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The Academy of Saturn

Authors
  • Craighead, Alison
  • Thomson, Jon
Publication Date
Feb 18, 0002
Source
Goldsmiths Research Online
License
Unknown

Abstract

The Cooley Gallery is proud to present a solo exhibition by celebrated UK artist-collaborators Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead. Since the mid-1990s, Thomson & Craighead have explored the visual, statistical, and poetic nature of networked information and its relationship to capitalism, war, and everyday life. The title of the exhibition—The Academy of Saturn—derives from Voltaire’s 1752 novella Micromégas, in which colossal astral travelers from The Academy of Saturn visit earth and engage in a philosophical discussion with a group of scientists. Radical scale shifts of knowledge and comprehension result in an absurd, zero-sum exchange between the species; however, the story is an acerbic parable about the inanity of war and the value of external perspective. With kindred tenacity and wit, Thomson & Craighead explore global information’s competing—and increasingly intertwined—experiences of intimacy and incomprehensibility, touching information to be here now. Distillation, order, and observation take different forms throughout the exhibition. The monumental Horizon (2009–present), for instance, comprises a grid of real-time webcam images from every time zone in the world. In Thomson’s words: “The result is a constantly updating array of images that read like a series of movie storyboards, but also as an idiosyncratic global electronic sundial.” As Horizon conjoins time and space in axial form, it amplifies the lyricism of each circadian landscape. Thomson & Craighead also snare and repurpose networked information in material form, often working with ongoing streams of personal utterance. For The Academy of Saturn, the artists are creating a new iteration of their text-based project London Wall (2010–present), entitled, appropriately, Portland Wall. The work is based on public “status updates” posted on Twitter and Facebook in a three-mile radius from the Cooley. The texts are transformed into graphic posters and installed onto the walls of the gallery, forming a vast meander of endlessly readable concrete poetry—fleeting thoughts, arrested and echoed in their community of origin. Perhaps the artists’ most alchemical work—Apocalypse (2016)—atomizes the King James Bible’s account of the horrors of the End Times in the form of a luxury perfume (developed in collaboration with Edinburgh perfumer Euan McCall). The project was inspired by Master Bertram von Minden’s fifteenth-century altarpiece depicting forty-five scenes from the Book of Revelations (housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). The artists determined Apocalypse’s olfactory notes by calculating the number of times a given substance, such as “blood” or “flesh,” is mentioned in the text. Thomson & Craighead’s interest in the found poetry of historical narrative and networked culture speaks to artistic forms such as the Oulipo movement founded in the 1960s. Oulipo artists constructed their work using patterned constraints such as palindromes and the S+7 technique, in which each noun in a text is replaced with the seventh noun that follows it in the dictionary. In Thomson & Craighead’s sculpture Here (2011–present, also produced in a new iteration for the Cooley) a regulation street sign displays the distance the sign exists from itself if pointing in the direction of the North or South pole. Like a palindrome, the work encapsulates its own unidirectional movement: physical geography tuned to the logic of networked space.

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