Simply put, Casey Gardner’s Matter, Anti-Matter and So Forth is a marvelous journey through space, time, and philosophy. Seven folios of letterpress with transparent pages are nestled inside a case with illustrations of constellations; they are not the familiar ones we see in the sky, but rather based on the seven components seductively investigated in the folios: light, gravity, time, matter, infinity, constellations, and science. These heady topics are examined within each corresponding booklet; moreover, they can be stood upright and opened to mimic stars, underlining the astronomic expedition viewers within these folios. While the viewer can select any reading order almost like a version of Choose Your Own Adventure, the booklets are best in sequence. In fact, they are helpfully numbered to guide the way.
Each of the folios shares the same layout: the cover/first page is devoted to a first person story (more on that later), then within is a discursive examination of the subject. On the right interior are two transparent pages that layer gorgeously onto each other, titled “Intergalactic artifacts from the transparent universe.” If the rest of the booklets are a tasteful yet somewhat restrained use of color, these transparent pages enthrallingly explode with inky or watercolor techniques, graphic elements, and so on. Underneath these pages reveals the letterpress booklet; meanwhile, the back page/cover is dedicated to methodically “collecting data” from the previous pages and analyzing and organizing this information.
Now, the story: the audience reads of an explorer named Phoebe (the name slyly references a moon around Saturn), detailing her trip through the cosmos, exploring each of these seven subjects as she searches for knowledge and perhaps a purpose. Based on the writings within each folio, she finds more questions than answers as she progresses through her travels. As this voyage continues, she meets a fellow wanderer named Amos9 who joins her for part of this cosmic trip, seeking his own quest for the 10th dimension. It is impossible, as you read through each booklet, not to feel as if you are with Phoebe as she discovers and journeys through space; much of this is due to Gardner’s effectively succinct and intriguing method of writing this bit of fiction. Phoebe and Amos9’s trip includes a stop during The Big Bang, other time traveling, and being physically affected by the effects of several natural phenomena.
Wonderment and curiosity delightfully mesmerizes the viewer as they read through these philosophically dense folios. For instance, the first folio Light opens Phoebe’s expedition with “I always travel light” (this statement ends the final folio, Science) and describes a gifted telescope from her aunt. Inside, the book is a free-form, rambling evaluation of the concept of light. A sun is in the lower left corner, and instead of rays, words radiate outward, such as “Stars (repeated 13 times) compose us.” As the audience contemplates these various statements, the transparent pages add to the theoretical discussion with “fusing and radiating the visible and invisible.” The layers build, visually reviewing redshift, which refers to how we measure the distance and movement of remote celestial bodies. As they drift away, the light emitted from them is like a coiled spring being stretched out. Thus, as the galaxy or star proceeds, the light sent out shifts towards the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Gardner has clearly been careful in her research for these sections; anyone either unfamiliar with these concepts or a person knowledgeable about the subject could glean different but thoughtful information.
The back of Light (and the other folios too) breaks this material into three specific categories: the “mission” (i.e. Light), data, and impressions. Under this last section, frequently the item “Further inquiries” appears—in Light, she writes “I hope to understand why I came this way.” These invigorating thoughts are a way of digesting what came before, both for Phoebe and the audience. A seal depicting a mission benediction, as if formalizing this space traveler’s report, appears stamped at the end of this back cover.
One cannot help but be absorbed in pondering the stimulating questions posed within the booklets. In Gravity, the interior page has “Do we make the weight or does the weight make us?” This question is perhaps half answered under the folio’s transparent pages with “Weight is made by resisting an opposing force,” leading the viewer to consider their place in the universe, society, and their own effects as thinking human beings. The philosophical conundrum of “why is there something rather than nothing?” is mentioned as well; this question has had recent surge in popularity in works like Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story. There, Holt tracks down scientists, philosophers, and religious persons to try and answer this fundamental question of our universe; meanwhile, Gardner gets at a similar examination but in a more lyrical, visual manner. There are so many of these queries and reflections in each booklet that the audience is cheerfully captivated into spending a great deal of time mulling over each section, something Gardner has certainly intended with precise care, encouraging viewers to deeply examine each statement, illustration, and more.
Perhaps one of the most stunning segments in all the folios is the transparent pages in the final booklet, Science. A richly colorful depiction of the universe, with several galaxies illustrated in an expressive, painterly fashion is shown. There is also an arm outstretched; here, Gardner references art history with Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, though some key differences emerge. The arm has the same iconic gesture as Adam, but upside down and female, and the fingers point deliberately upwards to the stars. This booklet’s back cover concludes with “We are all space travelers” and “This is all an experiment.” This reminds the audience of the enchanting journey they have embarked on vicariously and actively, through exploring each page and making associations and conjectures from the questions raised.
Matter, Anti-Matter and So Forth is a fantastic mishmash of art, science, and hints of popular culture, and its unique consideration of these themes is an absolutely welcome delight. The experience is akin to the astronaut’s at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, feeling blissfully overwhelmed by the phenomena of the universe. Because there is so much packed into this piece, it is happily possible to rediscover new elements each time one revisits the work—a rewarding mission indeed.