'FLOATING ISLANDS' OLIVIA LENNON + ERIN MITCHELL

EXGIRLFRIEND GALLERY, MARCH 2018

In light of shifting economic and political currents and dramatic changes in our global climate, Floating Islands examines humanity’s growing fascination with the potential of emerging technologies and their role in reshaping, if not transcending, the physical limitations of our planet, our bodies, and our understanding of society.  

Paralleling the development of new ventures from lauded billionaire tech magnates—including Elon Musk’s SpaceX program and recent Falcon Heavy rocket launch, PayPal Founder Peter Thiel’s ongoing seasteading nation-state project in East Asia, and Asgardia, the first prototype for an independent nation in space—Floating Islands proposes an alternate look into the proselytization of these proposed utopias and the futures they postulate. In exploring the aesthetics of these speculative societies, artists Erin Mitchell and Olivia Lennon suggest new perspectives into these brave new worlds and offer an opportunity to reexamine these abstract propositions of the future. 

Working within the idealized natural imagery of preloaded computer desktop wallpaper, Erin Mitchell uses scale and 3D rendering technologies to create immersive installations which allow us to physically enter to the virtual environments of our desktop backgrounds. Drawing directly from public domain stock images, Mitchell uses rendering software to digitally recreate these images to a size that can be printed to human scale and returned to the physical context of the gallery space. In blurring the lines between the idealized photographic representation of nature, its virtual translation, and its reintroduction back into the physical environment, Mitchell creates a unique feedback loop that calls into question the boundaries between our distinct but overlapping experiences in both physical and virtual space.  

Olivia Lennon presents two works critiquing the economic rationale of our future moments into outer space. ’Space invaders (space wear for the intergalactic immigrant of tomorrow)’ is constructed from space blankets, which were first invented for the nationalist utopian exploration of outer space, but are now most commonly employed in survival situations. ‘Trillion$ Await (ASTEROID/SPACE acts)’ critiques the tech-utopian promise of unlimited wealth to be mined from asteroids, and the new legal framework supporting commercial property rights in outer space. 

Mitchell and Lennon, both international citizens floating far from the borders of their own respective nations of origin, reconstruct the gallery space itself as its own floating island and independent satellite for the duration of the exhibition. Accessible via its physical entry point at Holsteinische Str. 18 in Berlin, Germany (52°27’53.424”N, 13°19’51.815”E), visitors are encouraged to enter into this fabricated future environment as new potential citizens and reimagine their own place and future selves within its intangible borders. 

‘Space Invaders’ (space wear for the intergalactic immigrants of tomorrow) was made with the indispensable assistance of Nuria Heyck

ZERO

The zero and the lemniscate ( ∞ ) represent both the divisible and accumulative aspects of infinity . These two numbers behave like the Ouroboros snake constantly eating its own tail. 0 and ∞ are neither multipliable or divisible (0 x 1 = 0 or ∞ / 2 = ∞ ) as other numbers are, and are so self referential and infinitely regressive that they could be thought of as the limits of perception.

ATLAS

16th c. cartographer Gerardus Mercator first used the word ‘atlas’ in the geographical discipline to indicate a thesis on the creation, history and description of the whole universe. In her new series ‘Atlas’, Olivia Lennon presents a collection of paintings depicting distorted elliptical projections of both the earth and the Cosmic Microwave Background. These images draw from the topological impossibility of designing a map that comprise the entirety of a manifold; whether is is the sphere of the earth rendered flat or the recording of time and distance described in the CMB map of the big bang. 

The contiguous presentation of the earth and the CMB encourage the viewer to slip between the history of navigation on earth and the possibility of human endeavour to the edge of the universe. Will we approach interstellar exploration in the same vein as intercontinental? The mythological Atlas held the earth upon his shoulders, and as we move into outer space the weight of the universe moves onto ours.

GENERAL STATEMENT

The work of Olivia Lennon (b. 1988) offers a dynamic model of the epistemology of the cosmos. Her watercolour images are carefully painted by hand with fine sable brushes, sometimes using only one or two hairs. Most of the watercolours Lennon uses are made of interference pigments. These pigments contain no colour in the usual sense as they are grains of the translucent mineral mica thinly electroplated in different thicknesses of titanium white. The thickness of the titanium determines the angle of refraction of light above the paint, creating the optical illusion of colour. This process of painting colour with light references a statement by John Ruskin from 1884 that ‘’Light is as much the ordering of intelligence as the ordering of vision’’. 

This sentiment informs much of Lennon’s inquiry around the historical and contemporary ‘ordering’ of knowledge about the universe. Each of Lennon’s paintings present a different facet of observation or speculation around the working of time, telemetry, space and matter. Lennon’s work is informed by the philosophical arguments of Heraclitus and Parmenides, the cosmological writings of Italo Calvino, the telemetry of satellites, and conflicting theories in particle physics.

To analyse what we see or think about the universe reveals much of human psychology; essentially whether we believe that the universe is inherently ordered or chaotic. Frequently, ordered views of the cosmos are built over history then disintegrated by unintuitive theories and new discoveries. The geocentric solar system is replaced by the heliocentric. Newtonian physics are replaced by general relativity, then by quantum physics. All encompassing models of knowledge in this paradigm are deconstructed by competing chaotic details which then in turn establish new ordered principles.