The Poincaré conjecture states that every simply-connected, closed three-manifold is homeomorphic to the three-sphere. Mathematicians say that now the conjecture has been proved we have a tool for knowing whether a 3-dimensional space is a sphere or not a sphere, which gives us a means for exploring the possible shapes of our universe from local information. This idea of ‘possible shapes of the universe’ resonates across disciplines: as artists we are continually exploring and rendering our own topologies and landscapes. Stimulated by the concepts encapsulated by the Poincaré conjecture, Everything and Nothing explores what the fourth dimension could be, what a manifold is, what the three-sphere might look like and how one might navigate the universe. The diverse sources of Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel and Amelia Earhart’s story of circumnavigation have become powerful partners for developing the concept of a shape or surface we are on but cannot see. Three characters (one a surreal virtual Librarian), each attempting to navigate the universe from a different mathematical perspective, encounter one another in the library, through the airwaves and along the dateline, with outcomes that are at times absurd, at others poetic and sublime. Everything and Nothing is tangible encounter with the Poincaré conjecture at the horizon of our capacity to imagine space, that in itself facilitates a theatre in which mathematics, sound, image and text can be equal partners.
The Librarian (Kelcey Swain)The virtual character of the Librarian inhabits a library, rather like Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel, that contains every possible book and is at once mathematically perfect and linguistically chaotic. Invisible to the others who find themselves in the library, he is corporeally synonymous with its flickering hexagonal web. He often reads aloud, particularly books about his own universe and how to calculate its inconceivable magnitude, which results in virtuosic recitations of large numbers. His library contains all possible songs as well as all books. His readings include some of the ‘possible books’, in which he searches for order and pattern through the perpetual play of letters, taking great delight in the resulting linguistic treasures. The Radio from where the Librarian’s voice emanates is itself an analogue for the Library: it contains all possible worlds and times. The Everything and Nothing universe is controlled by turns of the radio dial. The texts of the Librarian’s three monologues are adapted from Umberto Eco’s The Search for the Perfect Language.
Everyman Explorer (Chris Brannick)
Everyman Explorer is a mathematician and musician, for whom the two pursuits are at times the same thing, as he explores shapes and dimensions on intellectual, material and tactile levels. He is the enthusiastic amateur who relies on information he can gather to guide his own experiments, quite sure he can piece together a solution if he can only get hold of the right information. He has limitless energy for discovering the shape of the universe and now that the Poincaré conjecture has been solved he believes he can make a map and find his way around it. The problem is that he’s having trouble seeing the shape of where he is now. It doesn’t make any sense at all as he can’t find the exit. The Librarian can’t provide a map. In his search he conjures Amelia Aleph as a vehicle for working through the various concepts of the Poincaré conjecture. As he finds his universe merging with hers begins to wonder whether he is dreaming the universe or the universe is dreaming him. In this way, he too is trapped in a Borgesian conceit.
Amelia Aleph (Lucy Stevens)
The lost aviator Amelia Earhart, too, is disseminated through the radio waves - she is also essentially a virtual character. Much of what can be gleaned about the story of her disappearance is known only through fragmented radio transmissions. Everyman Explorer conjures her in his imagination as he searches for the way to understand the shape of the universe, while she is also a manifestation of the Aleph from Jorge Luis Borges’ story. The Aleph symbolises all space, is spherical (a sphere ‘whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere’) and is the whole world/universe, seen from the vantage point of the 19th step of a cellar staircase in a house about to be demolished in Buenos Aires. In Borges's story, the narrator accounts for his vision of the Aleph via a poetic assemblage of symbolic fragments that simulate the sense of an infinity of infinities. Amelia Earhart represents the desire and power to circle the world, to conquer the globe via the map, her unbounded ambition thwarted as she approaches a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean only to miss it and disappear. Like the narrator of The Aleph, she has seen the world in a series of extraordinary images that capture the scale and magnitude of her aerial perspective, a view which is alternately everything and nothing. At the same time she affords infinite scope for speculation and piecing together the story around her disappearance. She is eternally lost on longitude 337 between 2 and 3 July 1937. ** We grasp at the airwaves for evidence of her location from a variety of sources, from the logs of the navy boat sent to guide her, to the the notebook of a 15-year-old girl Betty Klenck who tuned into shortwave radio in Florida, recording everything she heard. In 2011, archaeologists are still attempting to piece together the story of Earhart's disappearance from fragments of materials found on Gardner Island, including the heel of a shoe. An expedition to find her plane on the ocean floor is planned for 2012, the 75th anniversary of her disappearance.
Amelia is a navigator. Her maths is mapping, calculating, trigonometry and sextants - the pragmatic maths of identifying locations and making lines between them. She draws straight lines in which to direct her airplane. Time and clock are important to Amelia: in celestial navigation the chronometer is the critical reference-point; time = fuel as she runs low on it; being lost she now has infinite time. She feels that she is forever lost on the dateline, which she was crossing at that critical time when she was trying to radio-navigate the last 100 miles or so to Howland Island and which evidently caused some confusion in reading the nautical almanac. The most plausible theory is that she landed on Gardner Island and spent some days there as a castaway (the injured Noonan perhaps having been washed away with the plane by the tide). On the tiny coral island, her plane lost, her capacity to circumnavigate transfers from the physical realm to the imaginative one. Everyman Explorer, who knows all about the Poincaré conjecture and topology, stimulates her to imagine the shape of the universe using what she knows about the globe, to shift up a dimension. Perhaps she is in fact already in that other dimension.
For each of the trio, in their various ways, there is the sense of being/seeing everything/everywhere, at the same time as being nothing/nowhere. The business of calculating a surreal ‘total’ library, locating channels in a radio world, crossing the dateline and understanding the topological notions of the Poincaré conjecture all stand in for trans-dimensional travel. Each of the three is lost: each is individually concerned with their own journey, but they encounter one another in the library, through the airwaves and along the dateline, guided by the turns of the radio dial.
* including swing music--Gershwin’s ‘They can’t take that away from me’, to which Every Explorer finds himself dancing with AA. N.B. Gershwin also died in 1937, 7 days after Earhart disappeared, two months after the song was released through Fred Astaire’s film ‘Shall We Dance’; Billy Holiday released her version on 30th June 1937. There is the sense that it was lingering in the airwaves with Amelia: Betty Klenck, listening to shortwave radio, wrote it down in her notebook around the same time as she overheard voices believed to be a post-loss transmission of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan that reveals they landed on Gardner Island.
** From a numerological perspective each can be seen as simultaneously signifying ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’: the Aleph is seen from the 19th step, while Amelia was lost on longitude 337 on 3/7 1937. Taking 1+9 = 3+7 = 10 = 0 (or 1).