If you’re in Brighton, or nearby, you should check out Solar System, an exhibition of video art which is at the Phoenix Gallery until October 15. Solar System includes three amazing installations by artists Semiconductor, each exploring a different aspect of our relationship with the sun.
My favourite of the three pieces was Heliocentric (2010), a series of time-lapse films that follow the sun’s journey across the sky from sunrise to sunset. But these mesmerising films make it clear that that very description is just one way of putting it. As the sun always occupies the centre of the frame, it seems to remain static and fixed in place, while the Earth rotates. Suddenly we’re the ones on the journey. Of course, both of these impressions are illusory: the sun and the Earth are both constantly moving and changing their relative positions. Heliocentric captures the attention with its beautiful aesthetic and technical novelty, before slowly challenging us to suspend our geocentric and culturally-determined perceptions. Here is a clip:
The two other pieces in Solar System are less mind-blowing, but both visually arresting and fascinating in their own ways. Out of the Light (2008) is concerned with the intrinsic link between the sun and the visible. In one section, we see a filtered image of the sun, with the silhouette of Venus passing in front of it. Without this white background, Venus would be invisible, yet the brightness of the sun must be filtered in order to prevent the silhouette from being consumed by glare. The sun reveals and hides simultaneously:
The third film in Solar System is Black Rain (2009). Comprised of satellite footage of space, this film shows huge swathes of energy and gas pouring from the atmosphere of the sun. The backdrop is a vision of space as a crowded arena of constant movement and change, full of stars, comets, and debris. There is also plenty of glare, interference and digital artifacts preserved within the imagery, ensuring we are not able to forget that this particular view of the universe is dependent on a technology that belongs to a very different environment.
In Solar System, Semiconductor take on subjects that are embedded in our visual and linguistic culture as idioms. They succeed in challenging these familiar perceptions without resorting to parody or rhetoric — simply by making us look in a different way. Illuminating, to put it lightly.