Reviews/Visual Art

A striking solar exploration

21 June 2018

Review: Semiconductor, Brilliant Noise/Black Rain ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Phoebe Mulcahy ·

Despite it being one hundred-and-fifty million kilometres from the Earth and so bright we can’t even look directly at it for more than a few seconds, there’s no doubt our relationship to the Sun is both profound and fundamental. Like the God it was seen to be by so many ancient cultures, this “luminous disc in the sky” looms large in human life, seeming at once close and distant, and as life-threatening as it is life-giving. Such paradoxes as these are drawn out in an exhibition of solar-themed video works by UK artist duo Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), on show at the Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC) until next month.

Semiconductor_Black Rain_Photo by Rebecca Mansell (1)
Gently cascading images: ‘Black Rain’. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

Brought to FAC as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, the exhibition encompasses two video works, Brilliant Noise and Black Rain, both of which feature imagery sourced from solar observatories and satellites. Making use of scientific data, both to explore the interface between nature and technology and push the boundaries of the moving image, has become a feature of Semiconductor’s work.

Jarman and Gerhardt have been collaborating for nearly twenty years. It’s curious to note, however, that the two works selected for this show only seem to date from around halfway through their career (2006 and 2009 respectively), which, given the advances in technology witnessed since that time, lends an almost retro air to the works, as though they’ve been pulled out from archives that have only just begun to gather dust.

In fact, there is an oddly covert or classified feeling to the imagery in general. Brilliant Noise, in particular, with its unremittingly grainy and crackling scenes of energetic particles and solar wind, gives an impression not only of the extraordinary power at the surface of the Sun, but also, almost humorously, of CCTV footage on the largest scale imaginable.

Combined with a highly discordant and tense soundtrack, you keep waiting for something to jump out, or a crescendo that doesn’t quite arrive. After all, intensity like this is nothing out of the ordinary where one hundred billion nuclear explosions are taking place every second. Black Rain, though inescapably coloured by its counterpart’s soundtrack hissing through the dividing curtains, is much more meditative in nature, with gently cascading images that evoke the distance between Earth and the Sun. Together, the works offer an incredibly striking perspective on this most central of natural phenomena, and bring us as close to its explosive surface as one would ever want to get.

Brilliant Noise/Black Rain runs until Sunday 15 July.

Pictured top: ‘Brilliant Noise’. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

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