Probing art  

(Top – Bottom) Drawn by the Pulse photo Marcus Meyer and The Color Out of Space photo Blaine Campbell from Rosa Barba’s Emanations.

IMAGINE Spock was into basket weaving and landscape painting.

Well, not really, but the intersection between science and art is explored in spectacular fashion by Italian artist Rosa Barba in her debut solo Aussie exhibition Emanations.

Barba has exhibited extensively in Europe and her work is currently on show at the famous Tate Modern in London, so there’s a fair bit of excitement about her exhibition at PICA in Northbridge.

Emanations was developed in response to The Perth Festival theme djinda (Noongar for cosmos or stars) and is a sort of highlights reel of Barba’s works from the past 10 years – exploring the linkbetween film and astronomy andthe related concepts of light, time and distance.

In the piece Drawn by the Pulse, Barba pays tribute to American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt.

She was a member of the ‘Harvard computers’, an all-female team tasked with analysing thousands of glass-plate photographs in the collection of the Harvard College Observatory in Massachusetts.

Studying images of the Magellanic Clouds, the neighbour-galaxies of the Milky Way, Leavitt discovered a rule for measuring stellar distances based on the rhythmic brightening and dimming (or ‘flicker’) of pulsing variable stars. Leavitt’s discovery allowed later astronomers to confirm the existence of galaxies far beyond the boundaries of the known universe.

Filmed at the Harvard College Observatory, Drawn by the Pulse features photographic plates marked with Leavitt’s annotations. 

Barba was intrigued by how stars, like projectors, emanate beams of light, and how Leavitt worked like a filmmaker, editing together individual photos just like frames of a film. Presented as an installation using a modified projector fitted with a lightbox, Drawn by the Pulse draws attention to the fleeting frames looping across its surface, image followed by image.

Another eye-catching work is the 2015 work The Color Out of Space. Featuring five glass filters and a stunning video of the cosmos, it blurs the line between lab experiment and a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The piece was developed by Barba in collaboration with the Hirsch Observatory in Troy, New York. Working with video, Barba combined and digitally edited photos taken from the Observatory with images of swirling nebula, planets, comets and moons captured by NASA’s more powerful space telescopes to create a moving image work.

On the soundtrack, scientists, artists and writers can be heard reflecting on the mysteries of the universe in a fragmentary collage of interviews, field recordings and readings.

One voiceover explains the importance of coloured glass filters in the imaging of stars unperceivable by the eye through earth-based telescopes. Another reads a passage from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space, a tale of ecological collapse triggered by an indescribable colour fallen to earth inside a meteorite.

“At times indistinguishable from one another, these interlocking narratives – from the scientific to the highly fictionalised – put the present in contact with times and dimensions beyond the scope of human perception,” states the PICA catalogue.

Alongside film, Emanations includes several sculptural and text-based works where fragments of language are projected, printed and cut into materials such as film, felt and paper.

Emanations is at PICA in Northbridge until April 23 and there is a free talk Scientific Speculations, a conversation about new developments in science and technology with local artists, astronomers and scientists, on April 1 at 2pm. 


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