The National Maritime Museum has invited Dan Holdsworth to be its 2006 artist for the New Visions contemporary art programme. At the Edge of Space, Parts 1–3, will open on 8 June 2006. Dan Holdsworth's large-scale photographs explore the limits of perception and the possibilities of photography. This exhibition focuses on the artist's interest in communicating the invisible realms of time and space, featuring work from the series 'At the Edge of Space' (1999) and 'The Gregorian' (2005), alongside the new commission 'Hyperborea' (2006). These three series show the: European Space Agency’s spaceport in Guianathe Arecibo Space Telescope at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Centre in Puerto Ricoand the Northern Lights seen from the limits of Reykjavik in Iceland and from the Andoya Rocket Range above the Arctic Circle in Norway. 'At the Edge of Space, Parts 1–3' is an investigation into the possibilities of human knowledge. At the edges of what we understand – be it the limits of space, time or nature – human consciousness comes into focus. Holdsworth's photographs reveal a sense of the contemporary sublime – his expansive landscapes create a vertiginous pleasure in the immensity of what we do not comprehend. Led by his personal responses to each environment he visits, the artist seeks out locations to photograph through their feel and atmosphere. Using long exposures, Holdsworth’s images reveal the world around us in a way that the human eye could never capture. Filled with both time and timelessness, these photographs offer a window to another world that exists beyond our knowledge and experience. 'At the Edge of Space', 1999, is series of photographs taken at the European Space Agency's spaceport at Kourou in Guiana, South America. The location is surrounded by verdant equatorial forest and its position in relation to the Earth’s rotation is ideal for space missions. Holdsworth’s photographs show rockets 'docked' and launching within the dense jungle foliage, and how at the limits of the base both the surrounding landscape and the sky above seem an endless wilderness. Together with all-white interior spaces reminiscent of a science fiction film, Holdsworth depicts a collision of nature and culture, where the natural world and the limits of the most advanced technology sit side-by-side. 'The Gregorian', 2005, was developed at the Arecibo Space Telescope at the American National Astronomy and Ionosphere Centre, Puerto Rico. Nestled in a jungle landscape of collapsed cave systems, this man-made structure is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope and is capable of picking up the faintest radio waves from the edges of space. From the furthest reaches of universe pulses are recorded that have taken some 100 million years to reach the Earth. Here the faint signals are translated into visible information that can be interpreted to reveal the formation of new planets, track asteroids and describe the edge of known space. Using long camera exposures of up to four hours, the artist has created a series of photographs taken at different times of the day and under different lunar conditions. These exploit the durational quality of still photography to look into the limits of knowledge and experience. The NMM has commissioned a new series of work for this exhibition, 'Hyperborea', which continues Holdsworth’s exploration into the spaces between naturally occurring phenomena and our attempts to understand the edges of our environment. Driving out from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, Holdsworth photographed the night skies filled with the constantly moving lights of the Aurora, while the earthbound landscape is pinpricked with lights of moving vehicles and human habitation. The artist also travelled to the Andoya Rocket Range in Norway – located above the Arctic Circle it is the world's northern-most permanent launch facility for sounding rockets and scientific balloons.
Curator of Contemporary Arts, Lisa Le Feuvre, says of Hyperborea:
"This breathtaking new series explores the idea of the north through photography in a way that pushes the medium to its limits. Holdsworth’s incredible images interrogate the relationship between the visible and the invisible through an exploration of the limits of our understanding.
The Northern Lights – the source of countless legends – are colourful displays of light caused by the interaction of charged particles from the solar wind with the upper atmosphere, revealing physical activity beyond the Earth's surface. In Holdsworth’s photographs skies glow green and are punctuated by stars and satellites following the curvature of the Earth, while the desolate landscape is cut through with traces of human existence. These images explore how time and space affect human life and the landscape. Connecting the wilderness of nature with the edge of space, they seem barely possible, yet they reflect the world as it is. Speaking of this new work, Dan Holdsworth describes how:
the experience of photographing the Northern Lights felt like I was entering a different time space. Whilst being alone in the arctic wilderness, I became aware of the cycle of the Earth. The lights are a visual representation of everything that we cannot see but which goes on around us all the time. It’s like being given a glimpse of the rhythm of the universe."
At the Edge of Space, Parts 1-3,
National Maritime Museum, London, United Kingdom
8.06.2006 - 7.01.2007