Syzygy

Syzygy_web

On Sunday “Dad’s Taxi” was in operation ferrying one offspring to see another. To avoid running backwards and forwards twice in an afternoon, we decided to spend the afternoon at Salford Quays as we hadn’t visited for a while.

First stop was the Lowry to see the current temporary exhibition – Syzygy – which features works by Katie Paterson.

Katie Paterson was born in Glasgow in 1981 and studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 2000-2004 and at the Slade School of Art from 2005- 2007.

Paterson’s artistic practice is cross-medium, multi-disciplinary and conceptually driven, with emphasis on nature, ecology, geology and cosmology. (source)

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as the blurb on the Lowry website wasn’t entirely clear about the theme of the exhibition and the nature of the works and the only image was of a row of clocks on the wall. Entering the galleries we could hear music playing – the Moonlight Sonata – but it didn’t seem quite right.

We soon discovered that the works in the exhibition were inspired by science, particularly cosmology. So as someone with a scientific education it was of particular interest.

The music was a recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata that had translated into Morse code, transmitted by radio, bounced off the surface of the moon and received back on earth. The code was then transposed back into a player piano scroll and played back on a grand piano in the centre of the gallery on a. As some of the radio waves had been absorbed by the Moon’s surface, there were gaps in the recording. A simple idea, but I thought it was interesting and if visitors thought about it they would perhaps learn that radio waves can be absorbed by surfaces.

Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon)

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On the wall behind the gallery there were a row of clocks. At first glance you might think “what’s the point of that?” Looking closer they all seemed to be telling different times, although the minute hands were all in the same position. On closer inspection it could be seen that each clock had a different number of hour marks – only one with the “correct” number – i.e. 12. This work was entitled Timepieces (Solar System).

Here, each clock represents the number of hours that must pass before each planet in our solar system experiences a full day – that is, one full rotation of the planet equates to two revolutions of the clock face. Setting us up for a comic double-take, at first glance each clock looks as it should; but only the Earth clock takes 12 hours to circumnavigate. The clock for Saturn performs one round of the face every five and a half hours, Jupiter every five, while Mars needs only a small adjustment of the Earth clock, for it is just 20 minutes out, and Neptune requires an extra ten minutes.

An interesting idea that should make viewers think about the representation of time and how the meaning of something as simple as the length of a day changes with context and how something familiar to us, like an hour, is actually a human construct.

On the floor in one of the other galleries there was an object that was clearly a meteorite. A sign told visitors they could touch but that they shouldn’t attempt to move it. Well if they did they would have injured themselves. It was iron and very heavy.

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This work was Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky, 2012. It was a  meteorite, but it had been melted and then re-cast back into a new version of itself – essentially using the original meteorite as the raw material to make a model of itself.

When it first fell, the meteorite was made up of recognisable elements and compounds, but in configurations never found on earth. On melting and re-solidifying, the molecules reformed into their common terrestrial arrangements. While the eventual cast looks identical to the original meteorite, it is profoundly, yet invisibly, different. It has been naturalised, by Earth standards.

So, while outwardly identical to the original, structurally and chemically it has been transformed by the recasting process. As someone who studied Chemistry, this was interesting. 

My favourite work in the exhibition was Totalitya mirrorball suspended in one of the galleries turning and reflecting points of light around the room.

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There were10,000 images of solar eclipses printed on the mirrorball which were reflected onto the walls, floor and ceiling.

The images depict almost every eclipse that has occurred since records began, and have been collected from all quarters of the globe, most from photographic sources, although there are some drawings from before the invention of photography.

The term Syzygy comes from astronomy, and is used to describe an alignment of celestial bodies. At the opening, Paterson said: “It’s a coming together of planets in space and time, and relates to how most of my work deals with Earthly time and cosmic time, and our relationship with heavenly bodies and the wider cosmos.”

Standing inside the room, watching the points of light swirl around the surfaces was quite disorientating.

Other works included All the Dead Stars – a stellar map showing the locations of all known dead stars, and Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull, a video piece showing three records cast from glacial meltwater, slowly melting while replaying recorded sounds made by the very glaciers from which the ice discs were made.

Some of the other works didn’t work quite so well for me, but another one,  Future Library which was a very interesting project, represented in the exhibition by a couple of drawings.

A forest has been planted to serve as the source of paper for a literary anthology to be printed in one hundred years’ time – the implication being that thinking literally about the materials one uses is the only responsible way to act when complex and occluded networks of production and distribution make it impossible to tell the real impact of one’s consumption. The trees have been planted within an existing forest in the environs of Oslo, its future secured by a forestry commission and a board of trustees. And as the trees grow, so will the Deichmanske library in Bjørvika in Oslo, with an archive box, containing a manuscript contributed by an invited writer, added each year.

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No one, not even Paterson, is allowed to open the archive boxes and read the manuscripts until the work is complete and that will be in 2114

Margaret Atwood has produced the first work for this library and the second has been written by David Mitchell. Apparently all authors will be given a copy of the completed anthology. Unfortunately many of them won’t be around to receive their reward!

So, for us, it was a very enjoyable exhibition. A pleasant surprise. I’m not sure every visitor will agree, but the concepts behind the works are very interesting if the visitor takes time to think about them.

Oh, and what about the title of the exhibition? Syzygy – a made up word? No, it’s an astronomical term used to describe an alignment of celestial bodies.

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5 thoughts on “Syzygy

    • At first itsems odd that an artist would initiate a project that she won’t see through to the finish. But on reflection it’s not so unusual. This is the case with some scientific and technological projects and in architecture – think how long the great medieval cathedrals took to build and Gaudi never expected to see the Sagrada Famillia finished. And the artist David Nash has initiated a number of natural works like his ash tree dome that continue to grow and develop and will outlast him. A fascinating project nonetheless

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