Elemental Phenomena

Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane
8 May - 18 July 2015

The paradox of surface, the enigma of weather, the stereoscopic view of the unseen, electrons whirled around until they burst into beams of pure light—these are some of the elements with which the four artists of ‘Elemental Phenomena’ meddle. These works encounter the boundaries of the mystical and the irrational, tuned to that point at which our earth-bound cognitive faculties become disrupted. Curated by Naomi Evans, ‘Elemental Phenomena’ allows us to get behind science’s glistening white lacquered exteriors to reveal the squishy sparking excrescences that both fascinate and repulse us. 

Toward the rear of the darkly lit gallery, on a screen that stretches from floor to ceiling, is Robin Fox’s Magnetic Trap (2012). This work uses ‘tune data’ from the Australian Synchrotron, a type of cyclical particle accelerator, located in Melbourne. When electrons are accelerated over bending magnets, electromagnetic radiation is emitted as synchrotron light, which can be a million times brighter than the sun.1 This ‘tune data’ was processed by Fox according to a number of algorithms and filters, the intensity of the sounds correlating to the intensity of the colours. The result is an intense scatter-gun flickering of rapid bursts of piercing light, tightly synchronised to a chaotic granular splintering of harsh experimental noise. Fox’s earlier work, Volta (2005), screened opposite, was created by sending a pure audio signal to an analog cathode ray oscilloscope. When switched to a ‘polar’ mode, the oscilloscope gives a circular display, rather than the conventional left to right wave pattern. The green phosphorescent images exhibit a frenzy of the micro and macrocosm simultaneously, as if we are witness to some ancient cosmic dance between excited sub-atomic particles. The dynamic visualisation of the sound reveals unexpected spiral and helical geometries, interwoven mesh forms and molecular or crystalline structures. The direct synaesthetic coupling of sound and image has long been characteristic of Fox’s laser work. With this work, we hear, see and, in many cases, feel the direct physical signal acting on our senses. 

At the other end of the spectrum were Jason Hendrik Hansma’s works, which were the most removed from a laboratory aesthetic. Now More Than Ever (2015) features two framed stereoscopic photographs from a 1920s polar expedition, with a hanging crystal and Madonna Lilies. The whiteness of the space suggests a celestial purity, particularly at the surface level; any attempt at depth perception will only lead to binocular disparities, tricks and vast empty spaces. It stems from a world that is assembled as we would want it to be, as if physics had shown the atom to be solid and therefore knowable and tangible… of course, it did not turn out that way. In an interview, Hansma says his work is about, ‘…trying to come to terms with ideas that I can’t fully grasp…’.2 As much as reconciling with what eludes rationality, his work is also about memory, and the way that memory is itself often a selective fabrication, the result of slippage and suspended moments.

Cloud Field (Föhn Bank) (2007) was rebuilt specially for the exhibition by Michaela Gleave. The participant viewer goes up a few steps into a giant wooden box and immediately steps into a gleaming white realm of floating clouds. One has a sense of standing on the clouds, hovering in a state of transcendence or floating in a disembodied immaterial realm. The confining rectilinear space becomes fuzzy and indeterminate, the reassuring edges are absent and undetectable. Clouds made from water, using ultrasonic misting units, waft into the enclosing structure, as white fluorescent lights illuminate the space. A resonating tonal drone oscillates, effusing the space in an ethereal glow. Gleave has long been fascinated with locating those loopholes, or trompe-l’oeil, in our grasp of the spaces and environment we inhabit. Cloud Field (Föhn Bank) has been followed by a string of weather themed works, Raining Room (Seeing Stars) (2009), Snowfield (2009) and Our Frozen Moment (2012).

Almost like a companion piece to Cloud Field (Föhn Bank), Ella Barclay’s Summoning The Nereid Nerdz (2015) bubbles away in a similar eerie lurid light. A suspended cauldron-like structure, filled with a murky amorphic liquid, Barclay’s work also resembles a giant smart phone. Images are projected down onto the liquid surface, showing apparitions of individuals appearing to climb out, as if clambering out of a bath. According to Barclay, it is from this gurgling primordial soup, the Ethernet, web and data clouds, that we conjure our desires—online shopping, internet dating, conspiracy theories, quirky avatars. With its extraneous wires popping through the shimmering acrid interface, the work closely resembles Barclay’s previous works Maelstrom-Studies (2012) and EBB (2013). This work engages with the vaporous boundaries of self, online desires and awkward social interaction. 

Michaela Gleave, Cloud Field (Föhn Bank), 2007/2015. Installation view, Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane. Photograph Carl Warner.  

notes: 

1. Australian Synchrotron website http://www.synchrotron.org.au/synchrotron-science/

2. Jason Hansma, Gentle Into That Good Night, The Museum of Natural Mystery, Perth, 2011.