Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Constellations - Gathering Dust

Constellations, an exhibition on at the Cornerhouse in Manchester until 11th September, brings together four artists who all deal with the ephemeral and the transitory. The exhibition is split over two galleries with two artists in each gallery. The first gallery shows the work of Kitty Kraus and Takahiro Iwasaki. Kitty Kraus shows one piece and Takahiro Iwasaki shows four.

The piece by Kraus, Untitled, is a repetition of a previous work first shown in Berlin in 2008. It comprises of a light bulb encased in ink filled ice which over the course of the exhibition melts to leave a black inky trail on the floor. It sits somewhere between sculpture, intervention, installation and drawing, where the artist controls the initial parameters and leaves the work over time to make itself. Although in itself quite pleasing and fitting the mood of the exhibition it is the least interesting piece on show.

The works of Iwasaki are all mini landscapes constructed from everyday objects. In Out of Disorder (three of Iwasaki’s works are so named) tiny towers and buildings rise out of landscapes of socks, towels, dust and hair utilising the threads and fibres of each material. And in Differential/Integral Calculus the landscape is made up from carved erasers and electrical tape while it is filled with telegraph poles made from technical pencil lead. The works in their materials and subject matter are a metaphor for the human struggle to construct solid objects of permanence in an ever changing natural wilderness. But the fragility of the works and their towers is a reminder that nothing human beings will construct is ever going to last forever, except for maybe the detritus, the socks, the towels, the dust and hair. Just consider the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, an incident which the work of Iwasaki rather abstractly and unexpectedly brought to my thoughts.

It is in the second gallery of Constellations that, to my mind, the best work is contained: two works by Katie Paterson and one by the best known artist in the show, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. In Earth-Moon-Earth an automated piano plays an altered version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. For this work Paterson translated a portion of the Sonata into Morse code and transmitted this translation to the moon. The signal was then reflected by the moon back to earth losing some of the information on the way. The version of the Sonata played by the piano in the gallery is the result of this process, with gaps where the information is missing. With this process of reduction Paterson has composed a new piece of music. Watching the ghostly player-piano I found myself wondering: where did the missing notes go? Is there somewhere individual musical notes floating through space waiting to be intercepted by someone or something? How far will they travel? Our picture of the universe is incomplete, just like Paterson’s Moonlight Sonata.

In 100 Billion Suns Patterson replicates a Gamma Ray explosion with a confetti canon and thousands of small coloured circles of paper that look like the residue of a hole-punch. The array of paper on the floor of the gallery resembles a star map with a mixture of dense and thinly distributed patches of colour. The precise physical force of the canon results in a random dissipation of matter resembling the seemingly random dissipation of stars in our galaxy. Paterson succeeds in her use of simple recognisable objects to make us consider the cosmic.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ posthumous contribution to Constellations is a re-showing of his 1991 Untitled paper stack, large scale reproductions of a photograph of the surface of water, an ephemeral moment captured and mass produced, which visitors to the gallery are invited to take away. This work balances perfectly with Paterson’s with its uses of reduction and again random dissemination. The paper is disseminated depending on who goes to the gallery, where they live or choose to exhibit it - if they exhibit it at all. There could be many copies of this image rolled up, sitting in corners, gathering dust. For those that take one, the image is a physical embodiment of memory, a reminder of their visit to this exhibition.

Other than Iwasaki’s all the works on display are the result of some random process instigated by the artist. Choosing the initial parameters and the process, the artists have all taken a step back from the work, allowing the process to unfold of its own accord, thus distancing themselves from the result. Only Paterson’s work directly relates to the title of the exhibition, Constellations, although Kraus’ work could be seen as a drawing of the inky black night sky, but the curators Karen Gaskill and Michelle Kasprzak have succeeded in creating a quietly contemplative exhibition from the work of artists who use the small and the everyday to provoke thoughts of the grand and the cosmic.

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