Monday, 28 March 2016

Simon Starling at Nottingham Contemporary

BFTF and No3 Son recently saw a fascinating exhibition of work by Simon Starling at Nottingham Contemporary (see also here). Simon is an alumni of Nottingham Trent University and has won many awards, including the Turner Prize in 1995, for his work.

Below are a few notes on some of the items that particularly caught the attention of BFTF, together with a bit of added bloggage...

The Nanjing Particles (2008)
A big hit with BFTF and No3 Son, this was originally displayed at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (whose history is fascinating in its own right btw), the sculptures are million-fold magnifications of silver particles extracted from an image of Chinese strikebreaking workers at the Sampson Shoe Factory in Massachusetts. Ironically, it was too expensive to make the sculptures in the US, so the job went to the Shanghai State Art Foundry in Nanjing (more info here).

The strikebreakers at the Sampson Shoe Factory, 1870 (via Wikipedia)

1,000,000 x magnified Silver particles

So many questions.... How did the silver particles get extracted? What did the electron microscope image look like? How was it converted to a 3D form? I guess to find the answers to these questions, one will have to buy the book (don't like to link to tax-avoiding Amazon, but that's the only place BFTF can find it).

The Alchemist and Recursive Plates
An unusual take on the "science meets art" genre, this part of the exhibition showed Joseph Wrights original "The Alchemist" together with a recent Daguerreotype of the same painting.

The Alchemist (1771) is a famous painting (definition of "famous" : "one BFTF has seen before") but BFTF was surprised to find that it is normally found in Derby Museum and that Joseph Wright was a son of that nearby city. Alchemists were the predecessors of modern chemists and the painting shows an alchemist producing phosphorous from boiled down urine. This was actually done by German Alchemist Hennig Brand around 1669. The glow is caused by phosphorous vapour reacting with oxygen in the air. Indeed, the word "phosphorous" means "light bearer". Alchemists, however, were unaware of the actual chemistry that was happening.

The Alchemist (via Wikipedia)

In contrast, the Daguerreotype, one of the first photographic technologies was developed when chemistry was better understood (although discoveries of the electron and atomic nucleus were still to come). Daguerrotypes are produced on a silver plated metal sheet and are very fragile. In the image below, one can see reflections of the room (in colour) and also a faint, reversed, image of The Alchemist painting.

Modern Daguerreotype of "The Alchemist" 

"Project for a Rift Valley Crossing" (2015-16)
This remarkable project, specially produced for Nottingham Contemporary, is still in progress. It involves taking some 1900 litres of water from the Dead Sea (which contains ~0.05% Magnesium), extracting the ~90kg Magnesium from it to make a canoe, and then rowing across the Dead Sea in that canoe.

The inspiration for the project came from the story of magnesium bicycle maker Frank Kirk, who extracted ~2.5kg of Magnesium from ~1.5m3 of seawater and made Magnesium bike frames.

The Industrial Bulk Containers (IBC's) that had contained the water were on show (each holding about a tonne of water) as was the resulting canoe - but the trip across the Dead Sea is scheduled for some point in the future.

Two IBC's, each capable of holding ~ 1 tonne of water

Canoe made from Magnesium extracted from Dead Sea water

Close up of Magnesium welds

La Source (demi teinte) (2009)
Another hit with No3 Son, this display took a section from a half-tone image and converted the dots into glass balls. Nottingham Contemporary even provided a raised viewing platform to get a good view from!

La Source from viewing platform

La Source, close up

All technically very clever, from the manufacture of the glass balls to the laying out of the balls to form the image.

D1-Z1 (2009)
No3 son thought that the 35mm projector running a film loop was "pretty cool", but for BFTF it was seeing what was projected - footage of one of the earliest programmable computers, the Z1, which was designed by Konrad Zuse in Germany in 1936. Remarkably, it was of a mechanical design, which leaves BFTF wondering whether this is the direction things could have taken in a SteamPunk world.

35mm projector showing footage of the Z1

Close up of the 35mm projector

Z1 mechanical computer (via Wikipedia)

Final note...
Perhaps worth repeating that there was a lot of other stuff on display that is not covered here and also that the plum cake in the cafe is very nice.

Related Content
Surface Gallery - Michael Powell Exhibition
Report on Street Art Exhibition at the Surface Gallery
Pictures of the Sky
Nottingham - Tiltshifted
Shonaleigh at Nottingham Storytellers
Great programme describing how some of Turners paintings covered key changes in the Industrial Revolution.
Piero Gilardi and John Newling at Nottingham Contemporary
Light Night 2013
The Chair
>Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary

Image Sources
All BFTF's own except:
North Adams Strikebreakers
The Alchemist

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