The exhibition features recent videos by acclaimed international artists who use their work to explore the spectacle of nature and the sense of cosmic stupor that captures humans when faced with the sublime vastness of our planet. The title Solar comes from a satirical book by Ian McEwan that discusses the personal life of a Nobel Prize winner coming to terms with global warming. Solar is presented as part of Marfa Dialogues/NY, an examination of climate change science, environmental activism, and artistic practice taking place in October and November 2013 in New York City.
Solar features works by Rosa Barba, Neïl Beloufa, Camille Henrot, and Basim Magdy. The artists engage science fiction, ecological research, and travel, depicting the earth as it faces climate change and ecological transformation. Their work captures natural phenomena, animal behaviors, and human interactions from around the world in a series of lyrical documentaries. They offer a metaphor for the perennial struggle between humans and the environment as we try to find a precarious balance of mutual respect.
In Somnium (2011), Germany-based artist Rosa Barba (b. 1972, Italy) continues her research on the liminal spaces between reality and fiction. The video investigates the future of Maasvlakte 2, an engineering project in Rotterdam that will convert the site of Maasvlakte, originally created by reclaiming land from the North Sea, into a new port. Based on interviews with local residents asked to imagine the future of this site, the film intertwines archival footage, sci-fi imagery, and the personal story of a beekeeper who started his hive 30 years ago and is now forced to surrender to the advancement of machines.
French artist Neïl Beloufa (b. 1985, France) has been working on a series of videos where he often uses an interview format. For Solar, Beloufa presents Kempinski (2007), a video shot in Mali, featuring local residents being interviewed at night while they hold up a neon light that illuminates their faces. Throughout the video, they discuss their own idea of the future – a future where cars speak, men move through light and sound, and buildings are made of light. To further highlight the blur between reality and fiction, they speak of the future in the present tense, delivering a science fiction documentary that sketches the idea of a world with no distinction between humans, animals, and things, while reflecting on the metaphorical effects of climate change.
For Solar, French artist Camille Henrot (b. 1978, France) presents Million Dollars Point (2011), a film originally shot in Santo Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, an island known for an underwater cemetery for hundreds of tanks and canons abandoned by the U.S. Army after World War II. The film takes its title from a diving site filled with war materials which the natives had offered to buy. Juxtaposing underwater footage with highly stereotypical images taken from a local music video depicting a French mustached man dancing and singing on a Pacific beach with Polynesian girls at his side, the film investigates notions of history, anthropology, and language, sketching a desolate portrait that exceeds geographic or cultural boundaries.
The work of Egyptian artist Basim Magdy (b. 1977, Egypt) spans from drawing to film, painting to slide installations that touch upon issues of science, war, and progress, hovering between a nostalgic look to the past and a disenchanted imagery of the future. In Time Laughs Back at You Like a Sunken Ship (2012) Magdy arranges a poetic, seemingly contemplative setting for the wanderings of a young man. Carrying around a vision device – a makeshift construction that allows him to see the world while at the same time reflecting the surroundings through a mirror surface – the young man explores a natural environment reminiscent of a greenhouse or biosphere, while the film also alternates archival historical images of ancient ruins.
Photos by Timothy Schenck, Courtesy of Friends of the High Line.