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May 21, 2012 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts | [ssba]

Dark Sky: A Reply

This take on the current Adam Art Gallery exhibition adopts a different perspective than the one pursued in the review published two weeks ago in issue eight. Opinions will always differ and ultimately the beauty of exhibitions such as this is that the individual visitor creates their own impression through their own interactions.

In the catalogue to the Adam Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Dark Sky, Christina Barton describes the show as “setting
out to blur distinctions between art, science and the popular imaginary”. This aspiration sees the show bringing together photographic history, artefacts of popular history, documentary photography, painting and contemporary artistic photography, with many works belonging to more than one of these categories and some escaping these confines altogether. Already, it is apparent that the tidy boxes of art, science and popular culture are not so much boxes as arms of a galaxy, aspects of a whole that can be traced from a central idea.

The galaxy metaphor is fitting because it also applies to the layout of the gallery itself. The Adam’s long corridors, as well as the dark side room of the Kirk Gallery, tease out different aspects of Dark Sky. Upstairs, we follow the space race through the Upper Chartwell until America lands triumphantly on the moon in 1969. Here the photography is mostly scientific, a tool for recording the unknown and bringing it to Earth. At the same time, however, these images of the moon capture the great mystery and magical allure that it holds for all of us, as well as its striking beauty.

Wolfgang Tillmans’ monumental photographs of the 2004 Transit of Venus are first and foremost artistic, but the subject is overwhelmingly significant both scientifically and historically. The Transit of Venus is unique as an event which
can be explored so closely on these three different levels, and reveals the blurred lines between art, science and culture in photography and in life. A slice of this history is visible in the lower stairwell, where photographs taken with the process invented by Hermann Krone document his journey to the Auckland Islands to record the 1874 Transit. Artworks by New Zealand artists Colin McCahon, Ann Shelton and Stella Brennan, and British artist John Timberlake show the many trajectories of thought that Venus, outer space and the implications of humankind’s quest for celestial knowledge offer artists, and in particular New Zealanders.

Dark Sky charts our desire to locate ourselves in relation to the rest of the universe. This could be a purely scientific endeavour. But the enigma of the night sky is not something that can be answered with just numbers or measurements. And likewise, our fascination with space is not strictly for its unbounded beauty. What makes one photograph of space scientific, and another artistic? It is this question that Dark Sky poses, and, I would say, wryly refuses to answer.


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