Ruth Barker

A Silent And Invisible Force





The relationships between things are often difficult to pinpoint with accuracy. Ideas, moments, intentions, all exist in states of tension; each moored to others by a silent and invisible force.


What is the relationship between A and B?

What is it?

Where does it go?

What does it say?


Tell me, tell me, tell me. Or perhaps you shouldn’t. Maybe I can guess.

Because the impacts of this force are significant (and we may feel them, as we enter its fields).

Because the impacts of this force are significant, and because Jo Coupe is an artist whose work points at the world, opening the systems of our universe up to our wonder. Like a magician, like a scientist, like a poet or philosopher, she offers us silent and invisible forces that animate; which hold in balance; and which may finally fall apart, cold and released from their tension. 




Releasing the tension, a scientist lays out her apparatus and describes her method clearly. We watch with interest, and with curiosity.

Elsewhere, a stage magician dons her hat and cape and smiles her wide and white-toothed smile. Ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls…


What is the difference between them? Between scientific demonstration and stage magic?

The scientist makes her iron filings twitch. I watch the filings jump, jump, jump; as though they were alive.

The stage magician saws her assistant in half and then joins him back together. She clicks her fingers and she tells us that it’s magic.


The trick is honest. No-one is pretending and no-one is deceived, but we may all be awed. The pleasure is in witnessing the skill. The significance is in the invisibility of the illusion, where our need to marvel comes because, not despite, the dexterity we find. The magic is in Solid Air, Coupe’s series of stepladders moored between white walls by an anchor of strings pulled taught by magnets. The silent and invisible force is made palpable. We feel the tug, the suspension, the sense that this is something more than natural; the phenomenon of magnetism, so common as to be assumed unquestioned, is rendered supranatural by this sudden and unexpected poetry.


This is the stage magician’s trade. And also, perhaps, the artist’s. For aren’t all artists magicians after all? Tell me, tell me, tell me. Or perhaps you shouldn’t. Maybe I can guess.




I saw the scientist’s iron filings jump. They looked as though they were alive, and their sudden and unexpected life was somehow magical.

The stage magician cut a man in half, and magically joined him back together again. He smiled and took a bow.


What is the relationship between magic and mortality?  Only that through magic we can play out the fantasy of immortality. If we can succeed in making the illusion complete, we can believe it. That’s why, we know, the illusion has to be both honest, and total.




With total honesty, most of us prefer not to think about our own brevity. We prefer not to think about the fact that our bodies are fragile, vulnerable to the forces of time and gravity and entropy. And yet this morning a friend told me that brevity is nothing less than a kind of rarity, but one that is experienced through time. Fleeting things (like our lives) must be precious then, and rare.


Crystalline Energy: a series of memories (a film, an image, a description) of something almost magical that once took place.

Once upon a time a magnetic field gave a kind of life to a host of objects in a room. The objects drew together, charged and taut. They bunched into arabesques, heaved into bridges and columns, arced into extended monuments to force, clung in staggering piles and knots, and strenuously contorted in live, vibrating proximity. Together, animated by the silent and invisible force of magnetism, the objects were a wonderland at the last edge of believability. They were lent a tiny spark of life by the silent and invisible force that held them, for the briefest and longest of moments in inexorable tension. Until that force was ceased. And the objects slumped, falling and sprawling in release. The tension was broken. The spark of life was released, snuffed out in the inevitable tumbling of metal.

On the imperfect image on the screens, we watch the metal fall. And if we watch closely, caught between the fragments as they die, we may glimpse a hint of something precious, fleeting and now lost.


When we experience things that are not long lasting, we know that we have a privileged view accorded to a very few who happened to be in the right place at the right time.




The right place at the right time.


In the gallery I am shown something that at first I do not quite understand. A situation is presented for me. The components of this situation are held in a state of tension – each one moored to the other by a silent and invisible force – and although I may have a name for that relationship (I may call it magnetism for example, or time), I confess that I do not fully understand the whole of it.


In the gallery I see aspects of the world, exaggerated. I see entropy placed out; I see forces in motion; I see physics as poetry; I see beyond what I am used to seeing; I see that any sufficiently developed technology can be understood as magic; I see the believable pushed to tenuous extent.

I see the world, though less pinned down than usual.

I see the world, though less pinned down than we might fear.

I see the world, though less pinned down than we might like.


In the gallery I am shown the limits of things. I see the edges of forces that are usually unseen. I see flux. I see how fleeting we are, how fleeting this all is. I see that nothing lasts forever. I see that the world must be precious then, and rare. I see ideas that are dear to me.




I do not understand how gravity works, but I feel it, as I drop to my knees. Invisibility is not the same as absence. Our complex world extends beyond the visible. We are precarious, just as we are fleeting.


We are caught, lovingly, in the gaps between things, folded up by the relationships played out between silent and invisible forces we do and do not understand. The ladders are held in tension. The metal is released to fall. And Jo Coupe points us back towards the world and its honest marvels.