Megan Gafford

I snapped a photo of a quote I once scribbled on my wall, when I moved out of my last studio and couldn’t figure out where it came from. It was imperative that I never forget: “Wonder defined as a form of learning - an intermediate, highly particular state akin to a sort of suspension of the mind between ignorance and enlightenment that marks the end of unknowing and the beginning of knowing.” Although its context is lost to me, I’ve internalized the idea. To this definition I would add that wonder is a kind of sustained curiosity that refuses to let the mind go, like a persistent itch. For me, wonder is intimately related to science and the profound knowledge it imparts.

An overarching inspiration for my work is best summarized by Carl Sagan’s iconic statement, “We are made of starstuff.” My artwork explores this relationship between micro and macro, how no amount of intellectual comprehension shakes the shock that my body is made of the same stuff as the desk beneath my elbows. For example, my installation "Slice of Life" consists of hundreds of drawings rendered while looking through a microscope at items mined from daily life: my desk, things found on walks home, assorted knick-knacks. Notably, that which appeared very different at my usual perspective were quite similar once magnified, like the interweaving fibers of book covers and sweaters. I made that piece because I wanted to know what the mundane landscape of everyday life looked like when observed from a wholly new vantage point.

Other works, like "Tunnel", were an homage to the simple act of looking up at the night sky. In that installation I transformed a long facade of windows into a map of the Milky Way, using small holes to represent stars so that the dark hall filled up with the light of a thousand pinhole cameras. The entire galaxy was scaled down so that a person could traverse it in a single minute. Similarly, a grouping of photographs, "I Grew a Multiverse in Petri Dishes", depict expansive universes growing in Petri dishes, as if the infinite could be contained, examined, and understood. I find astronomy and physics especially engrossing, and befriended scientists who counsel me for projects like "Tunnel", when an astronomer helped me ensure the accuracy of my mural-sized star map.

My most recent installation contained a subatomic particle detector. It marks a departure from the more innocent wonder I previously explored towards the troublesome acknowledgement that science is not inherently good. Uranium ore in my particle detector exposed viewers to gamma radiation, but in doing so gave them the opportunity to observe the imperceptible. The threshold to this installation warned of this risk, and "Hormesis" (named after the controversial theory that small doses of radiation are good for you) was largely about the choice to scratch the itch of curiosity even at a cost. Moving forward, I want to continue exploring such a nuanced appreciation of science.