The Unknown by TC McCormack. 

Extract of the text commisioned by Yorkshire Artspace. 2019.

The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” - Neil deGrasse Tyson

The things we don’t know are infinite, there are really so many varieties of the unknown that we couldn’t begin to quantify them. But we have safer ground to fall back on, with the sciences, or logic and rationalism.

No formulation of unknowns or knowns fully encapsulates Arantza Pardo’s paintings or virtual reality piece, these mediums facilitate her endeavour to face the material representation of the unpresentable, and what we see before us are speculative representations into the space of the unknown.

It is tempting to interpret Pardo’s expansive compositions as sublime referents to the vastness of the cosmos. Susan Sontag warned us against interpretation, as we can betray a work of art, if all we ask of it is ‘What does it mean?’ The value in Arantza’s work can’t be revealed in the allegorical, nor can we rationalise it through knowing the breadth of her research. Any attempt to decipher a constellation of astrophysics, art history, philosophy, the production of painting, mathematics... would come up short, and more importantly distract us from the overriding sensuous and emotive registers that this work elicits.

Arantza’s fascination with cosmic phenomena and research in scientific theory informs her speculative investigations, but it would be a mistake to limit her focus to the universe alone. While the infinite is certainly evoked, the intimacy of scales that play out across her canvases are a compelling feature, the viewer is pulled inward, through animated gestures, localised and yet seemingly co-current and autonomous. These paintings are full of forces, vibrant and fluid, appearing to both escalate and be in stasis.

So how does an artist represent the unknown? If to represent is a form of making known, then it is interesting to consider from where this artist gives substance and shape to her unknown. When the viewer encounters Arantza’s work, they will naturally introduce their own unknowns, and that quantity may rise from their unconscious, or materialise externally (in nature, the cosmos) or emerge from a spiritual place (metaphysical, supernatural, belief, magic). Our most primal response to the unknown is fear. HP Lovecraft understood this drive, ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown’. Yet nothing fearful seems to touch her work, rather there exists a lightness that is evocative of the sublime.

Pardo’s practice navigates these legacies, while refusing to be defined by them, as her research draws on multiple disciplines and theory, including physics, astronomy, psychology, literature, spirituality, Sci-Fi, etc. Arantza’s work is unambiguously of its time, however more particular temporalities are apparent... her subjects seem to exist in a state of timelessness, while her influences (across ages) appear to be held contemporaneously.

To address Arantza’s work through the lens of new materialism, is to reposition our reading of her subject and our relations to it. You can consider Pardo’s compositions as a mapping of essences, autonomous, independent of our desires, a purely material synthesis of cosmological, geological, biological, animistic world. This interpretation moves beyond the filter of human experience, to embrace the vitality of matter.

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