The soft-edged nylon rollers of the Steenbeck flatbed film editing table speed up and come to a stop, whirring as they coil and snake around, caught in a maze of modern technology and unable to escape. The hum of the machine pauses as disembodied hands appear on screen—they give a poised snip here, a snip there. The whirring starts again under the dry and authoritative narration of the craftsman who, presumably hunched over, is hard at work reconstructing a history.
Unidentified, this anonymous 35mm editor is most likely British artist Simon Starling whose film Black Drop is presumably what is being edited together—a process we are watching unravel (and ravel) two-fold. Starling himself is a re-arranger in his practice; an elegant embodiment of some turn-of-the-century explorer, he reconfigures meaning and uncovers the wonder in trinkets and experiences of time passed. His most recent exhibition at Berlin’s neugerriemschneider, Triangulation Station B (52°31’39.61″ N 13°23’38.64″ E), draws on two historical narratives positioned at opposite wings of the gallery, bisected by the watchful eyes of the administrative desk. Centered on the relationship between film and object, narrative and relic, both components revisit histories and resuscitate modernist ideas as a means to investigate the creation of meaning.
Simon Starling, Venus Mirrors (05.06.2012, Hawaii and Tahiti (Inverted)), 2012, two drilled 600 mm telescope mirrors, stands, Edition of 5 + 1 AP, 60 cm diameter each; © Simon Starling/ Courtesy neugerriemschneider, Berlin/ Photo: Jens Ziehe.
Centered on Black Drop, the first half of the exhibit is a synthesis of footage from on-location experiments documenting the transit of Venus on the islands of Hawaii and Tahiti on the occasion of the June 2012 transit. It includes archival materials, footage of the editing process, and a voiceover narrative tracking nineteenth-century French astronomer Jules Janssen’s experiments with the innovative technology of the photographic revolver—a device designed to counter human error in the viewing and timing of the crucial moments of Venus’ contact with the edge of the sun. Using Janssen’s history as a springboard, Starling considers the layers of history, fusing historical occurrence with the contemporary, questioning the use of the photographic and filmic processes in science and modern technologies. The sculptural component, Venus Mirrors (05/06/2012, Hawaii & Tahiti [Inverted]), located directly outside the screening room, consists of two telescope mirrors representing the 2012 transit of Venus predicted in the film and observed from two of the historically significant observational sites in the Pacific Ocean. A viewer is invited to engage directly, forced to view their own reflection as they observe the position of the transit through the two mirrors’ reflections upon one another.
Simon Starling, Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima): Ushiwaka’s Masks (Atom Piece/Nuclear Energy), 2010, 2 handmade wooden masks, stands, 26 x 16.5 cm, 25 x 17.5 cm; © Simon Starling/ Courtesy neugerriemschneider, Berlin/ Photo: Jens Ziehe.
Starling’s fascination with the relationship between photography and sculpture is immediately apparent in both his Venus project and in the other half of the exhibition, which features his 2010 film Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima). This section of the exhibit is paired with another binary sculptural confrontation comprising two “ancient” wooden masks, carved by the master mask maker Yasuo Miichi in Osaka, commissioned especially for the Triangulation Station series exhibition at neugerriemschneider and its concurrent show, Triangulation Station A (40°44’49.17″N 74° 0’22.45″W), at New York’s Casey Kaplan Gallery. The piercing gazes of these inanimate wooden faces creates an equally charged threshold for the visitor to pass through as the dueling transit mirrors of the opposing room do.
Starling’s work, like the film being fed across the Steenbeck, seems doomed to be caught in perpetual manic motion, traversing borders, transforming and shifting contexts. The coordinates of Starling’s imaginary expeditions, as art critic and curator Massimiliano Gioni reminds us, are traced by the titles that accompany his exhibitions. These map the artist’s narratives across meandering and far-reaching geographies and differing historical topographies, threatening to discover secret connections en route.
(Image on top: Simon Starling, Black Drop, 2012, 35 mm transferred to HD with sound, 27 min 35 sec with sound; © Simon Starling/ courtesy neugerriemschneider, Berlin/ Photo: Jens Ziehe.)