Ton van Summern

David Beitzel Gallery

The Greek philosopher Empedocles was the first among Western scientific thinkers to propose that the universe was composed of four distinct elements: earth, air, fire, and water. His theory survived in various forms at least until the 16th-century and still holds powerful symbolic, if not scientific, sway over the imagining of nature today. Ton van Summern investigates that theory’s attraction in this collection of five altered black and white photographs.

The central images, enlarged from the pages of science books, depict each of Empedocles’ supposed four elements as they appear when placed under enormous torsion or explosive force: one is of a mountain range, one of huge ocean waves, one of a tornado, and two of atomic explosions. (This last pair is somewhat incongruous, since no such events could occur on earth without human intervention, but one gathers that the artist intends no more

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