On a crisp spring morning the early fog lifts like a fine vapor, ascending to the clouds, so that the city below the Griffith Park Observatory gains definition. Through the clunky and rusted metal binoculars perched along the perimeter, Los Angeles lays below with each neighborhood, area, and zip code appearing as one giant artery bifurcated by grids and momentarily reconnected by a freeway on ramp. The Hollywood sign now feels a natural part of the hillside with tundra and dirt securing its position deep in the roots. The sign is a reminder that celestial stars, not the figurative kind, are still shining even though we cannot seem them. Siri Kaur knows this and often it’s the stars that exist in the imagination and in the universe of her darkroom that inspire her practice, which fuses scientific inquiry with photographic exploration.
By connecting her camera to the Meade Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, Kaur contained the vastness of the uncertain universe within the frame of her camera. The telescope thereby became an extension of her camera, leaving Kaur to determine the F-Stop, shutter speed and focus to properly capture the wonders of the sky. “I wanted to make photographs that are about the experience of looking,” she declares with a smile, while surveying the landscape below as her hand rests across her forehead, shielding her eyes from the rays of the sun. Half of the Whole is a body of work about the reflexivity of looking- first at looking through a telescope to view stars as they existed millions of years ago and then receiving those images through the refracted lenses of the telescope and the camera. Thus, the stars are viewing Earth as it existed millions of years ago and they never will we see each other in the present but only in a series of missed glances. Kaur calls this phenomenon “photographing geological time,” and in looking to the past, the uncertainties of the future seem less foreboding. Kaur then manipulates the images in her micro-universe of the laboratory where the images change in color and scale to the point where dark holes and dying stars can be contained in one’s hand. The manipulation of scale allows the work to fill the expansive bare walls of a gallery or inhabit the inner sanctum of a domestic space. The images are souvenirs of a universe inspired by astronomy that do not intend to make any scientific claims, but rather convey the “perceptual experiences” and influence of the galaxy.
Beginning with the subtractive printing methods of traditional photography the images taken with the Meade telescope bend and become an abstract representation of a known subject. Playing with the subtleties of color, celestial furies are reborn with palettes of majestic pink, lush purples and cool blues that were inspired when looking through the lens of the telescope. Part science and pure imagination, the works in Half of the Hole are experiments in photographic technique and color theory, and assign humanity to the one of the greatest uncertainties that surround us all of the time. “Black Hole” is about the magic of illusion as Kaur points out that while “You can’t actually photograph a black hole because it’s theoretical,” there is a great sadness in viewing a ring collapse on its own shadow and disappear into an abyss. Half of the Whole is about the power of the gaze- while we’re looking out to the sublime and the vastness of space our gaze is charged by an unseen, yet recognized, sense that we are also being watched.
Featured image: Siri Kaur, Whiplash (Spiral Nebula: Darkroom Experiment 2, Rose), 2011
Image courtesy of the artist and Blythe Projects