Dark Matters

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game. And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.

-Michel de Montaigne, Of the inconsistency of our actions (1572-1574)

At first, I was a bit reluctant to spend the better part of the afternoon yesterday indoors at the Whitworth Art Gallery, since a six-day wet spell had finally given way to some much needed sunshine and warmth (we’re talking the kind of wet that comes from all sides, envelopes you, blurs the dividing line between sky and surrounding atmosphere, renders an umbrella useless and, with no end in sight, eventually dampens your spirits); but in the end I was glad we did get a chance to see the Dark Matters exhibition, followed by a chat and a cup of green tea at the gallery café with our friends S. and S.

The exhibition seemed a little all over the place at times – it consists of works by ten contemporary artists, complemented by a selection of prints, drawings and paintings from the gallery’s own collection, which are loosely connected by the themes of shadow, light and technology and the related ideas of temporality, absence, truth and wonder.

The most interesting pieces, to me, were the slightly unnerving and destabilising ones, starting with Daniel Rozin’s Snow Mirror, which projects your image and movements onto the diaphanous screen in front of which you are standing, with a slight time lag and into an anthill-like blur of black and white spots that seems to dissolve your identity rather than capturing or outlining it.

Daniel Rozin, Snow Mirror, 2006.

Even more fascinating is Rozin’s Peg Mirror, which consists of 650 circular wooden pieces arranged in a circle that tilt and rotate to capture the shadow of the person walking by or ‘performing’ in front of it. Both of these works are operated by hidden digital technology, but Peg Mirror has quite a mechanical feel to it, which is mostly generated by the noise the wooden components make when moving from one side to the other, like clicking the shutter of an old camera or an army of beetles scurrying across the gallery floor.

Daniel Rozin, Peg Mirror, 2007.

Similarly unsettling are Elin O’Hara Slavick’s cyanotype photographs, which are, at first sight, starkly beautiful objects, reminiscent of Anna Atkins’s nineteenth-century plant cyanotypes. It’s only when reading the titles that the specimens, emerging faintly from the deep blue background, are revealed as a bottle, tree bark and flowers exposed to high-level nuclear radiation during the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945.

Elin O'Hara Slavick, Dead Hiroshima Flowers, 2008.

Elin O'Hara Slavick, Bottle Deformed by the A-Bomb, 2008.

Elin O'Hara Slavick, Bark from an A-Bombed Eucalyptus Tree, 2008.

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