The Moody Center for the Arts unveiled its latest site-specific installation: “The Demon in the Diagram” last Friday. Designed, executed and painted by New York artist Matthew Ritchie, the exhibition features a multidisciplinary approach to conceptualizing human diagrams. With this approach, Ritchie explores 25 methods of human diagramming through both traditional and technological means, subsequently drawing conclusions about the limitations of such exploration and the boundlessness of human knowledge.
Made up of visual, auditory, interactive and virtual reality components, the exhibit is split between the Central Gallery and the Brown Foundation Gallery. Ritchie’s distinctive black mark, along with sketches of the 25 diagramming methods, splashes across the walls in both galleries and is accompanied by fainter scribbles that form threads between the diagrams. The overall impression gained is that of a paradoxically organized chaos.
Adding to the chaos are paintings and light-box drawings. Square and evenly spaced, these visual elements are the most enthralling of the exhibition. In a seemingly rebellious statement, diagrams similar to those on the wall are covered up by dashes of colorful paint and soft development of cloud-like texture. Here, Ritchie breaks up the linear progression of his diagramming history with bursts of color and abstract form – gone is any semblance of organization. Given the impossible task of completely understanding human thought, the paintings seem to mock Ritchie’s attempt to do so.
In the Central Gallery, portable transparent panels hold abstract representations of the diagrams. These panels are similar in composition to the paintings on the wall but contain clearer references to the diagrams through a stronger emphasis on lines and mark-making. According to the exhibition’s description, these panels are meant to be moved by the viewer as an interactive method of developing new connections between diagrams. Like the walls, the floor beneath the panels also contains all 25 diagramming methods. Tasked with keeping the interplay of panels and the interactions with wall and floor imagery in mind, viewers might find it difficult to create such meaningful connections.
The wall diagrams abruptly stop before continuing in the Brown Foundation Gallery, where floor, wall, paintings and light-boxes attempt to extend the relationships seen in the Central Gallery. The discontinuity between the galleries disrupts the overwhelming chaos in a jarring manner – to see the entire intended dialogue between wall diagrams, viewers must repeatedly move between galleries. Despite this unfortunate separation, the Brown Foundation Gallery offers a redeeming, fresh element to the mix: virtual reality. Visitors are invited to don robes and wear a decorative headset before diving into a virtual reality world, titled “The Screen Game” – home to a white, boxy environment, similar in appearance to the Brown Foundation Gallery but with 3-D diagrams and floating suns. Interactions with diagrams invoke explanations and discussions of their methodologies. Here, visitors can appreciate the one aspect of the gallery that provides context and background for the entire piece – hopefully while avoiding collisions with fellow patrons.
There is something to be said about the chaotic, sprawling manner with which this exhibition exists – the demon in the diagramming might just be its overwhelming obscurity. Perhaps intentional by Ritchie, the sheer amount of elements to consider when viewing the piece make it hard to find a cohesive whole. Even with every sense engaged, viewers gain little additional insight into the expanse of ideas represented in the exhibit. Contained within a discrete number of walls and elements, Ritchie’s ambitious project of cataloguing human thought struggles with its bounds.
“The Demon in the Diagram” is on view until Dec. 22. The gallery is open to public on Tues. to Fri. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is always free.