The exhibition Transient Objects by the emerging British artist Xavier Poultney is an investigation into the evolution of knowledge and the cultural ramifications of technology, inspired by a scientific endeavor called the SDSS. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is a detailed three-dimensional digital mapping of the universe visible from its base in New Mexico. In Kostka Gallery, Poultney exhibits photographs and objects that investigate the progression of ideas from the local Native American Indian understanding of reality to the cutting edge present.
We sit here on Earth and gaze up at the stars. We try to count them, draw lines in between them, and group them. Feeling like we might eventually get closer to the transcendental by trying to measure it, using the most progressive scientific methods to grasp it. But on the other hand, we can’t help but create horoscopes and mythologies, as if we couldn’t stand the fact that those glowing objects might just be physical phenomena loosing their charm in a laboratory environment. Drawing a line between one of the most ambitious projects in contemporary astronomy and the perhaps more “naive”, but at the same time thoughtful and complex investigations of the Native Indians, Xavier Poultney’s exhibition creates an intriguing tension- that of a respected scientist who wouldn’t get very far without keeping his childish curiosity, or, that of a philosopher who longed to present an objective proof for the existence of God.
The works on display go beyond mere documentation of a scientific project juxtaposed to observations of the same reality through tribal rituals and symbols. Poultney undertook a long-term research project in New Mexico, Seattle, and Washington D.C. in order to create a body of work which balances between playfulness, physical perfection, and attention to detail. In his set of photographs, the artist mixes imagery from the scientific procedures and tools used within the SDSS project, petroglyphs or other examples of early art to be found in New Mexico and his own observations of the surrounding landscapes and skies. One of the exhibited sculptures is based on a shape of the visually striking aluminum disc, a component from an instrument used for the digital mapping. Thousands of tiny holes, in practice intersected by optical fibers, correspond to the objects in the night sky. Despite its complex nature, the disc holds somewhat touching personal marks of the scientist’s interaction with it. The second sculpture is based on the aesthetics of meteorological equipment crossed with head costumes of the Apache, which were used in rituals believed to control the weather or other environmental elements. Through his installation, Poultney makes a good point about the duality of human nature: our longing for discovery is as strong as our fascination by mystery. We are driven to create complex systems of thought, but at the same time we are constantly thrilled by the unexplainable, somewhat childish or irrational. We sit here on Earth and think about buying land on the Moon.
Xavier Poultney (1983) is a British photographer and sculptor. Through his works, he addresses the intersection of science, technology and cultural or ritual artifacts. He received his MA in Communication Art & Design at the Royal College of Art in London, and currently collaborates with the Space in Between Gallery in London. Along with the United Kingdom, he has shown his work in Košice (Tri Outputs), Paris (Glitch Fiction) and Athens (The Hub).