THE MULTIVERSE IS QUEER1. Brian Green, The hidden reality : parallel universes and the deep laws of the cosmos (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). 8.
(and decolonised). Growing up in the 90s, parallel worlds often popped up in the TV shows of my adolescence, offering a version of the narrative that was more expansive than normally allowed in mainstream media. In particular these alternative realities gave permission for otherwise cis-hetero characters to redefine their sexual identities, or for societies to flip racial and gendered hegemony entirely. In 1998, when a leather-clad queer Willow was brought forth from another reality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my fascination with the possibility of other worlds was cemented.
The idea that parallel worlds or multiple universes could actually exist has moved beyond science fiction many times through both the macro study of the cosmos as well through the micro study of the smallest particles that make up physical existence in quantum mechanics. In the 1950s the Many Worlds theory arose while attempting to solve underlying problems in our knowledge of how physical matter behaves by suggesting that all possible outcomes of each action (at the smallest quantum level), are realised at once as our reality is split into those outcomes, which in turn continue to split into their own outcomes nearly infinitely.1 This is the Sliding Doors of Multiverse theories, and at its most basic level theorises that all possible outcomes of every event occur simultaneously in parallel but hidden realities.
Of course, understanding the cosmology and mathematics behind the various multiverse theories that exist is like reading philosophy and requires a significant expansion of the mind. If the Many Worlds theory isn’t convincing, and we don’t have time to explore string theory, the braneworld or quilted and inflationary multiverses, then one of the simplest and most digestible theories relates to the size of our universe. If we assume that our universe is infinite,2 and we will not, as Francis Drake did when setting out in a single direction, circle back to our starting point, or reach some kind of end of existence, but instead continue in an infinite line stretching forward, then it follows that in the vast expanse of the infinite Universe, at some point, all possible versions of reality must exist eventually and in infinite multiples.
Unlike an existential crisis one might experience when contemplating the vastness of our position in space, the idea that this is but one possible world, of many possible worlds, can be a comforting and freeing thought. Somewhere in the Multiverse the doppelgänger of Kaylene Whiskey is not only joyously creating works of her experience growing up with 60,000 years of cultural heritage mixed with TV and radio pop culture. Somewhere Whiskey has actually met Dolly Parton, and is best friends with Tina Turner. In this reality, her remote home of Indulkana in the Central Australian Desert is repositioned as a place just as likely to contain these celebrity icons as anywhere else. And if this is possible somewhere out in the Multiverse, why not here? Somewhere in the Multiverse your doppelgänger has succeeded where you have failed, somewhere decisions that affect how you live your life were made differently. Somewhere in the Multiverse, the problems, biases and power structures that influence this world, do not exist.
Artists reveal the possibilities of the Multiverse, even if they are not followers of the theory themselves. By conjuring up other worlds they realise fictional or aspirational alternatives to our own reality in order to show the problematic and arbitrary nature of the rules that define our existence. Bhenji Ra and Justin Shoulder through their collective Club Ate, have conjured the alternative reality of Skyworld through their video works Ex Nilalang, 2015-2018, and Bhenji Ra’s Gulu-God, God is Change, 2020. In this reality, Filipino myths and religious symbols that had been used by colonial powers against queer identities have been transformed into a decolonial utopia. Here the artists inhabit the world as gods and creatures created in their own image telling new narratives of queer-centric folklore.
In the IMMI universe, an entirely new culture has been created. By appropriating the visual language of anthropology, the IMMI transgress cultural boundaries. Their customs, language and symbology are both a fabrication as well as a distillation of othering. Continually immigrating as they are without a homeland on this Earth, the IMMI question what it means to be a foreigner migrating across the created political borders of countries, cultures and identities. Employing the absurd, the IMMI don ceremonial masks and garb, enacting their cultural tradition of airport security screenings as a transformative religious ceremony. By manifesting these new mythologies, the artists in this exhibition dismantle the counterfeited cultural and religious dominance of colonial heteronormative forces.
In the Multiverse, cultural and religious hegemony loses meaning as no one civilisation can claim authority over all worlds. We could also do away with the need to find a divine creator entirely. Just as Darwin debunked intelligent design with his origin of the species, in the Multiverse we can determine that our goldilocks planet with its perfect formula to sustain life is not the result of a benevolent creator being, but simply a logical eventuality.3 This theory was put forth as early as the fifth century BCE by the Atomist philosophers, and was added to by Epicurus (341-270 BCE),4 who argued against creationism, contending instead that given infinite time, infinite physical matter, and infinite space, any possible configuration of matter that can emerge, will.5 Our world is therefore not crafted from the will of gods with their singular perspectives on good and evil, but is instead a certain outcome of infinity.
