Paul Fryer’s work has been bought by some of the most well-heeled collectors in the world, and he counts Damien Hirst and Karl Lagerfeld among his many fans, indeed, Hirst kick-started his career when he convinced the artist to remake a piece of his work from the 80s five years ago. Yet he remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the landscape of contemporary art. The Leeds-born artist’s misspent youth as an 80s art-school dropout turned transvestite club promoter can seem somewhat anomalous when you are confronted with his celebrated and often staggeringly conceptual works; creations that express a desire for the unification of knowledge via the introduction of cutting-edge science into the discourse of art (be that via the micro-scale creation of the conditions that cause the aurora borealis or the construction of massive lightning conductors within gallery walls). However, it is precisely the artist’s unusual route into the upper echelons of the art world that has endowed him with a uniquely open mind and endeared him to the likes of actor Jude Law and Primal Scream frontman Bobbie Gillespie, both of whom turned up at the private view for his new show, Electric Sky in Soho the other night.
“I think about life as simply being a journey that you’re on,” he tells Phaidon at the opening for Electric Sky, a show that explores the hugely controversial theory that our sun is not a thermonuclear reaction but rather a super-massive electrode in a universe composed of an inconceivably gargantuan electrical grid. “As you get older, you through a process of contextualizing everything and your brain can become conditioned to certain beliefs – you end up living in a ‘version’ of what you call reality,” continues the artist. “But you’re given opportunities to expand your consciousness beyond that in all sorts of ways. I’ve had experiences in my life – both what I would coin as natural and chemically induced – that have caused me to wonder about the composition of reality, the nature of the universe, the relative position of consciousness and my position as a spirit in all of this. This is the wonder of reality; this is the journey we’re on – you can be a scientist and be on that journey; you can be an artist, a writer… you can be a bin man. You don’t have to be anyone ‘special’ in inverted commas, because, actually, we’re all special.”
Fryer has previously been coined by as a proponent of The Wonder Principle, and when it comes to dealing directly with the big questions of existence this latest show is no exception to the artist’s past offerings – exploring an electro-magnetically-charged model of the universe that is in direct contradiction to everything the theory of relativity proposes, suggesting that plasma, not dark matter, may constitute the mass that interconnects galaxies, and as such that lightning my be beamed to us from the farthest reaches of deep space.
“There is a guy called Wal Thornhill I’m in touch with at the moment who’s one of the biggest proponents of an electric vision of the universe,” explains Fryer of the concept that provided the genesis of his exhibition, as he leads us around a show that boasts levitating tea-cups, infra-dimensional Escher-like shapes, glowing plasma in electrically-charged vacuums and strangely unsettling lenticular suns (according to the theory postulated by the exhibition, the sun is a massive anode that has an electrical current flowing over it; a proposition supported by the fact it has a corona – a natural phenomena that occurs when you have a high voltage in a vacuum).
“There are certain aspects to the universe that Einstein’s standard model doesn’t allow for, and the fact is that if we’re facing in the wrong direction – if we’re facing towards a nuclear vision – we’re never going to find the answer. I mean CERN might be a very expensive machine – 20 billion Euros just to build it – not to run it, not to staff it, to build it – but really at it’s core it’s very similar to sitting down with two hammers and bashing them together. I’m not convinced that you’re ever going to find out much by bashing things together. CERN may turn out to be nothing more than a huge artwork in the end, but, of course, to say such things can get you into trouble, because people have vested interests in certain scientific theories – huge industries build up around them.”
“Lots of the things that I’m doing at the moment are more open-ended, more exploratory than things I’ve done previously,” he continues, when asked if he is sincerely postulating a notion that directly challenges the Big Bang theory of the universe.“I just think knowledge, real knowledge, is limitless and everything we believe should be far more questionable than it is.” Arguably, he has a point. Nobody believes the Tellurian model of the geocentric universe any more, and as such The Big Bang model may one-day prove to be equally unsatisfactory. “It’s all about questioning these huge systems that get set up where people are making money."
If you're intrigued by Paul Fryer's employment of electricity, you might be interested to read Art & Electronic Media – a comprehensive, international survey of art in the myriad forms of electronic media, including light, robotics, networks, virtual reality and the web. It includes works by over 150 artists, many familiar – Jenny Holzer, Bruce Nauman, James Turrell, Mario Merz – plus emerging and recent pioneers, such as Robert Lazzarini, Blast Theory, Granular Synthesis, Simon Penny, Marcel.lí Antúnez Roca and Mikami Seiko.
Paul Fryer, The Electric Sky is at Pertwee Anderson & Gold - a small gallery in London's Soho - until May 5.