Nightshift by Matteo Balduzzi
The scientific means used to investigate the sky have changed radically. Even though that romantic image of the astronomer eye-glued to the telescope still lingers with many of us, in truth the observation methods have undergone profound technological changes closer to those affecting photography recordings. As a fact, if emulsion plates once seized the image of heavenly bodies, it is now recorded straight onto the telescope’s CCD sensors, which can then be analyzed by the astronomer on a de-localised computer screen. The main difference is a question of scale: a telescope altogether acts like a huge digital camera, the shooting distance can be measured accordingly to light-years and the photographed object is never quite present/current, but on a constant delay as to the observer. In the attempt of experimenting the boundaries between photography, scientific image and computer science structure at the base of some data visualization, every day Nightshifts publishes online all the pictures taken the night before by the Italian national telescope, Telescopio Nazionale Italiano Galileo, located at the Canary Islands. A server automatically feeds files in the FITS (Flexible Image Transport System) extension relative to the observations, it processes them achieving the telescope’s images and the technical parameters at the time of each shot they contain, and then it assembles them into one film. The quantity and type of each frame forming the film depend on the telescope’s working program and on the weather conditions, on a straight link allowing the visitors of the site to reconstruct the observatory’s activity during the night and experience an unknown dimension of the starry sky, through images usually undisclosed to non-pros. Compared to the astronomical shots taken from space telescopes which undergo massive touch-up work passed by media, Nightshift’s images are featured by a somewhat everyday unspectacular dimension as though each one of them was an enigmatic starting point in a mysterious atlas forged by a maze of natural and technological signs leaving the viewer with a great sense of freedom. Their appeal isn’t as much in their abstract formal beauty, the scientific truth, the sci-fi film suggestion they imbue, the illusion of real time or in the rawness of numbers but in the absolutely contemporary tension between the cold rapid fl aweless flux of data and an opening towards nature, contemplation and knowledge suggested. The long times of exposure, the complexity of mechanism, a sense of the unknown paradoxically recall the late 1800s discovery photography and seem to be a more anxious and insecure version of that same attempt to redefine the coordinates of human existence on this planet. The site is divided in two parts. In the first part, Nightmovie, one can appreciate the whole footage of the images recorded the night before, pause on a particular image, examine its technical data, view enlargements of the heavenly bodies at close changing the brightness and then continue viewing the film. At any moment the viewer can shift to Nightsearch, the other part of the site, and browse a database, which gradually collects and orders each individual frame. According to the most significant search keys – date, hour, image type, photographed object – one can view any photograph and start the footage of the relevant night. The project envisages a two-way high level controlled interaction: Platform gathers the theoretical devices and has been designed to be an open exchange and confrontation place for experts of the different disciplines and sectors that Nightshifts slightly touches upon, ranging from photography to astronomy up to contemporary art, to communication science and philosophy. The second and most ambitious interaction mode would be that of creating a network of observer of the same level worldwide, so as to follow the planet’s movement through the astronomers’ work at the most varied latitudes. A newsletter will enable subscribers to be updated periodically on the project’s status.
The Charm of the Inauthentic by Antonio Caronia
Stars and galaxies nod to us from the pictures taken each night from the national telescope, Galileo. Down there, at the Canary Islands, an incredibly powerful digital device scans the sky for us and gives us back a map which is stratified ed - that we surely know – not only in terms of space but also time (the speed of light so high compared to the meanest distances that can be experimented on our planet, on a cosmic scale, becomes a formidable slowing down factor). But via the Internet, through the eyes of that massive optical telescope we can see almost real time the past of the outer space. Our computer screen can become the display of a sophisticated scientific c research instrument. Naturally, to read those images, training, knowledge, scientific c instruments, not everyone have, are required. Especially when it comes to reading and understanding the scientific c and technical parameters of each image, often scrolling on them. But the most important thing seems to be how even just curious amateurs loathing to open a book about astrophysics can easily be seduced by those intricate geometries of glowing lights and thus allow unconsciously their nervous system (as very acutely pointed out by James Ballard forty years ago) to soak in molecules of a scientific and technologic knowledge, which has been nourishing our imagery for decades. Not in the least do I underestimate the character of service, divulgation, communication between experts (at the most different levels) that Meris Angioletti’s project has assumed, but what I could possibly say on this topic would not be of any significance. My greatest interests on Nightshifts are that it puts us straight in contact with one of the sources of contemporary imagery. And the occasional viewer browsing the site – or whoever is not a non-pro – isn’t attracted to the beautiful pictures for their naturalistic “realistic” beauty but rather for their fake and artificial appearance and for their only apparent inauthenticity. Just like the smudges of light mercilessly and cruelly clear-cut emanating from some of these starry objects, which seem to be coming straight from Star Trek. In other words, Nightshifts puts us through the raw material of our imagery which, not yet processed, nor “made readable” to the non-pros, seems to have all the tropes of the most impudent science fiction.
Back to the Future by Katerina Gregos
The dawn of the so-called ‘space age’ was fuelled by unparalleled optimism and belief in the boon of the space programme and space exploration. It was a time when technology heralded the promise of a better world. Indeed, though the whole ‘space adventure’ was fuelled to a large extent by Cold War politics, overall the techno-futuristic craze of the 50s and 60s was euphoric in nature, and mostly utopian in its aspirations. (1) At that time the world did not seem very well aware of other looming issues that were soon to pose a major threat to the future of the planet, such as massive environmental pollution, the menace of biological weapons, the ethical implications and - as yet - unknown parameters of genetic engineering and biotechnology; all of which are the result of the development, use and misuse of technology. This darker sub-text forms the backdrop and raison d’ etre for Ciraci’s ventures into the unknown(s) of outer space. As a result, issues of ‘technological progress’ are inevitably raised as is the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of space flight, in the metaphorical sense. In a way, Ciraci’s work can be said to probe both the fears and dreams that are part of our contemporary collective consciousness, fears and dreams that have often been shaped by powerful media imagery and fictional manifestations of ‘visions of the future’. With the advent of new technologies and digital image and sound manipulation these fears and dreams (and desires), as well as our sense of reality are being increasingly shaped by these factors. The result is that the boundaries between truth and lie, fact and fiction, the real and the artificially constructed are becoming increasingly blurred. All of these issues underscore Sarah Ciraci’s practice. Scientific literature, UFO theories, science fiction movies, alien theories, and extra-terrestrial culture form the artist’s stock of references, which she manipulates to create her own (re)constructed, synthetic imaginary worlds. Ciraci’s investigations hark back to a continuing tradition of interest in the ‘future’ - with its technological and machine fetishism - that began with the Russian avant garde (2), continued through to the Futurists, to post-war architecture and design (especially) and continues today, if altogether tinged by more dystopic undertones. However, the ethical and practical implications of technological advancement have never quite been so scrutinised as today, perhaps because developments in this field have taken place so increasingly rapidly that it is becoming impossible to fathom these implications, but also perhaps because we are much more aware of what might happen when technological knowledge falls into the wrong hands. During the Cold War, when dichotomies and divisions were very clear in the global political arena, the enemy was one (depending which side of the fence you sat on) and the threat was nuclear war. Today the threats are numerous - sometimes even unknown, the enemy is invisible, and there are countless possibilities of technology falling into the wrong hands. As Thomas Friedman has correctly pointed out in his book “Longitudes and Attitudes” (3) there has been a sea-change in the global status quo since the demise of the Soviet Union; before there was the clear reality of the two superpowers, traditional - and more importantly, identifiable - adversaries. Today, we are faced with one superpower and what he calls a number of “super-empowered individuals”, whose renegade actions cannot so far, it seems, be counter-acted, for there is no ‘deterrent’. And that is only one side of the dystopic coin: the other of course is environmental pollution, global warming, depletion of natural resources, overpopulation and fears that the planet may, in the end, no longer be able to sustain the human race. The ideas of outer space that emerge in Ciraci’s work are not those of adventurous escape and curiosity but more related to what she sees as an alternative - even maybe necessary - solution to the earth’s predicament. All these issues, particularly the last one, underpin her multi-media practice, which opens up a host of imaginative possibilities and philosophical questions. In a way, all of Ciraci’s works are spaces of mental and psychological projection and travel. Entering one of her works is like embarking on a journey whose outcome is not certain. The otherworldly, the unknown and the mysterious are the out-of-reach terrains she is most interested in. Previous works, for example, such as “Not Even Background Noises” have portrayed these terrains as vast expanses of lunar, desert-like landscapes, a ‘pure’ alternative to our despoiled urbanscapes. Other works like “2012” were the result of research done into UFO theories, stories of alien sightings and abductions, as an investigation into sub-cultural narratives and alternative world visions. Some works, like “A Summer in Bikini,” for example, reveal a darker, more Armageddon -like vision and play with more catastrophological stereotypes and scenarios. This is an installation with four paintings executed in fluorescent acrylic, which must be seen with the help of an ultra violet light. In each of these one can see different renderings of the spectacular mushroom cloud that is the result of an atomic explosion. The title of the work is taken from the island of the same name, which was a nuclear test-site in the 1940s. Ciraci skilfully simulates the apocalyptic, glowing atmosphere of the explosion in this work. Like many of her other works this too is a metaphor for the different anxieties and fears that are part of human consciousness in different historical periods (4). In addition, however, it is also a comment on what Ciraci has called ‘the mediatic nature’ of atomic reality, and what she means by this is that public perception of scientific phenomena like these has been almost exclusively shaped by the media, often taking on spectacular, iconic dimensions, as in this work. Cinema, on the other hand, has especially had a profound cultural impact on how people visualise space exploration and technological feats and it is this discipline that Ciraci looks towards in her most recent