Artist Diego Ramirez directly probes the power of religion in his body of work Dark Oval, 2020. The centrepiece, 60 Images of the Virgin Mary takes as its reference the 1531 miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary ‘Tonantzin Guadalupe’ in colonial Mexico, which appeared to the Indigenous Saint Juan Diego during an outbreak of smallpox. While the image has been canonised as divine in origin, the symbol created by Ramirez merges 60 similar images of the Virgin Mary painted by artists, that predate the apparition. Demonstrating the divine deceit, Ramirez reduces these images to their most essential parts. In the amalgamation, Mary turns sinister, becoming a corporate alien-like talisman. Drawn from the past, the symbol has been brought into the present pandemic by the artist, to create a contemporary apparition which he has placed both within the gallery and online within a video game, our current site of lockdown worship. Collapsing the boundaries of time and space that separate the Marian doppelgängers the icon summons a digital cosmic portal.
This symbol, however, may not lead away from a false creator, but could rather be an sign towards a digital divinity. Moving slightly back towards science fiction, the Digital Multiverse theory points directly towards oligarchical creators of our reality, positing that if we can develop a supercomputer powerful and complex enough to simulate life, then we must accept that we ourselves could be within such a simulation, controlled by beings outside it.6 This follows The Matrix of Multiverse theories, and may not be so farfetched considering how quickly technological advances are being made.7 If we tumble down this rabbit hole we can no longer trust our own perception of what is real in the Digital Multiverse and must be on the lookout for glitches.
Xanthe Dobbie’s work actively pursues these glitches in their practice, finding them in our inhabitation of our own digital reality via the internet. Created entirely in the artist’s bedroom during the pandemic, the works created for this exhibition offer a window into this simulated reality, which has become our only source of connection to each other and the outside world while in lockdown. Dobbie’s never-ending GIFs and video vignettes mine the digital icons of our interior and online existence, imbuing them with a masturbatory inner fantasy. Tuning into our collective isolation and boredom, the digital collages become queer shrines to the banality and absurdity of our created world as well as signposts of its potential end during our current crisis. Through a queer reading of Revelations Dobbie has declared The Apocalypse is Queer. For if our digital overlords can create the simulation, they can also turn it off.
While the Multiverse may not be observably real just yet, several theories are acknowledged to be mathematically probable.8 In the infinite Multiverse one of your doppelgängers could be as close as 10 to the power of 10122 metres away. In the Many Worlds of quantum mechanics, the nearly infinite versions of yourself exist just a thin slice of reality away,9 and in the Digital Multiverse it can’t be known how many times this existence has been tweaked and rebooted. The mere possibility of these other versions of our reality make narratives outside the mainstream more permissible when we consider that all these possibilities have likely already come to pass. Each inhabiting a room within Bundoora Homestead and their own page within the digital platform, the artists in this exhibition have allowed parts of their internal and imagined worlds to spill into our reality, decentralising and destabilising the created parameters of our experience.
2. Which is currently just as possible as a finite Universe and is suggested by Professor Green to be a preferable theory to many cosmologists and physicists. Green “The hidden reality”, 33
3. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Random House, 2010), 165.
4. Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Worlds Without End, The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2014),
5. “Lucretius, De rerum natura, trans. W. H. D. Rouse, rev. Martin F. Smith, Loeb Classical Library 181 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), 5.186–94.”
6. Green “The hidden reality”, 331.
7. The Blue Brain Project, a joint venture between IBM and the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, is dedicated to modelling brain function on IBM’s fastest supercomputer and hopes to have mapped and harnessed the full processing power of a brain in 2020 (albeit a mouse brain). This is a significant advancement in simulating thought and offers a roadmap to potential Artificial Intelligence. EPFL, The Blue Brain Project (Lausanne, Switzerland, accessed January 2020), https://www.epfl.ch/research/domains/bluebrain/
8. Hawking and Mlodinow, “The Grand Design”, 35.
9. This is as far as light has been able to travel since the Big Bang and therefore the current limit of our observable Universe. Green “The hidden reality”, 42