opening today in Berlin, Aether brings together a number of international artists and photographers inspired by astronomy. curated by super/collider's Louise Beer and Melanie King, who also heads up the London Alternative Photography Collective, the exhibition showcases various methods of photography; both experimental and direct, real and imagined. we caught up with Melanie to find out more
so what's the concept behind Aether?
Aether is a curational project, which was originally influenced by The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, published by Frank White in the 1980s. the book comprises of a number of written accounts and interviews with astronauts and cosmonauts and focuses on their return from space, where they saw the entire Planet Earth completely surrounded by an expanse of black nothingness. consistently, the astronauts saw the planet as a fragile organism where all beings are interconnected. this inevitably led to a profound cultural shift which we believe has led to a higher awareness of whole Earth ecologies. through Aether, we offer artists an opportunity to explore these themes within their own work
Jarvis Dooney is a gallery which focuses on contemporary photography, primarily working with artists from New Zealand and Australia. we saw this an opportunity to round up a number of artists using astronomy as a starting point for their work, who originate from the Southern Hemisphere. we think that there may be an unconscious link between many of these artists, as they may have been exposed to such immense skies, with completely different constellations. this is certainly the case for Louise
interestingly, many of the artists exhibiting in this show have an approach to photographic making which concerns the construction and deconstruction of an image. the meaning of these images are destabalised in some way, whether this be through the interaction with physical materials and light, through the reimagination of earth-bound phenomena as otherworldly skyscapes or through the interrogation of the idea that the photograph is “evidence” or “proof” in the field of science and astronomy
astronomy has clearly influenced art dating back aways, but do you think art has influenced astronomy? for instance the way images are created and presented to us?
I do think that art has influenced astronomy. my current body of research at the Royal College of Art intends to deconstruct visual traditions used in astronomical images by organisations such as NASA and the ESA. in most cases these images are used by scientists to demonstrate evidence of celestial objects, but these images are highly constructed
in 2013, I heard a very interesting presentation by Elizabeth Kessler on the concept of the “astronomical sublime” at the Envision the Universe seminar at the Royal Observatory. Kessler specifically focused on the highly saturated, high contrast images that NASA produces using the Hubble telescope. Kessler asserted that astronomers have developed representational conventions, suggesting that astronomers can even be distinguished by their own aesthetic choices when constructing an image for a publication. when looking through a telescope, we expect to see these vivid colours and strong details, but we never will. these images are highly constructed, using compositions which magnify and dramatic colours which cannot be seen with our eyes
Kessler believes that these visual traditions have been adopted from painters (such as Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson) who depicted the American West. Kessler suggests that there are formal similarities between the two sets of images. Similar features include isolated landscapes which are punctuated by immense towers, dramatic light which shines behind an object, and theatrical uses of colour. in my own research, practice and experience of astronomical phenomena – I am concerned that by being presented with these dramatic, constructed images, we are left feeling disappointed when looking through a telescope. looking through a telescope should be an experience of awe and wonder, but instead we can sometimes feel let down when we observe a planet as a dot, or a nebulae which is barely seeable
what are your personal favourite works in the show?
I have to say that Maija Tammi's "Milky Way" series (above) is one of my personal favourites. Maija has photographed semen and breast milk in a way which evoke the Hubble deep field images. I find it interesting that Maija is comparing bodily fluids which contribute to the creation of human life, to the birth of humanity on a scale which inevitably leads back to our stellar origins
aesthetically, I am a real admirer of Casey Moore's "Late Heavy Bombardment" series (below). these images of meteorites were taken at the Natural History Museum, using a Large Format Camera. Casey uses a special technique for photographing macroscopic detail, and then prints them as large scale silver gelatin prints in the darkroom