Visual Arts

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Multiverse in AT the Core of the Algorithm

Upon entering Hiram Butler Gallery to see Michael Petry's AT the Core of the Algorithm installation, a visitor might quickly decide that everything could be seen within five seconds. That's it, just the one piece, and nothing else. However, if a person looks beyond the simple beauty of hanging glass globes, the piece becomes much more interactive.

Inspired by the prime number, whole numbers divisible only by themselves and the number 1, the piece consists of opaque and clear glass globes arranged in sets of 1, 2, 3 and 5 and hung by 47 wires at staggered heights and in non-linear formation. Each of the globes has a section sliced away, similar to when one takes a bite out of an apple, while the multi-globe sets are fused together.

The work is a nod to the late Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the Nazi enigma code during World War II; thus the "AT" in the piece's title. Using algorithms and computation, Turing is widely considered to be the father of artificial intelligence and theoretical computer science. He later fell from grace, as homosexuality was criminalized in the United Kingdom during that period, and chose chemical castration rather than imprisonment. When he died at 41 of cyanide poisoning, a partially eaten apple was found near his bed.

The process by which the glassmakers cut away the "bites" from the globes was very violent, resulting in much breakage, but the artist felt that the apple bite was a very important element of his piece, as well as the violent birth for the orbs. When selecting the colors for the glass balls, he made sure to include all of the colors of apples, including reds, yellows and various shades of green.

The installation also represents a metaphor for the multiverse, where many universes float alongside each other, occasionally intersecting and popping in and out of existence. To get the most out of this exhibit, a person must walk around it and underneath it, viewing it from many angles, and noticing how it changes from each perspective. Toward the window of the gallery space, where the globes hang the lowest, a visitor can stand at eye level among the spheres.

Look through the glass, then look through the glass where it is doubled up and notice the change in color. Then look at where the color changes when the orb has fused with another. The simple mechanics of "yellow plus blue equals green" remain in place, but the artist asks you to also see that the refracted image of nearby orbs appear visible on the glass - both there and not there at the same time - sort of a parallel universe.

This is the first United States installation for this piece. At its debut in Lommel, Belgium, it was hung in a circular glass building, giving a very different look to the piece.

AT the Core of the Algorithm continues through May 30, at Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom, open Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-863-7097,

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney