until 14.04. | #3350ARTatBerlin | BBA Gallery shows from 5. March 2023 (Opening: 04.03.) the solo exhibition Outer Space with watercolour works by artist Olivia Lennon.
Outer Spaces at BBA Gallery is an overview of Olivia Lennon’s exploration into the cosmos. The exhibition is compiled of varied watercolour paintings, labour-intensively painted by hand with fine sable brushes, specialist interference watercolours with an exactitude that resembles digital printing. These artworks are informed by intensive research, inspired by the artist’s natural curiosity with historical ideas and philosophical concepts, which she then translates into meticulous opalescent illustrations. Whether navigating interstellar spaces, mapping the crossing of geographical borders or visualising the invisible flow of microscopic miasmas, Lennon’s work establishes new perspectives of space on a macro- as well as on a microscopic level.
The exhibition incorporates works from the following series’:
‘Cosmodrome’ offers a dynamic model of the epistemology of the cosmos. These vinyl and watercolour images are carefully painted by hand with fine sable brushes, sometimes using only one or two hairs.
Most of the watercolours Lennon uses are made of interference pigments. These pigments contain no colour in the usual sense as they are grains of the translucent mineral mica thinly electroplated in different thicknesses of titanium white. The thickness of the titanium determines the angle of refraction of light above the paint, creating the optical illusion of colour.
This process of painting colour with light references a statement by John Ruskin from 1884 that ‘’Light is as much the ordering of intelligence as the ordering of vision’’. This sentiment informs much of Lennon’s inquiry around the historical and contemporary ‘ordering’ of knowledge about the universe.
Each of Lennon’s paintings present a different facet of observation or speculation around the working of time, telemetry, space and matter. Lennon’s work is informed by the philosophical arguments of Heraclitus and Parmenides, the cosmological writings of Italo Calvino, the telemetry of satellites, and conflicting theories in particle physics.
To analyse what we see or think about the universe reveals much of human psychology; essentially whether we believe that the universe is inherently ordered or chaotic. Frequently, ordered views of the cosmos are built over history then disintegrated by unintuitive theories and new discoveries. The geocentric solar system is replaced by the heliocentric. Newtonian physics are replaced by general relativity, then by quantum physics. All-encompassing models of knowledge in this paradigm are deconstructed by competing chaotic details which then in turn establish new ordered principles.
A Klein bottle is a theoretical 4 dimensional continuous surface that constitutes both an interior and exterior, but has no boundary between the two. By extension, it has no volume but also contains the whole universe – it is nothing and everything concurrently. Lennon has painted grids projected over diagrams of Klein bottles as a analogy for the artists’ attempts to quantify and understand this impossible shape.
Each work has an irrational equation for a title. The titles present both the word ‘zero’ and the name of pre-Socratic philosopher ‘Zeno’, who is best known for his writing on paradoxes and irrational numbers.
In profile, the Klein bottle resembles a lemniscate ( ∞ ), and from below a zero. 0 and ∞ represent both the divisible and accumulative aspects of infinity . These two numbers and the Klein bottle behave like the Ouroboros snake, constantly eating its own tail. 0 and ∞ are neither multipliable or divisible (e.g. 0 x 1 = 0 or ∞ /2 = ∞) as other numbers are, and are so self-referential and infinitely regressive, that they could be thought of as boundary of perception.
16th C. Cartographer Gerardus Mercator first used the word ‘atlas’ in the geographical discipline to indicate a thesis on the creation, history and description of the whole universe. ‘Atlas’ presents two paintings depicting distorted elliptical projections of the Cosmic Microwave Background in the Mercator Projection. These images draw from the topographical impossibility of designing a map that comprise the entirety of a manifold; whether it is the sphere of the earth rendered flat or the recording of time and distance described in the CMB map of the big bang. The presentation of the big bang, in the same Mercator projection as the earth is often depicted, encourages the viewer to slip between the history of navigation on earth and the possibility of human endeavour to the edge of the universe. Will we approach interstellar exploration in the same vein as intercontinental? The mythological Atlas held the earth upon his shoulders, and as we move into outer space, the weight of the universe moves onto ours.
By geographical accident, the majority of the marble quarried in Europe comes from those same areas along the E.U’s Mediterranean border (the most deadly border in the world) where unknown numbers of people have attempted to flee war, famine and persecution in Africa and the Middle East. This series of watercolour paintings critiques contemporary European external border practices through the combination of work titles and visual signifiers of obstruction, identity, fascist aesthetics and surveillance. ‘Borderstone’ depicts barricades of marble – the literal ‘stuff-of-this-place’- constructed in order to obstruct the entry of those who are seen as ‘not-of-this-place’.
Since Greco-Roman times marble sculpture has been a signifier of European cultural history and identity, and in antiquity the marble was mined from quarries by slave labourers to build palaces and the statues of empires. In the enlightenment period antique statues became increasingly associated with ideas of race science, not least because the varied skin tone pigments on ancient marble figurative sculptures had worn away.
This later culminated in the 20th C. fascist regimes’ architectural and artistic expressions of racial purity and supremacy in the form white toned marble figures. The fact that some refugee camps are situated in marble quarries, where the mourning-work of hewing gravestones takes place, deepens this relationship further. In using the language of marble, ‘Borderstone’ loosely references these ideas as being the ideological kernel behind the increasingly inhumane treatment of mostly brown asylum seekers long Europes southern border. The title of each work raises questions around perceptions of the ‘other’, opaque bureaucratic structures, the right to citizenship, militarised borders, the nature of memorialisation, and the E.U.’s intention to construct a completely impervious border.
Stemming from research into our former understanding of airborne disease, ‘Night Air’ presents an imagined topography of dangerous air. The title is borrowed from the outmoded belief that air at night releases deadly miasmas causing cholera, typhoid, malaria, influenza and pneumonic plague.
The base image for each work is printed using the Japanese suminagashi technique. Ink and oxgall are floated on the surface of water, and gently blown, from which the print on paper is pulled. Curlicues of ink are painted over in colour shifting watercolours, and mirrored vertically to create symmetrical designs reminiscent of both body parts and tendrils of poisonous air polluting a space.
The works are displayed in frames modified to resemble fresh lead solder. Two of the paintings, ‘Gnasher’ and ‘Poison Eater’ have necklaces of upper or lower teeth hung from the bottom edge of frames. The inferred mandible hangs loose, the mouth is open, allowing pneumas and miasmas to permeate the boundary between the interior of the breather and the exterior, and back again. ‘Night Air’ makes the invisible threat visible – we are in danger, and ourselves, dangerous.
Vernissage: Friday, 4 March 2022, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Exhibition dates: Saturday, 5 March to Thursday, 14 April 2022
Artist talk: Thursday, 24 March 2022, 6:30 pm
Finissage: Wednesday, 13 April 2022, 5:00 p.m.To the Gallery
Image caption title image: Obelisk (a tapering stone pillar, set up as a monument or landmark) / watercolour and graphite on paper / 50 x 70 cm /2019, © Olivia Lennon/BBA Gallery
Exhibition Olivia Lennon – BBA Gallery | Contemporary Art – Kunst in Berlin – Exhibitions Berlin Galleries | ART at Berlin