Possible, not probable

8 May 2002 - 0 January 0000

A field of clover, a covertly encrypted puzzle and a patent for a magic power tool: the exhibition Possible, not Probable, deals with the poetic, beautiful, sinister and altogether astounding ways that the cold facts of probability transpire in everyday life.

Stories of coincidence are abundant in contemporary culture. For g39’s ‘Possible, not Probable’, six artists and two guest speakers respond to this subject in very different ways, ranging from the weird and wonderful to the downright down-to-earth. You can take part in the exhibition by contributing to an archive of personal accounts of coincidences, which will be available to read at the gallery.

The collaboration Yoke+Zoom use the four-leaf clover, an international symbol of luck. About 1 in 10,000 clover plants will naturally mutate to form the elusive fourth leaf, but through selective breeding Yoke+Zoom have created a unit with the potential of producing many lucky four-leaf clovers. Folklore predicts that if you encounter one you are at the start of a lucky streak, or in other words, you are entering a period of unlikely occurrences bringing good fortune. As talismans of luck the clovers attempt to affect possible outcomes or probable results by allowing the bearer an effect on future events.

Michael Barclay takes this side-stepping of chance a step further with his patented magic power tool. In effect it is a wand giving the owner the opportunity to manipulate outcomes at will. He potentially puts the opportunity to control outcomes in the hands of the general public by wording the patent in prosaic language that could as easily be applied to any of a number of household gadgets. The wand as power tool has arrived!

14999 sliding puzzle pieces arranged in a covert order', encryption is the name of the game with artist collaboration Vicky Isley and Paul Smith. A floor-based sliding puzzle depicts a sensitive American military installation based in the UK, which is an encryption and code-breaking centre. The pixellated satellite image can be mutated and changed by viewers. To decipher the image the pieces have to be moved into one single gap in the right order. As users move the squares the image breaks down and possibly other images creep in. Code-breakers apply a probability rule of deduction in order to first understand the pattern involved and then understand the message sent. The CD-ROM version accompanies the piece as a projection and visitors can rearrange the sliding squares on screen. Despite the incredibly complex breakdown, the image always retains the potential to return to its original form, an immense jigsaw for the super geek or an encrypted image depicting the place where electronic information is intercepted and decrypted.

Ruth Iliffe uses space and existence in her work to draw attention to oddities - the space used to make soap bubbles, the route of a redirected postcard. Many artists leave an element of their creative process up to chance, but in doing so Iliffe re-writes the rules so the oddity becomes normality. It is the use of the absurd that personifies the possible but not probable, the absurd is a possibility outside the everyday normality.

Factual anecdotes of coincidences are so incredible that their so-called authority is brought into question, right up there alongside urban myths. Who can argue with this meta-science? Who would want to? At one end of the scale it is a sort of fantastical escapism and a desire to believe in fate, and at the other a sobering reminder of our mortality and our statistical insignificance.