Punctuating various points of Katie Paterson’s solo exhibition at Ingleby Gallery is a text series of half-formed notions ‘for works to exist in the imagination’. That they are solidly rendered in cast silver seems somewhat ironic given their whimsical content, but these glinting, lyrical sentiments offer fragments of thoughts that poetically orbit Paterson’s art/science oeuvre.
A beach made with dust from spiral galaxies
A place that exists only in moonlight
Complexity and simplicity are collapsed in Paterson’s works. The physical presentation is deceptively minimal, yet conceptually the works often deal with gargantuan subjects of space, time, scale, light and dark.
A key example of this is the work ‘Fossil Necklace’ (2014), which appears to hang in weightless limbo within the lower level gallery. Comprised of 170 fossils carved into pea-sized beads, each representing a geological or evolutionary phase, the necklace effectively charts the metamorphosis of our world. It is a beautiful object, something to be revered and therefore suited to its manifestation as a piece of jewellery. Magnifying glasses are on hand if you wish to peer closer and individually the beads become tiny planets and organisms, pockmarked with time. It is Paterson’s work at its best, the exhibited object itself equally fascinating as the idea behind it.
Elsewhere it is the crafting of concept that carries the work. Paterson’s ‘big ideas’ are the crux of her practice, as reflected in the title of the exhibition. The pristine presentation of the physical remnants and ongoing data collection of these ideas is organised and archival. For example ‘The Dying Star Letters’, written by the artist for every star that dies are collectively shown in clinical vitrines, and ‘The History of Darkness’, Paterson’s 35mm slide collection of dark skies are neatly boxed away.
These works and many others in the exhibition take place over vast durations and are a long way from ‘finished’ - take for instance ‘Future Library’ begun this year, but not due to finish until 2114. The concepts are complex and interesting, but the problematic aspect within a gathering of works such as ‘Ideas’ is that we are left pondering the less visually enticing certificates, documents and in the case of ‘Second Moon’, an empty vitrine, left vacant as its moon rock inhabitant is Fed-Ex’d around the earth.
Sculptural elements of the exhibition such as ‘Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky’ (2013-14) provide physicality and weight to the airiness of the concept fuelled works. Curving through the upstairs gallery as if on some invisible orbit and placed in ascending weight order, the Campo Del Cielo meteorites have been smelted and recast in their original form, the physical properties remaining the same, yet their temporal properties realigned to stretch from billions of years old, to a state contemporaneous with ourselves.
The work ‘Timepieces’ (Solar Systems) sees 9 clocks lined on the wall, each labelled with different locations. From a distance you assume the usual – London, New York, Paris – but typically of Paterson it is a much more loaded and far-reaching measure, telling the time (in relation to the Earth) on each of the planets in our solar system.
Much of Paterson’s work rests on concepts for which conclusions are far away and Ingleby cater for this well with their elegant and informative guide to the exhibition that allows for contemplative insight. In the case of ‘Ideas’, time is of the essence, from vast geological and astronomical histories, to our own life spans, the time in which to consider Paterson’s wide-reaching ‘Ideas’ as they appear now and the durations over which they will continue to play out.