Paintings            GARY BARTEN
Barn Star Above the Shadows of Time - Above and Below
April 2021
ink, acrylic, and tempera on paper
24" x 35"
The Theory of Everything – Barn Star Above the Shadows of Time

Five pointed “barn stars” decorates many rural structures one passes driving America’s interstate highways. A decorative insignia of anything or nothing, it has a simple sculptural impact by way of its geometry and construction. Catching light its low relief configuration is graphic in shading and line and is easily seen on the stained walls of rough wood. A beacon resembling the manger star that presides over Christmas creche Bethlehems, the barn star neither illuminates nor points the way to anything. Nothing then, must be part of its deliberate message to the passersby in semi-trucks and cars whistling by the rural landscape night and day. And since nothing must be a part of everything, the barn star might be emblematic of more that the catchy kitsch that leads to its purchase and elevation high on the farm wall. But what is it an emblem of and how does it remain so aloof and indecipherable?

Five points, five fingers, five senses – the keys to our relationship with the empirical world that become a comprehension of our surroundings as we process sensation into thought and decisions. So, the five- pointed beacon may symbolize our interface with reality. An abstract image of flat isosceles triangles becomes a sculptural relief emerging into three-dimensional space and also a symbol of number and the processes of sensation and comprehension. The barn star is a symbol of the theory of everything! For our human psyche, the theory of everything is perhaps only what we can digest and comprehend, turning back towards the world with some assurance that we understand who we are and what it is.

When 20c physics claimed to be on the brink of a theory of everything, the story was also a part of one of Stephen Hawking’s numerous wagers with his colleagues. For Hawking, the theory of everything would become evident in the near future. Eventually, the theory of everything became a kind of fool’s gold in the quantum theory’s quest. As Nobel Laureate physicist, Philip Anderson explained, “When one understands everything, one has gone crazy.” So, despite its simple design, when light dances across the seemingly regular planes of the barn star its form shifts constantly. Like its surroundings below and across the farm fields and highways, the complexity of movement, emergence, and with slightly less emphasis, decay unfold throughout the day, and on across the months and years never allowing for an ultimate pattern or simplification to describe the world. That which is unseen – beneath the ocean or above the clouds – areas that we haven’t experienced firsthand are still a resonant part of everything and the hidden connections make a theory of everything even less possible minute by minute.
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