Breese Little Gallery 4 June–1 August 2015
This exhibition, co-curated by astronomer Marek Kukula and art historian Melanie Vandenbrouck, is a celebration and exploration of the last half-decade or so of space travel, and an examination of the human response to our ever more-accurately defined place in an ever-expanding universe. To this end, contemporary takes on the Space Race and the modern-day space programme are juxtaposed with vintage NASA photographs of the Apollo missions and the earliest close-up views, sent by probes, of Mars, Jupiter and the Sun.
Dan Holdworth turns the tables in Blackout, with monumental photographs of Icelandic glaciers rendered literally unearthly in negative; reminiscent of the surface of the Moon (or indeed that of Pluto, as recently revealed by NASA’s New Horizons mission). Caroline Corbasson’s Naked Eye consists of seemingly thousands of layered star maps; a window into the dizzying structure of the universe itself which calls to mind the Hubble Deep Field or computer simulations of galaxy clusters, stretching light-years almost to infinity. And We Colonised The Moon, by Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser, puts a Pop Art spin on Moon maps, reappropriating the dark, dusty lunar surface and turning it into something altogether more technicolour. All the modern works here seek in some way to address the problems inherent in mapping, representing and pinning down our cosmic surroundings; with all the accompanying questions of ownership, territory and interpretation that come with such an enterprise. The process of observing a thing, as any artist or any quantum physicist knows, will irrevocably change it.
In contrast, there is something altogether more cosy and familiar about the NASA images, despite the fact that they represent the scientific and technological pinnacle of the 1960s and ’70s. The photographs are surprisingly small and presented in a giant grid on the wall, like a Flickr photoset of someone’s holiday. The images of the astronauts in situ, on the surface of the Moon or floating outside their vehicles in orbit, give the photographs a recognisibly human scale, and the grainy quality of the vintage film lends an air of genuine nostalgia that can only be dreamed of by Instagram filter developers. What was – and remains – grand and groundbreaking seems almost prosaic here, now that we are accustomed to seeing high-resolution, colour-enhanced images of nebulae and neighbouring galaxies courtesy of Hubble and its ilk. Still, there’s more than enough in this part of the exhibition to give you the chills – Williams Anders’ shot, Earthrise (1968) is still perhaps the most evocative embodiment of a new way of seeing our world: gorgeous, fragile, alone.
With data from high-profile New Horizons mission currently expanding our views of what is present and even possible within our own Solar System, this is a timely reminder of art’s importance as a mediator between our own human understanding and the unimaginably vast expanses of the universe.