Shotgun Review

A Variation on the “Powers of Ten”

By Christina Linden February 23, 2011

“This emptiness is normal. The richness of our own neighborhood is the exception,” reads the voiceover somewhere near the outer limits of a backward zoom into outer space in the first half of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten (1977). At this point in the film, the Milky Way has faded into a vaguely visible speck in the distance, and so the statement is true at this unfamiliar location in the vacuum of space.

For the BAM MATRIX project by Futurefarmers that takes this film as “conceptual and aesthetic framework,” Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine seem to have stopped somewhere between extremes of outer space vacuum and subatomic homogeneity to think about a lateral movement not approached within the film itself. Theirs is an understanding complicated by looking more closely around the neighborhood, at the next picnic and beyond, with an eye not just for the universal or elemental, but also for difference, overlap, and leverage. The primary fodder for this yearlong research residency is a series of picnic conversations about the limits of knowledge between artists and scholars in various fields at UC Berkeley. A push for interdisciplinary examination isn’t exactly new in the academic or artistic landscape, but this research explores the possibility for art to look beyond its own neighborhoods, from perspectives both lofty and quotidian.

Organizers move the picnic around campus, carefully choosing appropriate blankets, snacks, readings, and discussion topics, and recording the resulting conversations from a specially constructed scaffolding. The recordings provide a bird’s-eye view of the events, as they zoom in and out on multiple, parallel fields of inquiry, throwing them into relief, so to speak, against one another.

A series of three events gives visiting publics the opportunity to take part in the project, as well. The announcement for the final event, which takes place April 17, suggests that participants bring their own picnic blanket. The project as a whole proposes

A Variation on the "Powers of Ten," MATRIX 236, February 6-April 17, 2011; picnic conversation with Ignacio Valero at the Tropical Greenhouse at the Berkeley Botanical Garden as part of research residency; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artists and UC Berkeley Art Museum. Photos: Jeff Warrin and Jin Zhu.

the possibility to develop new structures for conversation and exchange, and to push at epistemic limits with humor and a sense of play.


A Variation on the “Powers of Ten” is on view at UC Berkeley Art Museum through April 17, 2011. The next associated event takes place March 5 at the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.


Christina Linden is a freelance curator and writer based in Oakland, California. Before working as Curatorial Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, she completed her master’s degree at the same institution and worked at galleries, museums, and nonprofit art spaces in New York, Berlin, rural Thailand, and San Francisco.

Comments ShowHide