In a time of great technological leaps and climatic upheavals, Mars represents the next stepping stone for humanity’s expansion into space. In the exhibition A Journey: The Near Future, photo-based artist Nicolai Howalt depicts our yet-to-be-explored, red neighbour, about 63 million kilometers away. But Howalt is not only interested in Mars’ pictorial presence, he is also interested in the relationship between the analogue and the digital, which is also conveyed in a number of performances, created in collaboration with composer, musician and DJ Mike Sheridan.
In this exhibition, the analogue and the digital, the human and the mechanical as well as the near and the far, are walking hand in hand. Howalt’s work takes its starting point in photographic panoramas of the surface of Mars, which NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance has sent to Earth, and which have subsequently been transferred to photographic negatives. In this way, the images have been transformed from digital information to physical photographies, and the open expanses of Mars resemble those depicted in the frontier photography of the 1800s. The works thereby raise a
number of relevant questions, both regarding the consequences of our colonization of space and the problems associated with our zeal for propulsion. But at the same time, the works are also vastly different from classical landscape photography as they present the digital images in their entirety, as joined single images, and the works edge and meander on the paper as graphic cuts, or as the repetition of the tracks left by two robots on Mars’ surface.
A similar relationship between the analogue and the digital takes place in Mike Sheridan’s musical performances. Sheridan plays, as one of twenty instrumentalists in the world, on the rare French crystal organ Cristal Baschet. This sculptural instrument is the most recently invented polyphonic instrument and consists of metal tones that set in vibration when the mounted glass tubes are stroked by wet hands. The crystalline tones represent the meeting between the acoustic and the digital sound, and in this meeting a new credibility arises. In the same way as in Howalt’s work, where the meeting between the soft recognisability of analogue photography and the hard details of the digital image technology brings us into paradoxical proximity with a landscape, where no person has yet been. Black and white photography has historically been linked to the presence of a photographer, and the works are in this way pointing not only back, but also towards what is far away, but in our near future.
Copyright Nicolai Howalt
Courtesy of NASA / JPL-CALTECH