Shadowing Dark Matters

Stephen Iles explores the shadows in the last weekend of Dark Matters at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

Daniel Rozin- Snow Mirror

It is necessary  to submit to the Labyrinthine nature of the Whitworth’s interior, a space where contemporary art has often seemed the intruder. Held firmly within the embrace of the dominating  Victorian architecture, where it finds itself bursting at the seams of the building, squeezing into corridors and onto mezzanines,  It makes for an interesting psychological space, not a space that takes  you by the hand and leads you around, it is a space which leaves you to your own devices, to go walkabout, to get a little lost even. You always wonder whether there was something missed? A corner unturned, some nook or cranny you left unexplored.

The exhibition begins with an interactive piece, Floating in space is a translucent screen, upon which is projected a monochromatic image of falling pixels, falling gently, uniformly, endlessly. Like the ‘static’ on the screen of a disconnected television, it gently goes about it’s business, seemingly demanding little other than for us to acknowledge it’s presence. We are free to move around the screen, behind, to the side, from afar. Then, before we move on we give the piece a final moment, we stand four square in front of it as if to say goodbye and we begin to notice something different, an outline of a figure, life size, begins to emerge. It sways gently, moves furtively and then the penny drops, the said figure is an outline, a digital shadow of ourselves. We instinctively begin to gently lift our arms, to allow the snow settle upon our limbs like radioactive snow.

A dematerialisation has occurred, our body passing from one state to the other, a shift from the corporeal to the virtual, a preparation of the body for a ritual investigation. We are reminded of the screen both small and large, of ‘Star Trek’ and of films like Spielberg’s ‘Poltergeist’. We are the ghost in the machine, a theme that is set to continue throughout the show.

Isolated by spotlights shuttered to trace the edges of the frame, hang three works by Idris Khan. Layers of translucent text are superimposed upon one another to create a ghost like image. Words are rendered unreadable by the action of repeated overlaying, acquiring a new density, the sum of the many pages. In the natural diptych form assumed by the image of an enlarged, open book, a skeletal design begins to emerge, one not unlike an x-ray of human lungs, in this virtual light-box, lines of text become a rib cage, the gutter a spine and mortal shadows make their presence felt.

Idris Khan, Thus Spake Zarathustra…after Friedrich Nietzche, 2007

There is something of the scientific in this exhibition, an attempt  to explore, rather than define the notion of shadow. Technology is employed in both cutting edge applications and also in the ‘Heath Robinson’ variant, where technologies that recall the early days of cinematic shadow- play are recalled. Accompanying the exhibition is a screening of “Night of the Hunter”, the marvelous [and only]  film directed by Charles Laughton [the actor who provided us with the most memorable portrait of Rembrandt]. In the movie, film noir segues seamlessly into surrealism, we see the world through the eyes of two frightened and lost children most memorably in a fantastical and dreamlike sequence where, in an attempt to escape their tormentor, the two infants take flight on a moonlit river journey, watched over by the fauna and animals of the riverbank that are shown in huge silhouetted close up. The film, a macabre fairy tale, is recalled in the installation by Brass Art, a collective of three artists.

In a darkened room, a circular table is adorned with transparent animal figurines and precise, miniature replications of the artists, all swathed in wisps of cellophane. A lamp orbits the table in a menacing ark, throwing shadows around the room as it illuminates the dreamy diorama. Gliding across the walls, shadows become animated as they accelerate and decelerate. The shadows move at different speeds, converging and shimmying between one another as if on a ghostly carousel, bringing a sense of three dimensionality and form to an aura of corrupted innocence. A sense of foreboding pervades.

Detail from Brass Art Still Life No.1

By contrast, Kiss, a video work by Luke Dubois, is a moment of time stretched euphoria and romance.  Fifty of cinema’s most iconic embraces are plundered and submitted to a set of complex digital rendering techniques, The celluloid images are transposed and re-mapped among points of light that die like stars in a moment, forming constellations that last but for a second, only to explode and release their energy; projecting a tableau of memory into the depths of space. We could see it as a requiem for film as it teeters on the edge of obsolescence as it succumbs to a ritual cremation by digital transference. The accompanying audio serves as an eternal coda, a frozen aural moment that equivocates between lamentation and celebration, the ecstasy at the point of mortality. The whole effect is disquieting though strangely reassuring, with it’s semi religious overtones, a seduction is at play, the mapping out of a secular heaven.

There are the precepts of shadow as a fact and of shadow as a fiction, what is occluded and what is imagined. Whilst some works seek to inhabit that void, filling it with fantasy, fear and superstition, others choose to explore the twin notions of shadow as a duality, in terms of contrast. None more so than the installations presented by Barnaby Hosking.  Motifs such as butterfly wings and the motion of waves are employed, not so much as springboards for the imagination but rather as simple conduits for cognition. video projectors are used counter-intuitivey, using light in order to project  darkness, the polarising properties of absorption and reflection are used as structure, providing a framework of oscillating perceptions.

Dark Matters manages to remind us where lie the limits of our understanding, there is so much more out there, about us and of us that is concealed from view and comprehension, that remains unanswered, unquestioned even. You could see Dark Matters as an attempt to find meaning in nothingness, as it seems does Pavel Büchler. He presents us with chiaroscuro drawings of shadows, 30 in all, framed and accompanied by the stubby remains of the pencil that drew and cast them respectively, this exhausted pencil is placed at rest as if in lieu of a signature. Simultaneously drawing and sculpture, cause and effect, the works aspire to nothing more than the idea. They are a contemplation on the act of drawing and the recording of the temporal, to draw is to obscure, as we draw a curtain to block out the light, we draw to an end and as we paint with light, we draw with shadow.

Foreground- Elin O’Hara Slavick. Background- Ja-Young Ku

Elin O’Hara Slavick will be giving a talk at the Whitworth Art Gallery on Friday 13 January at 2pm.