24 April 2008

Death and Disaster

There is an interesting relationship between minimalist sculpture, monuments and memorials, as someone commented to me a few weeks ago. Conventional monuments, through their inherant longevity and ability to outlive their original context (and maker), to some degree inevitably become a consideration of mortality, whether it was the original intention or not. The traditional model is the cenotaph or statue, vertical (phallic?) structures that commemorate a person, event or (by default) the artist and the commissioning patron or corporation. In the case of disasters, a memorial is created, perhaps as a byproduct of the event itself, that takes on a significant resonance as the site of some great tragedy. In some cases the site is a signifier in name alone, remote and inaccessible, perhaps inhospitable as a result of a catastrophe. Or the signifier is what was erased from the site, structures that become iconic symbols of what had previously been there, now marked by an absence or a metaphoric place-holder of some sort. Or the disaster lives in the public imagination, especially of those who never have or never will visit the site, through iconic images distributed by the mass media.

Perhaps the most significant of these is the empty (negative) site that once held New York's World Trade Centre, now known as GROUND ZERO.

New Zealand's worst air disaster, the 1979 crash of a DC10 into Mt Erebus, Antarctica was made the subject of Stella Brennan's White Wall / Black Hole, exhibited in the 2006 Biennale of Sydney. Images of a dark, inky stain left in the snow are probably what first comes to mind when kiwis think of EREBUS.

Stella's excavation of history has recently led her to links between the military development of sonar and radar in WWII and the present application of that technology in ultrasound, most commonly used to show signs of growing life during pregnancy. Included in her South Pacific exhibition are ultrasound images of a model Enola Gay, which dropped Little Boy on HIROSHIMA.

The name Chernobyl has become synonymous with the nuclear reactor accident at the nearby town of PRIPYAT, Ukraine, now contained in a 30km exclusion zone. This dead-zone makes for spooky viewing when doing a virtual fly-over with google maps. Notice, if you view labels or flick to map view, that the whole region is unmarked, as if it officially doesn't exist. Especially if you're familiar with Elena Filatova's images, allegedly taken on several motorcycle tours of Chernobyl's environs. Unlike the work of some of the artists on this site, it is said that the results of Chernobyl will remain in the land for 48,000 years.

Inventor Nikolai Tesla (played by David Bowie in the movie The Prestige) apparently had plans for a mechanical eye that would allow people to see all over the globe - I wonder if he patented that one, google maps? A favourite amongst conspiricists, it is thought that Tesla misfired a Death Ray he was aiming at the Arctic, causing an enormous explosion in Tunguska, Siberia. I was kind of hoping to find some sort of radioactive crop circle mysteriously maintaining its mark on the land. Not great resolution around here but still worth a VISIT.

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Art from Space is an exploration of art-related phenomena that manifests in interesting ways on Google’s aerial maps. It is also an experiment in curatorial practice; collecting, presenting and contextualising items in ways that users can explore, free of curator-imposed framing and sequencing. This blog is Art from Space’s developmental musings made public, where items are introduced to the project in real time, rather than awaiting the grand unveiling of a completed exhibition. Specific locations of interest are highlighted in CAPS and linked to a map for further exploration. Visit the mother ship HERE.