Starting the year with shadows. I visited the exhibition Dark Matters: Shadow, Technology, Art at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester yesterday. A strangely unmoving show (especially as I was really looking forward to it beforehand) in a lovely spacious gallery. What was interesting, however, was how so much of the work dealt with the shadow as image, rather than a space to be inhabited. One installation by Barnaby Hosking called Flood, that did attempt a more 3D approach. There were some great prints from the gallery’s collection on show to accompany the exhibition, one by Käthe Kollwitz called Whetting the Scythe and another, anonymous, Moonlight off the Needles, that made me think of Portland. I wanted to take a picture of the show for the blog, but photography was not allowed (yawn!) however my phone camera did accidentally go off. Here is the result. Happy New Year!
Shadows are once again in my thoughts. Once you start looking out for them you begin to see just how many different types there are. Also, that they have little to do with darkness as such. But what is also apparent is that a shadows relationship to time is not a simple one: sometimes it appears as if in the future, sometimes as if in the past, following.
Josepth Amato in his book Dust makes the point that in the West our obsession with the very small over the past century – germs, cells, genes and then on into atoms and the subatomic – has as much to do with our development of electrical light to ‘see into the corners’ of things as it had to do with the technologies we developed for viewing, such as microscopes and scanners. We are obsessed with lighting things, and along with this, cleanliness. Junicharō Tanizaki in his book In Praise of Shadows notes this too: “…Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize… this ‘sheen of antiquity’… which is in fact the glow of grime.” Tanizaki is fascinating about the role and effect of shadows, especially within traditional Japanese culture. He talks about what would it be like if it had been Orientals who developed all the modern technologies, rather than Europeans. I was thinking about this: would Japanese CT scanner technology include shadows? What is a scanned shadow like? Because if you look at a scan, such as the one of a pair of lungs I included a few post back, its startling beauty, precision and lightness is also its weakness, its lack of a shadow. In our world, it is shadows that prove our presence. We fear as much those without shadows as being trapped within something else’s. And somewhere in my mind the lack of shadows in medical scans (here at Derriford Hospital) is linked to something I am searching for in the environmental data that is key to the Biosphere project up in North Devon. Data shadows?
“For the moment let’s venture simply this: the shadow, this elegant enigma, is always with us… [it] is an inescapable consequence of our physicality. …Our clearest thoughts are those that know this – those that remember their real parentage in both light and shadow, fire and sleep.” From Becoming Animal by David Abram. I am thinking about shadows a lot at the moment, not as the flat outlines of cartoons, but as a physical presence in the world that we inhabit. I am thinking about whether Data World (the virtual landscape of environmental data that I am investigating for the biosphere project) has shadows in it. What is the meaning of a shadow in this context? Perhaps shadows are the link I am looking for between this, the sensual world that we can perceive with our own senses, and that, the mass of data that is being promoted as some sort of future panacea. I am getting more and more intrigued by shadows. Might it be possible, like Lucky Luke, to move faster than your shadow?