In the corridor are a number of phrases on the wall in projecting letters. One, ‘The universe lights switched off one by one’ seems uncannily predictive in the current circumstances, whether we think of coronavirus or of climate-change.
Scottish artist Katie Paterson (born 1981) takes a long-term view of time and space, both backwards and forward. as she invites us to immerse ourselves in her work and consider our place within the natural environment of our planet and within the overall expanse of time and space.
The old classrooms of the former John Watson School in Edinburgh designed in 1825 themselves go back in time to another world and another use when the corridors would have been full of lively children; today the rooms are silent, but before the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art closed due to the current coronavirus situation, many of the ground floor rooms were animated with light, colour, sound and with darkness as Katie took them over as the major keystone of the sixth ‘NOW’ series of exhibitions at the Gallery.
Like most of her work, her spinning ‘Cosmic Spectrum’ is both a work of art and a work of science, incorporating the colour of the Universe from the primordial era to modern times and into the future, while ‘Ara’ is one of 88 constellations which Katie is creating from electric lights, each light giving out the correct level of brilliance and, in the same room, a series of 35mm photographic slides display darkness at different times and different places in the universe, each with handwritten information recording the distance from Earth in light years, in a growing and potentially-immense archive.
Then, you enter a room in which a mirror ball spins round scattering light onto the walls. As, you now expect, this is no normal mirror ball that you might find in an Edinburgh nightclub; this is a unique scientific work with almost every image known of solar eclipses captured and projected in the pattern of an eclipse.
Then, clocks on the wall. We often see these on the walls of international and travel companies telling the time in various capital cities around the world. These however go much further, telling the time on the planets of our solar system and the moon. Do they anticipate the time where we will be able to travel to all these places, while an elegant piano plays Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, but again like no other – Beethoven’s work was converted into Morse Code, send to the moon where it became fragmented, bounced back to and reassembled.
Perhaps the most forward-looking is her project ‘Future Library’ where a forest was planted in Norway in 2004 to supply the raw material to make fine art paper for a book to be published 100 years into the future, in 2014, with an eminent writer contributing text for the book every year over the century to be held in a new library in Oslo. An interesting project which I will not see come to its conclusion – perhaps, with advances in medical science, Katie might.
A fascinating series of works which is complimented by other artists – American artist Lucy Raven with her video which also leads us through time and space, albeit more archaeological than Katie, English artist Darren Almond’s photographs of the full moon in different landscapes all around the world, created from long exposures, and Scottish artist Shonagh Macnaughton’s display linked to her performance event ‘Progressive’ in 2017.
The details suggest that this will be the sixth and last NOW exhibition at the SNGMA. This would be a great shame; hopefully the initiative to show the best of contemporary art , whether in this format or another, will continue in future years.