Edward Whymper was a mountaineer, engraver, author and explorer- he left traces everywhere he went. He was born in London in 1840- in 1862 he was the first person to stand on top of the Matterhorn. He explored the Arctic, he ascended the outsized heights of the Ecuadorian Andes. He kept meticulous records of everything he did and saw, everything he measured, collected, and observed.

His notes are so extensive, so meticulous and detailed that, for example, even if he happened to have left something behind somewhere- we can be reasonably sure that he made note of that, too.

He left many things behind.

In 2015 an Ecuadorian artist found a trace of Whymper in the Andes. He peeled it off of the landscape- as if it were a transparency- and brought it back to Whymper’s own birthplace. The artist set the transparency down and made a measurement by it’s guide. He extracted a bit of material from the English landscape, and ignited a brief media uproar when he presented this bit of material as a work of art in an exhibition in a London gallery. The artwork consisted of a clump of rock. This rock measures exactly one inch- and it has made three crossings of the Atlantic Ocean over a span of more than 100 years.

The inch has been called: a ‘head in a bag,’ an ‘intruder,’ an ‘important ceremony’ a ‘small, suggestive gesture,’ a ‘natural history specimen,’ and a ‘mickey-’ among other things. As we trace this inch from the Matterhorn to the Andes and back to a contemporary art gallery in London- we might find new reflexive potential in an obscure historical fragment. We find that the measure a subject places on an object is not constricted to describe the object- it tells equally about the way the measurer oriented themselves to the object they intended to quantify. In order to understand how the measure of a single inch could provoke such a range of discordant readings, we need to trace the measurement from one perceiving body to the next.

“Perception organizes spatial distributions around an egocentric frame of reference that is implicitly indexed to the perceiving body, and things appear near or far, to the left or right, and so forth, only in relation to the body”(1).

Our first perceiving body was born in England in 1840. Someone put a stick in his hand.

Notes

(1) Gallagher, Shaun. 2013. How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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Max Stolkin is a professor of Fine Art at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Previous print projects have been published by UDK Berlin and Printed Matter Inc. His works have been exhibited at Kansas Gallery and at White Flag Projects. He studied Comparative Literature at the Evergreen State College, Freie Kunst at Kunsthochschule Mainz, and was an artist in residence with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. 

more info: www.maxstolkin.com