The Significance of Popcorn
The Significance of Popcorn is a collection of drawings & watercolours inspired by 6 months travel through Iceland & America. Including but not restricted to themes of optimism, hope, oblique contemplation, UFOs and popcorn.
One thing I think is that any object can be imbued with significance. For example, when in Iceland undertaking an internship at a Reykjavik art gallery my colleague Dan began eating popcorn everyday at work. We would wait for him to arrive at 3pm and offer us a bowlful. This repetition became a ritual and in turn we began to think about this object, popcorn. What a strange food, how it turns from small, yellow and nuggety to larger and multiform. It is both nutrition and science. For something inanimate to turn so quickly from one thing to another seems miraculous enough for popcorn to be a special food.
Catalogue essay by Katherine Riley
Sometimes it seems to me that astrophysicists are frustrated with their lot in life.
People say to them, “So if the universe is of a finite size, then what is outside of the universe?”
Or, “What was there before the Big Bang?”
The astrophysicists try to explain that such questions are meaningless, because concepts such as time and space only have meaning when one is in the universe – one cannot even say that there is “nothing” “outside the universe” or “before the Big Bang” because claiming the absence of a quality still implies that the quality, absent or otherwise, is somehow relevant to the subject of debate. Which it isn't.
Unfortunately, humans often struggle with the notion that their words are, at best, irrelevant in a particular instance, and, at worst, utterly meaningless in an ultimate sense. So the message doesn't sink in, and the words become a rigid container in which the meaning can never be held, and everybody live-tweets insults to everybody else, and then somebody mentions God, and then the internet explodes.2
I have noticed that there are many triangles in the drawings Alanna has exhibited. Mostly, they are blue and they are composed of the outsides of other blue triangles. Perhaps, given this interdependence, the triangles are best described as the accidental material outcome of a series of interconnecting lines. Perhaps, in this instance, I am seeing a net and not a shape.
Alanna travelled to Iceland to undertake an artist residency. She told me that she was fascinated by the unique geography of the island. Once she was living there, however, she found that her social experiences were the defining feature of her time in that place. It was not so much the quality of the place that mattered – rather it was the process of dealing with the fact of being in that place, and the process of dealing with all the other dealers-with-the-fact-of-being-in-that-place.
During her stay, Alanna's colleague, Dan, took to making popcorn every afternoon and sharing it with the group. The repetition of this act became ritual, and the popcorn itself became imbued with symbolic features. Alanna and Dan found themselves making a film where they inserted the popcorn into the Icelandic landscape – a social totem becoming a conduit for engagement with the physical place.
You always need more space than you think you do when you make popcorn. Here is what happens when I make popcorn:
1. I put some corn kernels in a paper bag.
2. I fold the top of the paper bag over on itself.
3. I put the paper bag in the microwave and set the timer for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
4. At some point within the next 2 minutes and 30 seconds I become aware that the ratio of corn kernel quantity to paper bag volume was too high. The chief indicator of this fact is that the bag has burst.
I was talking to Alanna about writing this essay. We were talking about happiness. I said that it seems to me that when I'm happy, the awareness that I am an individual loses its sharpness. When I'm distressed, my personhood is overwhelmingly obvious to me; when I'm happy - well, perhaps there's a me, and other not-me individuals, and a place in which we can be said to exist, but I don't care terribly much either way. Often, the nature of reality is not a pressing concern when you're completely and wholeheartedly involved in it.
The next day, Alanna wrote me an email, in which she said that when she feels happy, it seems like “there is a balloon of space in my head and heart for [happiness] to exist.”
Alanna has a drawing which says, “It hurts not to be open... open wider.” And in the middle of the drawing are some of those blue triangles I was talking about earlier. And in the middle of the blue triangles there is a space, and in the middle of the space are the words, “heart attack”. All of the drawing is blue, not just the triangles.
Perhaps I can learn from this. Perhaps I ought to make my popcorn in a more flexible container.
1. In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel entitled Moving Pictures, “banged grains” is the name given to a snack sold in picture theatres. In the Discworld books, banged grains are invented by the Alchemists, who also began the moving picture industry and started the Century of the Fruitbat filmmaking firm. These facts are largely irrelevant to this essay, but I felt that the origin story of this term was interesting enough to warrant a mention.
2. I am thinking specifically of an episode of Q&A, aired on ABC1 on Monday, 18 February, 2013, in which noted scientist Lawrence M. Krauss attempted to answer precisely these questions. The episode can be viewed at http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3687812.htm.