Travis Jeppesen on Alice Wang
A desire for the next world – for what is certainly or seemingly beyond our reach – underpins all of Alice Wang’s work, which overlaps with astronomy, geology, ancient history, and science fiction. . His recent exhibition largely included sculptures, as well as four black and white photographs and video Pyramids and Parables II, 2021, suite or suite of a 2019 work presented in a 2020 collective exhibition in the same gallery. Visitors were first confronted by a circular table topped with two-way mirrored glass, on which perched six sparkling shards of silver; Like most of the works in the exhibition, this sculpture was dated 2021. The shards are actually pieces of iron meteorite found in the Eastern Uweinat Desert in Egypt. (When Wang herself is not traveling to some of the far corners of the world for research and filming purposes, she scours the internet looking for rare earth and astronomical debris traders in order to obtain materials for his artwork.) Another sculpture was Fossilized Waveforms from the Jurassic Period discovered in Eastern Europe: the three components of hip height moved closer to each other, forming a triangular whole broken. Most confusing of the group, however, was a tabletop sculpture that took up an entire room in the gallery. There was a prism, handmade white gold tiles, air plants, fluorescent pink isometric grid, wet-plate collodion photographs on mirrors, glass microspheres, and a Crookes radiometer (an invention of the 19th century to measure electromagnetic radiation). What do these objects have to do with each other? Located halfway between the science lab and an avant-garde high-end fashion store window, the carefully rendered pieces left us the enjoyable task of probing the connections between them.
The first installment of Pyramids and parables included footage of Jodie Foster as Dr. Ellie Arroway in Contact, a 1997 film about a scientist’s research into alien life. In Pyramids and Parables II, the artist plays a role similar to that of Foster, building an observation post in the desert. The scene then shifts offshore – reminding us of what this desert once was – then to a sun-drenched mountain landscape somewhere in China, then to the Arctic Circle, where a lone wolf runs towards the camera. The film is inspired by Crab Pulsar, one of the few neutron stars visible to the naked eye. This astronomical object was born from the explosion of a supernova star in 1054, an event documented by astronomers of the time. “These beacons in the sky are an archive of past events,” explains the narrator of the video. The camera pans over the blinding white light of the sky before moving on to an extended sequence of a bumpy ride filmed behind the dashboard of a snowmobile. Then, the scene returns to the desert, where we again see the artist constructing his frequency listening device, this time under the pink-orange setting sun. The soundtrack plays a recording from the NASA archives: the static noise of a solar burst.
Taken together, this work reflects Wang’s deep investment in materiality issues. It reveals not only the pure metaphysical thing of found or manufactured objects, but also their unique property of extension, connecting us to historical and cosmological dimensions beyond the perceptible.