Azu Nwagbogu


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5


SUPER/NATURAL by Barbara Wildenboer explores the boundaries of what is known and knowable about existence and reality by embracing not only art and science but also alternative phenomena which collude and collide under this subtext. Altered books are the primary motifs embodying not only the fundamental—and perennial—epistemological quest for validation as to the very possibility and meaning of knowledge but also the equally basic and unending ontological quest for validation as to the very possibility and meaning of existence. Wildenboer’s altered book creations surrender to the beauty of not needing the right scholarly answers, and creating one’s own links to fill-in the gaps. In SUPER/NATURAL, Wildenboer uses scientific texts that span from biology to astrology, physics to astronomy, alchemy to chemistry. Under Wildenboer’s dexterous care, H.G. Wells’ The Science of Life glides in a manner that the human body is only capable of while dreaming. Indeed, observing the work feels like an instance of jamais vu, a dream. You witness this for the first time but you have had this dream several times before because everyone dreams of flight.

The carefully amended pages criss-cross to form a light yet powerful wing skeleton, a metaphor for the transformative power of books to transport the reader to phantasmagoric dreamworlds. Wildenboer’s interventions may render her books unreadable in the traditional sense, but they introduce alternate knowledge systems that defy canon and welcome the artfulness of science. Through Wildenboer’s book modifications, she makes science visible in all its ungovernable, disobedient glory. The process of nullifying the printed text, creates space for new fields of erudition to emerge. SUPER/NATURAL is thus simultaneously a template for a new type of taxonomy about knowledge and existence, and an exhibition in which ontology-validating disciplines provide only a framework for new artistic structures to emerge.

To be useful, an investigation of this sort requires a reliable currency or medium of exchange. Photography is the ballast for SUPER/NATURAL. Through analogue and digital photographic processes she creates work that mostly consists of collage, photo and paper-construction and digitally animated collage works and book arts.

The old cliche, ‘books are magical’, comes to mind but with SUPER/NATURAL the remediation transcends and sublimates the reading process and the various pieces in the exhibition offer what can be known through a sort of panpsychism. Wildenboer’s history with photography is obvious in her current practice. At its core, photography proposes a search for truth and meaning, and ultimately reveals this exploration to be both futile and enlightening. Similarly with collage making, truth and meaning are revealed, not through accurate documentation of reality, but rather though intentional and accidental framing, flattening and juxtaposition. The physical sciences are principally focused on measurement and observation but the more intrinsic knowing is deeper and is qualitative.

It has been a decade since Wildenboer began working on Infinitesimally Small and Unimaginably Large, and this exploration has led to SUPER/NATURAL: a departure from scientific observation, measurement and all those vaunted political ontological promises of photography as a medium. She remediates, collages and, assembles, builds through her art and offers us work with feeling.

Imagine a camera shutter. It purports to allow light through so we obtain a measurement of the truth. It was Werner Heisenberg who espoused the Uncertainty Principle, a theory that on a subatomic level, makes known the impossibility of measuring displacement and position. Wildenboer does away with measurement and offers us the truth of her art in SUPER/NATURAL.