Six degrees of fuzzy logic
Sacramento, CA 95814
In recent years, photographer Richard Gilles’ work has been panoramic documents of landscapes altered by man, including roadside memorials, the mobile homes of the “unhomeless,” graffiti-covered abandoned industrial sites and blank billboards, a series he’ll be showing in December at B. Sakata Garo. While these images are about people, there are actually no figures in them. This month at Axis Gallery, however, Gilles also is exhibiting a different side of his artistic—and analytical—mind and interests. In Strange Attractors (and Other Such Phenomenon), he inserts candid photos of figures into graphic backgrounds based on scientific and mathematical theories. Gilles will speak at Axis on Thursday, November 19, at 6 p.m., but chatted with SN&R first.
This work is a departure from your other series, stylewise. How did you get into doing this?
This actually started off as sort of an exercise. I wanted to get a better sense of use of color. And I wanted to use color directly, [with] the idea of doing computer graphics. And then the idea of sticking a person in there just jelled together. It started with the idea of graphics as information that we may use, or how information is used: The images are talking about more esoteric, scientific and mathematical ideas and how they relate—or don’t relate—to our individual human experience.
Did you have any graphic-design experience before this series?
Only what I’ve done for myself and, you know, friends occasionally, but no direct training in graphic design.
Besides color being an influence in this series, what else inspired you?
I was really attracted to imagery that denotes ideas. Like this image over here (points to a piece with a man in a T-shirt and cargo shorts, toting white plastic 5-gallon buckets in a Radio Flyer wagon, with and a web of dots and lines surrounding him), of actually a fairly new science, of a scale-free network. … If you remember back a number of years, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game—have you ever heard of that? That’s actually a reference to the same thing [as the scale-free network]. The figure placed inside the network becomes a node in the network. And the odd thing is the larger the network gets, the smaller the average number of jumps from one node to another becomes. So it’s very not intuitive. These are the ideas I’m exploring and the human aspect of it.
That would be really cool if he was lugging around a bunch of bacon in those buckets.
(Boisterous laughter.) That would! Unfortunately, he’s lugging drinks around.
Bacon flavored? No? Anyway, it sounds like you did a lot of scientific research.
It started from ideas I was already familiar with and books I’ve already read. As the project continued, I had to expand my knowledge and actually read more books and study more things to come up with, additional imagery to work with. … I’m thinking of this work as, in some respects, kind of surreal. Instead of the landscapes being dreamlike, it’s become super real, abstract in a sense that we just can’t directly understand it with our personal experience. For example, this one (a man walking through a horizontal graph with colorful bumps rising from it). … The title is “A Mistaken Sense of Local Realism.” And the diagram he’s standing on is a diagram of quantum decoherence.
So you have a full understanding of what that is?
I have a layman’s understanding. … Things are both particles and waves, and we know that because they make interference patterns with each other when they interact. Decoherence is when [the interferences] break down. … Local realism, in quantum physics, the photon exists in a probability cloud, and doesn’t really exist in a place in a cloud. We may think it does and can’t measure it, but that’s not true. It does exist. And so, the play is on him: Here’s this guy, he’s very sure of himself, he’s in this quantum world now. He thinks he’s very sure of where he is, so he’s got a mistaken sense of local realism. That’s the humor in there, the play-with-your-mind humor?
I did really bad in physics. He kinds of looks like Russell Crowe wearing a period costume. Where did you find these people?
I find them in different places. I found this man in Old [Sacramento] during [Gold Rush Days], I think.
And how about the foliage-camouflaged military guys?
I was at the air races last year, and the Marines had a booth. [The guy] was there showing off his gun to everybody. I asked him, “Can you step outside your booth? I’d like to photograph you.” … [His camo] is called a ghillie suit, by the way. I read a book about fuzzy logic a while ago, and was thinking I really wanted to do a piece on fuzzy logic. As soon as I saw him and how fuzzy he was, I knew he was going to be my fuzzy logic imagery. So fuzzy logic is … a way of describing how things fit together in the world. So here we’ve got a fuzzy man who’s a sharpshooter, which is a very exact thing to be doing. So it’s playing on those two things—the fuzzy and exact—and [in the middle] is a graphical representation of how fuzzy sets are diagrammed.
Did you kind of pee your pants then, when you saw the Marine, all fuzzy like that?
Yeah, I had to wait in line while he talked to all these other kids.
Did you talk anyone into or out of joining the military while you were waiting?