work. Ciraci’s projections into imaginary worlds of the future continue with her latest project for MACRO which is entitled “Oh my God is full of stars” and consists of twelve digitally manipulated constantly changing projections, on four walls, with sound, all taken from a variety of science fiction movies. As the viewer enters the space he or she becomes immersed into a series of changing environments, mostly representing the interiors of space-craft. Images of corridors, windows, portals abound; clinical, antiseptic all-white interiors, labyrinthine mysterious passages, and capsule-like spaces all succeed one another engulfing the viewer into this distinctive, ambient environment. Corresponding to this mesmerising visual rhythm, which hovers between the abstract and the hyper real, are the mood-setting sounds and fragments of sci-fi soundtracks, which accentuate the overall atmosphere of immersion. So holistic and total is the experience that disbelief is, for a moment, almost suspended. On the other hand, the work is also characterised by a very powerful aesthetic dimension. There is here a pronounced sense of what I would call a ‘futuristic formalism’, with its typical chilly - icy even - abstract beauty; there is an attention to detail, a love for the aesthetics of space-age design and cinematic sets (accentuated by repetition, juxtaposition or mirroring) as well as an eye for the quirky geometry characteristics of space-craft architecture. Ciraci manipulates these archetypal sci-fi cinematic representations and in doing so enhances their aura and sense of impenetrability. So dominant are the elements of the artificial and the constructed that the work seems to signal the complete victory of technology and victory over nature. Or really? Ciraci seems to ask These synthetic architectural settings and interiors are pregnant with meaning and symbolism: the recurrence for example of the motif of the portal or door, intimates the crossing of a momentous threshold. Space travel was indeed a desirable threshold in the past; today, the impasse of the space programme and the idea that perhaps that our money is better spent on problems at home have resulted in a re-evaluation of ‘futurology’ (5). Nevertheless, the retro-futurist nostalgia that has recently made a comeback is well evoked in this work. In a way, these fictional spaces encapsulate mankind’s dream of space and our desire for, literally and metaphorically, ‘reaching for the stars’. It is quite indicative that most the scenes Cirací has selected are from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey whose aesthetics are sharp, polished and pristine and not those like Star Wars or Aliens, with their dirty, gritty space ships. If there is a Ballardian sense of detachment or dystopia in her work, this exists as a latent sub-text. Nevertheless, Ciraci eloquently evokes what J.G. Ballard called “inner space” (6), the landscape of perpetual alienation created by modern Western culture’s rapidly changing technologies of production, consumption, communication and representation. Ballard is indeed an influence on Ciraci; his portrayal of a world on the brink of utter dissolution by forces beyond our control, his pessimistic view of mankind is not not exactly negated in Ciraci’s work, nor is it, on the other hand, replaced by the naïve optimism of bygone years. Perhaps then, her work can be read as warning of the inevitable consequences of our disregard for the fact that nature cannot be controlled or directed Apart from utilising subject matter from the world of film and engaging in a play of transforming such stereotypes, the work is about re-creating a similar ‘transportive’ environment, a kind of filmic stage where the viewer assumes the role of the actor. Ciraci knows how to exploit the seductive mechanisms of cinema, managing in this case to capture, distil and magnify the ethereal space-like atmosphere which is, in any case, so well rendered in sophisticated sci-fi cinema. Indeed, one gets the sense that one is floating in these artificial, techno-structures, unconnected to space, time and any sense of earthliness. On the other hand, while there is no trace of human presence in these eerie, empty spaces, they seem impregnated with expectation, waiting quite possibly to be filled by their prospective inhabitants. The fact that no human presence is evident heightens the post-apocalyptic, ghost-like feel of the environment. Ciraci’s dexterous handling of her source material not only enhances its already existing formal characteristics but enables a reconstruction of the narrative space of film thus adding yet another layer of visual and empirical complexity. Though there is no overt narrative at play, no desire to dictate specific meanings - or be didactic - Ciraci’s work opens up a host of possible scenarios and routes of interpretation by the strong power of association and suggestion that resides in this work. The artist offers a multi-faceted experience, which combines mental, physical, and aesthetic perception. She lures the viewer from the reality of the everyday, reinstates the element of mystery, and transports us to other stratospheres by means of an esoteric journey, while at the same time intimating at unsettling visions of the future. Stylish and aesthetically convincing Ciraci’s work also poses questions about the relationship of man to machinery and about the simulation of ‘reality’, which is so much a part of our ideas of the future. As much as Ciraci’s work is about the fascination exercised by media representations of extra-terrestrials, outer space and of the cinematic fascination with anything futuristic and otherworldly, it is also about the yearning for the unknown, a comment on man’s desire to explore but also manipulate, control and every so often attempt to play God. In this work Ciraci has managed to create a haunting mini-cosmos, a kaleidoscopic immersive universe unto itself, an imaginary escapade, which is both entertaining and thought provoking. If in the near past our desire to explore and escape then was fuelled by curiosity, Ciraci seems to be saying that in the future it will be fuelled by necessity. Indeed Jim, it will be life, but not as we know it.
