Unseen Forces

Out, Out, Phosphene Candle: Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck

February 25, 2018 — September 2, 2018

Throughout their thirty-five-year collaboration, Philadelphia-based artists Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck have imagined possible worlds as a way to grapple with our current one. Using their own works of art, materials borrowed from historic sites, and works drawn from the Arts Center’s collection, they have constructed an unprecedented perspective to consider the more mystifying qualities of being human.

In a recent vivid dream, Feasley saw a glimpse of some other, parallel universe in which an inexplicable creature moved through a series of rooms. Clearly set in an unexplored time period, each room was designed to understand the unseen forces that propel the human race forward. In each room, the being seemed to wrestle with existential questions. How can we prove the existence of the divine? Where is the evidence of our belief systems? This extraterrestrial being was trying to find what we as humans know to be unseeable—a greater and guiding power.

Phosphenes are seen only when our eyes are closed. This entirely interior spectacle involves the perception of colors, flashes, and patterns of light that are not physically there. Scientists, Buddhists, artists, and physicians have all studied phosphenes, yet the nature of these flickering lights remains a mystery. Out, Out Phosphene Candle investigates one of the attributes conferred on this phenomenon—the ability to reveal the future.

Clairvoyants use phosphenes to apprehend a vision of the future. It then becomes their responsibility to convey that vision to their clients. How will an understanding of the future affect the customer’s current behavior? Has the psychic seen too much? Do we really want to know what the future holds?

Artists Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck contemplate these questions and depict their own version of the future with this massive multiroom installation.

Experience artist and musician Martha McDonald's Phosphene Songs performed in this exhibition.

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and Sargento Foods Inc. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year.