monad i (Tucson box, replica #5), 2019 - Serving the People
monad i (Tucson box, replica #5), 2019 - Serving the People

monad i (Tucson box, replica #5), 2019

Harrison K. Smith
acrylic screen print on cardboard, inkjet print on copy paper, stone, tape, water
18 x 18 x 18 in.
46 x 46 x 46 cm
Yale University

In 1714 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz published Monadology, a philosophical treatise arguing the existence of “monads,” invisible and indivisible units essential to all matter in the universe, each with a unique predetermined course of action and interaction. These units, he suggested, are constantly developing, changing and interacting, such that from the condition of a single monad the state of the entire universe may theoretically be determined. Though deeply rooted in the theological, philosophical, and early scientific knowledge of its time, Leibniz’s theory proved to be exceedingly salient as quantum mechanics advancements of the 20th century refined our knowledge of the physical universe. By uncovering the component parts of the neutron and proton, quantum scientists displaced these particles with quarks, the new indivisible ingredient of everything. Quarks demonstrate behavior unlike anything observed before, a novelty best exemplified by the phenomenon physicists have termed “quantum entanglement”: the interaction between or generation of particles such that their essential being becomes super-materially linked. Once entangled, actions on a particle can determine the behavior of its quantum pair across space and time––particles in Switzerland react instantaneously to the experiences of their pairs in America, while electrons in the present determine the behavior of their quantum pairs in the past. Scientists have provided the only explanation possible: quantum pairs do not break the rules of physics because they are not, in fact, two discrete particles at all. "Quantum pair” actually describes a single entity that exists simultaneously within and beyond our spatial-temporal perception of it. Furthermore, these entanglements are always happening. Our universe is not composed of myriad distinct entities, rather, it is a complex and perpetually mutating mass of intra-dependent being(s). Just like that, Leibniz’s monad became a reality. But what happens to our understanding of being and self when physics disrupt our most basal rules of existence? When the discrete is exploded into everything, how are we to distinguish between an apple and orange, water and oil, presence and void? Dichotomous objects become intertwined and interdependent beyond the limits of our perception. But, most importantly, what do these realizations mean from an explicitly social perspective? As suggested by historian, philosopher, and feminist scholar Karen Barad, quantum mechanics demands we reconsider the foundation of not only our physical being, but the moral fabric of existence as well. When time and space break down, and “you,” “I,” and “them” are one in the same, all that we owe ourselves we also owe everyone and everything. On the night of July 8th, 2019 I stumbled across a box on the street in Tucson, Arizona. It seemed to resonate with a frequency I could not ignore. Before the inkjet-signs were affixed to its side, the empty box had been turned upside down. On top of the box sat a rock, causing the corrugated base to sag under its weight. The cardboard box, responding to its dry and windy environment, wanted to move. The rock, responding to the gravity dominating its own existence, resisted this movement and fixed the box in place. It advertised an estate sale, suggesting death–––spiritual movement into the beyond, as well as human movement of those left behind; a very different kind of movement than that of the pair’s materiality. These relationships had palpable weight, but I could only perceive that weight, and nothing beyond. What relationship do I have to the material pair? And, through that pair or otherwise, what relationship do I have to the people whose lives it points towards? In habitually reproducing this box, I cannot hope to answer these questions. But the recursive practice is both mental and material. My reproductions are part of an endless chain of symbolic relationships formed by these “quantum entanglements.” As such, my sculptures signify the box for which they are modeled, the time in which I encountered it, and the expansive material lives of all the monads orbiting that moment on July 8th, 2019. Moreover, they are the reified investigation of this very symbolism: a quantum, monadological perspective made material; a byproduct of the experience and a marker of its impact. To the viewer this background is esoteric and inaccessible, just as the material history of the original box remains to me. However, by re-presenting the box in these sculptural forms, each viewer’s interaction results in a new quantum entanglement, a new set of unanswerable questions, a new state for the monad to assume. This project owes much of its theoretical content to the works of Karen Barad, Hito Steyerl, and the scientists associated with London’s Royal Academy.