This is a guest blog post by Michaela Gleave, reflecting on her experiences as CASS Artist-in-Residence.
Art, like science, is a process of inquiry. Through my work I’m interested in exploring the nature of reality, investigating the systems and structures we use to piece together an image of the world around us. As an artist I want to work in the gaps between knowledge, investigating the space that exists between understanding and intuition, truth and illusion, fact and feeling. By questioning our basic models of perception I seek to suggest what might exist beyond our immediate impression of reality, expanding modes of thinking and offering potential alternate ways of seeing ourselves in the context of our surroundings.
Working as an artist with the CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science division has been a remarkable experience and I feel extremely fortunate to have been allowed access into this world. It’s not every day that one can stroll into the offices of working astrophysicists for a chat, watch live data stream back from pulsars in the far reaches of the galaxy, or take a ride on a radio telescope as it’s moving into position. I started my residency at CASS thinking I had some basic knowledge of astronomy but very quickly realised I know almost nothing. The astronomical universe is a vast and intriguing place, and while the depth of knowledge is significant it’s also awe inspiring to realise how much there is still to find out. Finding a common ground and a common language in this environment was a challenging but immensely interesting process, and whilst I was barely able to scratch the surface of the field I learned a lot from the process and came out with quite different impressions than when I went in.
The two primary outcomes to my time with CASS were a solo exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre in Western Australia and a curated evening event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney.
A Day is Longer than a Year, the title of my exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre, represented a culmination of my thoughts over the six-month residency period and was developed in direct response to the physical properties of the space in which it was exhibited. The installation consisted of two theatre spotlights hung from ceiling, their circular beams slowly orbiting the peripheries of the room. One red, one blue, they travelled in alternate directions and at differing speeds, tracking their courses slowly. Morphed by the physical properties of the room and expanding and contracting with the lengthening and shortening of space, the beams circled one another as binary stars, eclipsing at varying points as the two rotations collided and diverged over the five hour cycle of the work.
Like spinning pulsars the spotlights measured time, their pace consistent and precise. Objects in their way caused shadows, leaving traces of their presence in the beam, with the movement of light constantly altering the ambient illumination through shades of indigo, purple, violet and magenta. Light was truncated and stretched, tripping over the angular lines of walls and windows, the reality of the image perceived entirely dependent on one’s position in space and time. Reminiscent of an empty ballroom, or stage spotlights ever-scanning for a center of focus, the work reflected upon our shifting understanding of matter, time and space, oscillating between intimate experience and a constantly expanding knowledge of the universe.
In contrast to the contemplative and expansive experience within the installation environment, ArtBar at the MCA was a much more experimental event, and allowed me to work through my thoughts in a more playful and varied manner. Curated around the theme Into the Aether the evening brought multiple fields and expertise into the museum, resulting in a direct collision between the worlds of art, history, music and science. Based upon the shifting meaning of the word ‘aether’ over the last 2,000 years each project, performance or artwork included in the program was selected for it’s reference to the space of the sky and the various mystical and scientific evaluations attributed to it over time.
The event included a ballet formulated around stellar constellations choreographed by Elizabeth Reidy, a lecture on Indigenous Astronomy from CSIRO’s Professor Ray Norris, a ‘space elevator’ performance devised by Joshua Tyler, and a glass room entirely filled with party balloons. Guests could take the solar system home in their pocket with thanks to the CSIRO’s Robert Hollow, or drink a supernova-inspired cocktail twinkling with edible gold stars.
Sponsored by Audi and supported by CASS’s generous involvement, the event also featured a car wrapped in a glow-in-the-dark star map of Sydney’s March sky, and viewers could access CSIRO telescopes from the roof. I was able to commission a new piece of music by Sydney composer Amanda Cole, performed on three microtonal glass harmonicas using fingers, straws, stringed bows, percussion mallets and fizzy vitamin tablets. Hossein Ghaemi created a roving performance work in which his troupe of crushed velvet-clad accomplices danced, sang and drank their way through the museum. Audience members could have their picture taken on the moon courtesy of Brisbane artist Camille Serisier’s reimagining of the lunar landing, and perceptual psychologist Kevin Brooks treated guests to a tour of the museum’s Anish Kapoor exhibition.
Into the Aether was a unique opportunity to explore my own references, thoughts and creative processes in a very public, celebratory event. It allowed the sharing and accessing of multiple platforms of knowledge across the program and via various creative media and outcomes. Unusual for a very public event it created room for intimate experiences whilst offering access to specialist knowledge and content, all within easy reach of the bar and DJ Hubble’s tunes on the dance floor!
I have always been interested in the intersections between art, culture, science and technology, and frequently reference scientific ideas and forms in the methodology and practical outcomes of my work. Both of these projects allowed me to explore these connections in varied and interesting ways. The challenge of responding directly to the scientific context was an exciting one, and straddling the two worlds in this direct way has posed some very stimulating questions for my practice.
Over the period of the six months that I spent at CASS I had time to learn, explore and reflect on my thoughts. Thinking on the shifting nature of knowledge systems over time was something I found particularly fascinating, especially in relation to how directly these systems are impacted by cultural patterns of thought and philosophical frameworks. The grounded nature of astronomy, in terms of the earth as an enduring reference point, was also somehow surprising to me. Science tells us that there is no ‘meaning’ to the universe, yet the aim is science is to seek and generate meaning for ourselves. The innate human desire to explore, learn, and find ways to explain the world around us is what connects the various creative and curious disciplines – including art and science – but perhaps ultimately these endeavors all come back to the same starting point: to humanity and how it is we view our selves.
I would like to thank Robert Hollow and the all staff at CASS for allowing me to come and work with them on this project. It has been a remarkable privilege and I greatly appreciate the generosity of time and spirit of all those I came in contact with during my time at Marsfield and Narrabri. I would also like to acknowledge the generous support of the Australia Council for the Art through the Creative Australia program for providing the framework and financial assistance to allow the project outcomes to occur.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
Michaela Gleave is a visual artist based in Sydney, Australia. Working across a range of media including installation, performance, photography and video, Gleave’s often-temporal works question our relationship to space, matter and time, involving natural phenomena and tricks of perception within the context of the systems and structures that shape our understanding of the universe. Gleave holds a Master of Fine Arts (Research) from the College of Fine Arts, UNSW, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours First Class) from the School of Art Hobart, UTAS. She has exhibited extensively across Australia as well as in Germany, Austria, Hong Kong, Korea and Mexico. Michaela Gleave is represented by Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne.
More information about Michaela Gleave’s practice can be found at www.michaelagleave.com and video documentation of A Day Is Longer Than A Year is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpeBBAJfiSo