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  • Exhibition Essay: World Without End


    Posted on: 29/06/2014

    'It is not necessary to create a world, but the possibility of a world.'
    - Jean-Luc Godard

    Our experience of the world is shaped by the subtle and dramatic forces of nature, the energies and rhythms of cities, and the elastic time of global travel and instant communication networks. World Without End reveals how we perceive the world through cycles of night and day, constantly changing weather patterns, crossings through natural and urban environments, currents of memory, emotion and reflection. It presents works that alter our view of the world, representing it not as we 'know' it to be, but rather as we innately sense it to be, or imagine it. Focusing on various forms of landscape, the exhibition invites us to explore the poetics of time, place, light, movement and sound.

    Within the Romantic tradition, the word sublime came into prominence in the late eighteenth century to describe the intense emotions generated by the elemental forces and transformations of nature: the winnowed hues of sky at dusk; the cracking of ice mountains; the swells of tempestuous seas. Poet William Wordsworth urged us to travel through landscapes in order to experience emotions that would benefit our souls. Today, in the post-industrial, globalised world, our understanding of the sublime is heightened by the spectacle of constructed environments. Also, our experience of the complex processes of nature is mediated as hyper-real moments that inspire awe and renew our imagination: everyday occurrences and familiar places seem strangely new and newly strange.

    Taking the natural landscape and the built environment as points of departure, the artists in World Without End use new technologies to fascinating affect. Simon Carroll and Martin Friedel's History of a Day compresses time and space to show nature as a 'special-effects theatre in continuous production, all over the earth'. In the urban world, unprecedented opportunities for sublime experience can paradoxically lead to conditions of detachment and alienation. Such a dynamic fuels Pleix's Netlag, sourced from footage from web cameras to present snapshots of 1,600 locations around the globe. Panning across continents and randomly zooming in to different places with twenty-first century ease, this global fly-by casts a coolly ambivalent gaze over a spectacle that has been made possible only through technologies of surveillance. Susan Norrie's Enola also presents a kind of banality through slow pans across a Japanese architectural theme park in which over 100 iconic buildings have been recreated in miniature. This darkly ironic commentary on the homogeneity of increasingly conflated cultures ominously depicts a constructed yet de-humanised world.

    The natural and man-made wonders of the world are grist to the mill for the modern tourist, for whom every destination is marketed as a potential adventure park or 'wonder world', and whose experiences are often mediated through the camera lens rather than by a direct emotional connection to the place. Robert Cahen's Cartes postales vidéo (Video Postcards) is a witty and playful take on global tourism, presented as a series of 'thirty seconds' worth of dreams'. Snapped in 'popular cities' and sites around the world, Cahen's work takes a wink and a nod at over-familiar tourist destinations first popularised by National Geographic and now further commodified through a plethora of travelogues, lifestyle programs and similar channels of 'discovery'. Compare these relatively safe 'expeditions' with the historic journeys undertaken by explorers of the unchartered world, as depicted in Christian Boustani's A Viagem (A Voyage). This exquisitely textured interpretation of the first Portuguese voyage to Japan in 1543 portrays the bewilderment, delight and fear that must have dwelt in the hearts of the Portuguese mariners during their voyage and subsequent encounters.

    From the depths of the oceans to the outer limits of the galaxies, there are now few places that remain uncharted. However, images of remote and inaccessible places still have the power to excite and astonish us. In Hold: Vessel 1, Lynette Wallworth dramatises the once unimaginable perspectives made visible by the first microscopes, telescopes, underwater cameras and other instruments, thereby actualising other possible worlds. Her work invites the gallery visitor to hold a delicate glass bowl, within which they may capture a series of elusive projected images, ranging from vast star fields to microscopic marine algae. There is something magnetic - indeed sublime - about these primeval visions derived from the natural world as we hold them, literally, in the palm of our hands. We are similarly confounded and inspired by natural phenomena in Luke Jerram's Tide, a live gallery installation in which a gravity meter attached to three glass bowls half-filled with water registers the changing gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the earth.

    Like History of a Day, other works in World Without End also question our perception of space and time as constant and linear measures, presenting possibilities of relative experience. Pioneering filmmaker and theorist Dziga Vertov posited that the still film frame is not an immobile slice of time but a generative unit of movement. This division of temporal continuity is manifested in Cartes postales vidéo with surprising and humorous results, as the seemingly still frame of the postcard is momentarily activated into movement. With digital media, units of time and movement become even more elastic and malleable. For Train No. 1, Daniel Crooks uses 'time-slicing' techniques to fragment reality, rupturing our experience of urban travel in ways that seem surreal yet entirely logical. Time is recorded, segmented and archived in Ross Cooper and Jussi Ängeslevä's the Last clock, an installation that captures and displays the movements within the gallery space as concentric circles of accumulated seconds, minutes and hours. Seoungho Cho's painterly video, Rev, experiments with the relationship between the camera lens and the human eye, representing the rapid pace of urban living as an abstract flow of light, colour, movement and sound.

    Some say the world will end in fire 
    Some say in ice 
    - Robert Frost

    Located at the 'end' of the gallery, two installations represent the world in its most elemental state: as landscapes of ice and water; wind and blistering heat. The immense scale of the Namib Desert envelops the viewer in Too Dark For Night, the second instalment in Clare Langan's apocalyptic film trilogy. We are led by a lone figure against relentless winds through an endless parched wilderness, as memory and place are consumed by masses of shifting sands. In Darren Almond's A, Antarctica represents 'the axis of time and space, the axis of everything', the landmass to which all the continents were once connected. His pan across Antarctica's crystalline surfaces reveals a world that still remains outside history and beyond maps, and traces an inner journey as much as one to the 'end' of the earth.

    As with EnolaToo Dark for Night and A present desolate landscapes that are neo-Gothic in tone and emotion. These works resonate with post-apocalyptic scenarios depicted spectacularly in films such as Lessons of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1992, a documentary of Kuwait's rich oil fields ignited during the Gulf War), and The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004, a fictionalised rendering of a near-future ice age caused by global warming). Such works portray the remarkable resilience of nature and, thus far, of humankind. With a similar mixture of fatalism and hope, Brian Doyle journeys from the countryside to urban spaces in The Light, exploring a series of 'non- and in-between places'. The work concludes with footage of the World Trade Centre's memorial light columns - shown not in direct conjunction with 9/11, but as a formal transcendence of pure light, a way 'to pierce the night, to know the unknown . to see through darkness'.

    The works in World Without End create a world of possibilities, drawing us in to re-experience with reverie and wonder the energies and lyricism of our natural and technological worlds.

    Alessio Cavallaro and Alexie Glass
    April 2005

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