Art for Earthlings Beyond Visibility

Stephen Zagala MGA Curator

In an essay on the power of poetry, DH Lawrence describes human beings as creatures that are instinctively afraid of chaos. Faced with the "everlasting whirl" of the cosmos, humans pop up an umbrella to shelter their heads from the chaos. And then they paint the underside of this umbrella like a firmament, finding security in their simplistic rendition of the heavens. For Lawrence, the role of poetry and art is to slit the umbrella open, allowing the winds of chaos to blow away the conventions and myths that have been inscribed there: "and lo! the glimpse of chaos is a vision, a window to the sun".*

There is, of course, a fair amount of hyperbole in Lawrence's rhetoric. His heroic conception of the artist - a man of modernity with a hunger for apocalyptic revolution - is an ideal. Even Lawrence concedes that most artists are satisfied to embellish the underside of the umbrella with simulacra of chaos, until "at last it looks like a glowing open firmament, of many aspects".

We could think about the artworks in Beyond visibility as being produced across the surface of Lawrence's metaphoric umbrella. In different ways, each artist reworks the flimsy ceiling of human hubris, allowing its contours to be ruffled by the aberrant forces beyond.

This exhibition has grown out of Felicity Spear's research into human attempts to represent outer space. In the face of a cosmos that recedes toward infinite darkness, these speculative mapping projects offer an impression of order and clarity in the universe. Spear, however, treats these visualisations as artistic flourishes and uses them to create sublime miasmas of abstract form.

David Malin's photographs involve gargantuan contractions of time and space. Astral events, taking place across thousands of years, in different solar systems, are brought together to form two-dimensional patterns underneath the umbrella-like lens of an Earth-bound telescope. Malin's images frame and compose the unruly expanses of the sky, but the mysteries of deep space still haunt the flatness of these photographs, threatening to reorganise the sparkling clusters and constellations from one rotation of the Earth to the next.

Gulumbu Yunupingu's painted logs are like celestial snorkels, drawing the unfathomable substance of the heavens back and forth through their tubular forms. Her visual simplification of the firmament is drastic; the all-encompassing dome of the sky is rolled into a discrete sculptural object to be viewed in the round. But this simplicity is deceptive. The meaning of these open-ended forms unfolds through an open-ended process. As Elina Spilia emphasises, in this catalogue and elsewhere, Gulumbu's hollow logs are embedded in performative rhythms that continually return our gaze to the galaxies above.

* DH Lawrence, "Chaos in poetry", introduction to Harry Crosby, Chariot of the Sun (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1927)

Reproduced with the permission of the author and MGA