Artist: Emilio Chapela

No Pain, No Brain
April 28, 2016 – June 18, 2016
Henrique Faria Fine Art
New York, NY

Building on the investigations of the material manifestations of human perspective and information systems that Chapela introduced in his 2014 exhibition at the gallery, No Pain, No Brain focuses specifically on the intellectual and physical environments of the Bell Labs complex during its 90-year history. As the premises were recently sold to Nokia and some buildings are on the verge of being converted into a “mixed-use lifestyle complex”, Chapela took on the role of archeologist and anthropologist as he explored the grounds and uncovered its vestiges: abandoned but yet stuck in time, as if the scientists would return at any moment to resume their experiments. The Do Not Erase series offers a tribute to the anonymous scientists whose musings remain un-erased on whiteboards inside the Laboratories’ buildings. Saved from the fate of demolition, these whiteboards preserve for posterity the ‘famous last words’ and calculations of some of these scientists, some of which include “No Pain, No Brain” and “Frieder Mach’s Gut!” As Ken Farmer writes in the exhibition text, “Appropriation and direct representation creates the space for abstract reflection and poetic speculation.” Re-contextualized in the gallery, these whiteboards offer glimpses into sets of knowledge and potentialities to which the public was not privy until now.

Other works also speak to Chapela’s interest in opening up the boundaries of knowledge in light of the on-going technological boom. Bell Nobel Prizes (2016) presents the brains of the eight Nobel Prize-winning scientists that worked at Bell Labs. The brains here are made of silicon, “an atomic relative of the carbon that comprises our own brains and the key ingredient in the computer chips that power society today”, and continue the speculation started by early science fiction writers of whether it too could be a life-generating and sustaining element. The sculptural series Semi-transistors (2016) also uses silicon as a base, this time for amplifying an electrical current, and pays homage to the first transistors that were created at Bell Labs in 1947. In the midst of the surge of artificial intelligence and machine learning, these works acknowledge the present issues brought forth by the machine’s challenge to the singular power of the human mind.