works in an abstract, non-illustrative, non-narrative, but highly suggestive manner. The content of these works are not specific “scenes” from natural histories or modern or postmodern science. They result from research, but do not serve as proofs of scientific precepts. The archives of scientific notation are certainly filled with images made by chance, especially in histological and telescopic views. Field Kallop’s works are not replicas or surrogates for physics or astronomy lessons, nor are they mere formal abstractions, or futuristic aesthetics without valence. Kallop’s proclaimed attention to the hard sciences, in visual forms as well as conceptual content, engages the beholder’s eye on many levels, from the selvage of a woven fabric, to the Kepler planets, to the rings of Saturn. They are explorations of the highest order.
Mary Bergstein is a Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is the author of several books and has written extensively on art, photography, and culture.