Republic of the Moon
The Arts Catalyst
Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Leonid Tishkov, Katie Paterson, Liliane Lijn, WE COLONISED THE MOON, Hagen Betzwieser, Sue Corke, Joanna Griffin, Tomas Saraceno
10 January - 2 February 2014
Review by Denise Kwan
The unfathomable distance between the earth and the moon heightens the mystery of the enigmatic orb. Historically, our relationship with the moon is steeped in religion, superstition and folklore, but the advances of technology and science have undermined esoteric explanations about the cosmos. Science as a system of knowledge is presented as the singular authority on ‘reality’. In the future, it is predicted the moon will be a viable tourist destination or a mineral mine, or even both.
In a society increasingly governed by surveillance networks, overcrowding and gentrification, mental and physical restriction becomes a normalised way of being. As notions of freedom, ownership and the self become more abstract, will the moon be subjected to the same treatment’ The desire to imagine an alternative existence is not simply a dreamy pastime but a social necessity. These ideas are foregrounded in the group exhibition ‘Republic of the Moon’ at Bargehouse, London.
The installation ‘Moonmeme’ by Liliane Lijn immerses the viewer in a room of thick, foreign darkness. The sound of a high-pitched female voice punctuates the atmosphere as the word ‘SHE’ is repeated at varying speeds. The stretched pronunciation abstracts the meaning and transforms it into a portion of sound, which feels simultaneously innocent and sinister. Encrusted in craters and draped in shadows, a silvery moon is projected at the centre of the room while the word ‘SHE’ is overlaid on its surface. This is not a photograph; it is a live relay of the changing moon.
Drifting through the phases of the moon, it hides the word ‘SHE’ and reveals ‘HE’. In effect, it is a reminder of the gendered ownership of lunar discovery, which is most famously claimed in the sentence uttered by Neil Armstrong: ‘That’s one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind’. This play on words tethers an understanding of gender within the motions of the moon and suggests that perhaps ‘SHE’ is more encompassing.
The idea of ownership is expanded on in the work of Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser through the use of text and found objects. Light bulbs illuminate the words ‘THE MOON AH YEAH’ like merchandise for a Mariah Carey anthem. Built from wooden struts it resembles an improvised version of the iconic Hollywood sign. Meteorite-like rocks sit in a trolley that has one too many wheels while the statement ‘A THEME PARK OR A QUARRY’ is chalked onto a large blackboard dominating the room. It feels like the beginnings of a party, or protest’ depending on how you’d like to visit the moon.
Leonid Tishkov’s photographs resemble a courtship between a man and the moon. Romanticised atop high-rise buildings, among forests and in attics, the man and the moon appear to orbit each other. In contrast ‘Moon Vehicle’ takes a participatory approach in inviting school children in India to generate personal responses to space travel.
German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis digs into the historical imaginings of Francis Godwin’s book ‘The Man in the Moone’. Drawing on his desire to be lifted to the moon by flying geese, Meyer-Brandis sets out to create Godwin’s fantasy. Adopting the maternal role, she personally trains the geese; reciting the laws of physics, swimming in lakes and drawing visual diagrams in an attempt to explain the concept of space junk. Alongside the video, an elaborate space station and portraits of the moon geese have been fabricated, bringing the mythic quality of Godwin’s sentiment into reality. While this work combines elements of absurdity and charm, the production and orchestration feels rather more fanciful than is really necessary.
Simplicity resonates in the work of Katie Paterson as a grand piano plays Beethoven’s classical score ‘Moonlight Sonata’. The music fills the room with an introspective and sorrowful ambience. As the score continues, the rhythm breaks in sections; notes are skipped and then clash into each other. This unusual rendition is in fact the moon speaking to us. Paterson has converted Beethoven’s score into a Morse code and beamed it onto the moon’s uneven surface so that it returns mysteriously disrupted. Vulnerability characterises the work; it does not strive to make a hard and fast claim about outer space but rather it highlights the incapacity of the human ego to decipher all mysteries and possess knowledge. This fragmented score finds the edges and gaps of understanding and crystallises these voids into a musical form. The rendition is oddly humbling.
For the majority of people, the moon will remain a mysterious image imprinted in the sky. Our received knowledge of the moon is filtered through the media and the experiences of the wealthy, privileged, and powerful, which amplifies its distance. However what is pertinent about the ‘Republic of the Moon’ is the intention of the artists to shorten that gap, presenting multiple portals to the moon.