Catalogue texts for the Show "Oh my God is full of stars" at MACRO, Roma, 2004. Published by Mondadori
“Technology was seen as the panacea for every conceivable ill, and it didn’t yet occur to anyone to worry about environmental pollution of the depletion of the natural resources”. From an article by Marco Home entitled ‘Alternative Futures’ in Futuro: Tomorrow’s House from Yesterday (eds. M. Home and M. Taanila), Desura Publications, Helsinki, 2002, p. 80
In the 1924 Suprematist Manifesto, Malevich characteristically proclaimed: “The new home of humanity is in space.”
Tom Friedman, “Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World Before and After September 11”, London (Penguin books), 2003
Fear of nuclear war, for example, was the contemporary angst of the cold war era; today it is fear of terrorism and biological weapons
Harri Hautajärvi has written about the demise of space-age mania in ‘Plastic Bubbles and Capsule Homes: Architectural Utopias of the Space Age’. He says, “Today, as we struggle to cope with the environmental hazards of modern construction - crumbling, eco-toxic synthetic materials, mould damage and asbestos - we can only be amazed at the optimistic faith of early scientists. Their utopian notions of space settlement were little more realistic than contemporary sci-fi fantasies. With the dark cloud of a nuclear war hanging over a planet already grappling with a population explosion, pollution and ecological disaster, it was probably easier to gaze into space than to try to deal with more tangible terrestrial problems.” In: Futuro: Tomorrow’s House from Yesterday (eds. M. Home and M. Taanila), Desura Publications, Helsinki, 2002, p. 67
Panoptikon “Panoptikon” has been produced by reuniting in a digital environment an archive formed of objects, plants and architectural components I drew on paper independently from one another, and animating this archive by using two-dimensional animation techniques. The structure of the work is based on parallel spaces between the layers of a fantastic world, our world and the idea of reflecting the history behind the visible through events.
Alessandra Poggianti: In Panoptikon you use a very precise working process: assembling of elements to later be organized in an archive, first unstructured and later totally assembled. Between starting points: Panoptikon, a model of a mobilized city functioning with an extended power, almost a model of utopia city perfectly organized. How does this work in your video? Emre Hüner: Graphics and images I have used are certain traces, certain elements of a system or concept I first have anticipated in my mind, which in this case is Panoptikon. It is an argument taken from Foucault’s analysis on Jeremy Bentham’s project (a British architect who has been working with public police forces), which was a security system in a perfect prison. Naturally I have chosen this word as a symbol to describe an imaginary world where there are some historical references, some plants, and some mechanical inventions back in 800’s all used as objects for the utopia models, exactly as if they were displayed in a museum.
From an interview to Emre Hüner by Alessandra Poggianti, Insurgent Space 1/60, on paper, Tirana, 2005
Bent 003 Like a collector, Hüner builds an archive of things. Painting them by hand in tempera, he groups and categorizes each element and files it on a page. The archive is followed by the unfolding of a layered world. Dystopian images of laboratories, mines and ice-lands where human industry and invention are fringed by decay and decomposition. Every single detail in the images is to be found in the archive on the first pages. Digitally cloning, fitting, attaching the parts, Hüner constructs a whole as it suggests itself from the parts.