The Quantum Physics of Mark Lombardi

Reading for this week in Feminist Science and Technology Studies: Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning by Karen Barad – Intro thru Chapter 3.

In thinking about a connection between art and quantum physics, it was at first difficult to get beyond art that uses quantum physics as material in making digital images and such. Though this kind of work is interesting in its own right, I wanted to try to think about work that may not at first glance appear to be about quantum physics at all. This led me to Mark Lombardi’s conspiracy-web works.

Mark Lombardi, Bill Clinton, The Lippo Group, and Jackson Stephens of Little Rock, Arkansas (5th Version), 1999 (found at artcritical.com)

Lombardi’s drawings show us webs of players involved in controversial political events and groups – Iran-Contra, World Finance Corporation, United Press International, and others. Each node in these webs connects to other nodes by simple pencil lines or dotted lines, creating a visualization of the networks of power and money that undergird today’s politics. Lombardi calls his drawing’s “narrative structures” because each network he is presenting is meant to “convey a story”  (http://theworkersdreadnought.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/mark-lombardi-artistic-narrative-structures/).

Lombardi’s drawings point towards actor-network theory (or material-semiotic) and also notions of intentionality. Barad writes in Meeting the Universe Halfway that “the very nature of intentionality needs to be rethought” (22) because “intentions are not preexisting determinate mental states of individual human beings” (22-3). Rather, we need to see that “intentionality might better be understood as attributable to a complex network of human and nonhuman agents” (23). This reconfiguration presents us with a quandary in our traditional conceptions of free will and determinism, and thus our notions of agency and ethics. In light of this, how do we/can we look at Lombardi’s drawings?

Conspiracy theories hold fast to traditional notions of agency; someone has power and is exerting it upon others who do not have power. However, it doesn’t necessarily seem this simplistic in Lombardi’s drawings; there is not one particular agent of power that is determining the course; it isn’t always the case that there is one actor from which all the activity stems from. It is clear, though, that each of the nodes/players is a discrete entity that affects others – where would Barad’s notion of “intra-action” be found here? Intra-action being “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies,” separate from interaction that “assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction”; “intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action” (33). How can each of these nodes (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, various energy companies and banks, and etc.) contain within themselves “intra-action” and not just interaction amongst them?

This also brings up questions about the artist’s position in the drawings; where is Mark Lombardi in all of this? What are the particular conditions of production and his own web that led to the creation and showing of the drawing? Barad’s notion of “diffraction” and her statement that “practices of knowing are specific material engagements that participate in (re)configuring the world” (91) come into play here. Lombardi’s drawings are the culmination of mountains of research and studies on notecards; he draws from newspaper articles and compiles the “facts” to create the individual nodes and the connections between them. What does it mean for Lombardi the artist to be partaking in this knowledge-making practice? Drawing? Deven Golden writes in an article on Lombardi in artcritical about Lombardi’s choices of materials and what that means for the artworld. What does it mean to draw today and with only pencil on paper? Are the drawings purely representational or do they engage in a new performativity that Barad suggests? For Barad, “performativity” entails a “direct material engagement with the world” instead of representationalism’s belief that our experience with the world is mediated through representations that have an inherent gap built into them (49). Is Lombardi’s drawing practice engaging in Copenhagen physicist Niels Bohr’s indeterminacy, where “the boundary between the ‘object of observation’ and the ‘agencies of observation’ is indeterminate in the absence of a specific physical arrangement of the apparatus,” (114) in this case newspapers, paper, and pencil? It seems that now we can’t take for granted the entities called “George W. Bush,” “Bill Clinton,” “Mark Lombardi,” “pencil,” “paper,” and a whole host of others. How does each intra-act with others and themselves?

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