Exhibition: On Clouds

Observatory is proud to announce our first gallery exhibition, On Clouds, organized by James Walsh, opening Friday, September 18, from 7 to 10.

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video still from James Walsh, Constable's Clouds, 8 min., 2009

On Clouds

with prints and photographs by James Walsh in the gallery, and an evening program of projections, performances, poetry, and other events by various artists throughout the run of the show.

Friday, September 18 through Sunday, November 15, 2009
Opening: Friday, September 18, 7-10

Th 9/24 Joshua Beckman on clouds. Two seatings, 8 and 9pm
Tu 9/29 Klara Hobza on cloud making and Catriona Shaw and Pauline Curnier Jardin on their cloud opera. 8pm
$5 admission to all events

Beginning Sunday, September 27 we will have regular gallery hours -
3-6 Thursday and Friday
12-6 Saturday and Sunday
with entrance through Proteus Gowanus Gallery, in the alley off Nevins St. They will open for the season on Saturday, September 26, 7-10. Details at Proteus Gowanus

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Clouds have long been the object of scientific study and artistic depiction. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the emerging science of meteorology allowed the fleeting and apparently formless clouds to be closely observed, categorized, and recorded. At this same time, in England and Germany, painters and poets also began to look more intently at clouds. While insisting on artifice and inspiration over mere recording, they increasingly sought to give their work a sense of greater realism and emotional power by focusing on the careful observation and accurate depiction of the natural world. The worlds of science and art were much closer then, with artists and scientists meeting in society and following each others’ work, and this allowed a shared culture to develop. At its best, detached observation was allied with emotional projection, and imagination was grounded and enriched by careful, systematic recording, all in the service of what they called natural philosophy and we would call natural history.

In this exhibition, James Walsh will present three bodies of work that trace this blending of science and art in the depiction of clouds from the early 1800s to the early 1900s.

video still from James Walsh, Constable's Clouds, 8 min., 2009

video still from James Walsh, Constable's Clouds, 8 min., 2009

The video Constable’s Clouds (8 min., 2009) looks at the English landscape painter John Constable and the period from 1819 to 1822 when, departing from the traditions of landscape painting and assuming the role of artist-as-scientist, he painted the clouds and sky alone. He summarized his attitude during these years when he said in a lecture “Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not landscape be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?” On Wednesday, October 21 at 8pm, this video will be projected along with the work of other artists in a program of lectures, video, and performance.

James Walsh, from the series the black cloud, letterpress on Rives BFK, 16x20", edition of 10, 2009

James Walsh, from the series the black cloud, letterpress on Rives BFK, 16x20", edition of 10, 2009

A series of letterpress prints, the black cloud, will be presented in the gallery. Late in life, the English writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) became obsessed with what he called variously the black cloud or storm cloud or plague cloud or black wind or plague wind or evil wind or black fog, a new and unexplained weather phenomenon that cast a pall over nature and human affairs and had something to do with the advent of modern times. It was a purely meteorological occurrence, to his mind, though no meteorologist had noticed it, and it was not produced by his loneliness, his failure in love, or his increasingly common and sustained bouts of madness. He brought all these observations together in his essay “The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century,” and his journals from this period contain minute descriptions of this phenomenon and its effect on the landscape and his mind and spirit.  Working from his journals, fragments of text relating to the black cloud were traced, made into printing plates, and printed in an edition of ten on a Vandercook proof press.

James Walsh, photograph from the series a natural history of clouds, 2004-2006

James Walsh, photograph from the series a natural history of clouds, 2004-2006

Also in the gallery will be a natural history of clouds, a series of photographs of clouds in the backdrop paintings of the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. They were painted in the early to mid twentieth century, have undergone their own particular weathering, and quietly embody an alternate natural history of the depiction of clouds.

James Walsh, photograph from the series a natural history of clouds, 2004-2006

James Walsh, photograph from the series a natural history of clouds, 2004-2006

Artist and poet Jen Bervin’s handmade artist’s book, a non-breaking space will also be on view. More at Jen Bervin’s site

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An evening series of readings, projections, performances, poetry, and other events is scheduled throughout the run of the show.

On Thursday, September 24 at 8:00 poet Joshua Beckman will speak on clouds. He requests that everyone bring a pillow if they can and wear clothes suitable for lying down on the floor. Space will be limited and there will be two sessions, 8 and 9pm.
Admission $5

On Tuesday, September 29 at 8:00 artist Klara Hobza will present The Cloud Maker, a thirty-minute performative lecture and projection that employs science, pseudo-science, culture, history, and art to introduce the audience to the myths and realities of cloud making. Her work can be seen at her site.

Klara Hobza, from The Cloud Maker, 30 min., 2009

Klara Hobza, from The Cloud Maker, 30 min., 2009

After a short break we’ll watch the video Opera for Migrant Clouds,  a collaborative project of artists Catriona Shaw and Pauline Curnier Jardin. Intending to embody and capture a singular moment in the constant metamorphosis of clouds, Opera for Migrant Clouds is primarily a sound piece, a collection of vocal recordings performed by anyone inspired by the beauty (or mediocrity) of a cloud of their choosing. The artists have compiled these recordings as a short opera, also reinterpreting them as drawings that are presented here as a slideshow forming a poetic backdrop to accompany the possible songs of clouds.
Admission $5

Catriona Shaw and Pauline Curnier Jardin, "Minsk 2005," from Opera for Migrant Clouds, 2009

Catriona Shaw and Pauline Curnier Jardin, "Minsk 2005," from Opera for Migrant Clouds, 2009

On Wednesday, October 21 at 8:00 we will present an evening of video and performance by SP Weather Station (Natalie Campbell and Heidi Neilson), Madeline Djerejian, Celeste Fichter, Lisa Young, and James Walsh.
Admission $5

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