The title of my post is that of a fantastic and pretty unique exhibition that I visited today at the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery. Subtitle: Science Technology Art. Sadly I am unable to post any illustrative pictures of what I spent the day admiring due to copyright restrictions. Yes, even the shadows cast by some of the works are copyrighted!1 So you’ll either have to go and see for yourself (it runs until well into next year) or follow the various links embedded in this post and take it from me that many of the pieces on display are absolutely magical. In that “Is this real ?!” childhood sense of magical that so many of us only dimly remember as we grow up. Still, there is also plenty that it is more solemn and introspective if that sounds like too much fun. 😉
The exhibition is themed around the idea of what happens when mechanical and digital technologies intersect with and give new expression to the “darker” (both literal and metaphorical) regions of our creative imaginations: what we see or imagine in the shadows and in response to changing, shifting patterns of light. The reaction of Maxim Gorky (who knew a thing or two about terror) to one of the first exhibitions of the Lumière brothers’ cinematographic innovations: “Not life, but a shadow of life. It is terrible to see, this movement of shadows…” provides an introductory insight. Other literary connections are provided in the work of Idris Khan. Blown-up, layered digital images of printed texts, which somehow appear like majestic 3D photocopies – including Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny – both merge and separate related elements of form, content, tone, and subtext. These look beautiful up close.
Snow Mirror by Daniel Rozin is the piece everyone wants to have a play with. The image of the viewer standing in between ‘projector’ and ‘screen’ is captured and transformed through a combination of computers, lights, and fabric, before being presented back to you slowly as if heralding the creation of a ghostly other “you”. To be more specific: a ghostly other you trapped in a snow blizzard. Kiss by R. Luke DuBois literally sparkles. For this he has visually analysed and mapped with bright points of connected light, specific regions of film depicting famous Hollywood kissing scenes, also tying them to an original, mathematically calculated, soundtrack. DuBois manages to draw your attention to the illusion/fantasy of cinematic emotion at the very same time as he takes it, manipulates it, and makes you feel it anew. Similarly, when I walked into the large room where Brass Art’s “Still Life No. 1” was sitting I was surprised to hear myself say out loud – “wow, this is amazing!” I can’t at all do justice to how magnificent the modern take of these 3 female artists (1 is from Glasgow) on a magic lantern or a Zoetrope (the Wheel of the Devil) is. Huge distorted shadows of the tiny little figurines and plastic shapes they have set up on a cylindrical table are cast dancing around the room. The figures on the table glow in bright white and yellow, appearing from a distance like crystal ornaments. This instantly took me back to the time when, as a kid, my imagination and my dreams started to develop together, spinning across the walls.
I’m sorry for these rather hesitant and “wooly” descriptions of the works. I am not an expert in how exactly these effects were achieved. I discussed this a little with one of the lovely gallery staff while we stood inside Barnaby Hosking‘s brilliant “Black Flood”. The point is to immerse yourself in the feelings elicited by these works (to react to them emotionally, even viscerally, as Gorky did) rather than to try and unpick how exactly the material and lights are set up and installed. I tried; but in the end, experiencing rather than clinically analysing suits me (and them) best.
Apparently some visitors to the museum find Hosking’s wall-mounted “butterflies” (3 different types and colours of metal, showing light, dark, shade, and very much conveying the fleeting movements of thought) too cheerful or “twee” for an exhibition themed around darkness. This is a really strange point of view! As the Lumières and other craftsmen and women working with photographs and “phantoms” knew better than most, the darkness of cinema or art based on those techniques is not possible without the play of light. Equally, the lightness of a Hollywood “kiss” is best appreciated in the dark.
1I have added a few images that I thought they wouldn’t object to – some of the lights and shadows at the Whitworth that aren’t technically exhibits…
The pumpkins haven’t even been carved yet and Christmas lights are going up around the city centre. Still, even walking back through October rain their sparkle and glitter makes me smile. I suppose it must take time to sort out all that wiring.
Somehow our usual sense of space, place and time changes, when it gets toward November. Even people with no umbrellas seemed fairly relaxed amidst the downpour.
When travelling down to Oxford Road this morning on the free Shuttlebus service (it’s one of 3 covering the whole city centre) I was pretty surprised to see, on Deansgate, a “Church of Scientology” shop-front. Bold as anything, with a proud blue and yellow sign, it sits beside Hobs (By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen) Reprographics, right on the corner.
The shop offers workshops, seminars, books, and who knows what else if you actually step inside rather than just staring in shock? The entrance looks welcoming and almost like a travel agent, enticing you to take a cute little wooden seat. According to the shop’s website, Scientology converts have in the past defeated that confusingly titled discipline “Science” to perform miracles no less impressive than the revival of babies and motorcycle crash victims from comas. Seriously: that’s what they claim. Follow the link. You don’t really need to be the wonderful Christopher Hitchens or (is he an Atheist?) Richard Dawkins to realise there is something a little bit “Trades Description Act” about that.
A Google search reveals that a few years ago an anti-Scientology protest took place outside the shop. Organised by the masked Anonymous network, it was only one of several held world-wide on the same day. Despite the best efforts of “V” and his followers the shop remains open for business…
Adding to its majestic property portfolio, the “Church” has spent over £3.5 million on a former distillery at Old Trafford. Sadly, they were refused planning permission to turn it into a “place of worship” and the building has been theirs, but disused, since 2007. See it described and rendered here in their video library as the “Future Manchester Church of Scientology” – accompanied by a voiceover that makes squirm-inducingly awkward references to the working class “machine” and the Georgian interiors. The Church of Scientology’s motto is, reassuringly: “Something CAN be done about it”.
Right now, I am starting to wonder if the photos I took through my bedroom window – in an attempt to capture the trains that move peacefully over the
red purple and grey brick railway arches – are proof that aliens really are here? I am also uploading (for purposes of comparison) a Photoshopped version of the image where the lights are notably absent. Not convinced? Think clearly!