Christopher Langton: Colonies | Exhibition Catalogue 2021

Page 1


2


3



Christopher Langton is known for his sculptures and large inflatables that explore themes around pop culture, video gaming and science fiction. His exhibition Colonies, which was commissioned for Hazelhurst Arts Centre, is an immersive installation which explores ideas of space colonisation and organisms such as bacteria occupying hosts while considering issues around our shared ecology. With obvious reference to science fiction and biology, the gallery is filled with asteroids, meteorites and other celestial bodies along with real and imagined organisms in the shape of viruses, bacteria and fungi. The works in Colonies were developed over two years and were designed using 3D modelling software. Three large inflatable works are constructed using patterns and PVC which are then painted and later inflated onsite. All other works are produced using the artist’s large-scale 3D printer which was self-designed and built using open source information and software. The works are printed using polylactic acid or PLA, a sustainable thermoplastic polyester which is produced from corn starch and sugar cane and

is biodegradable. The works are printed in sections with hollow interiors to minimise weight, and are then glued together, coated with a silicone layer and hand painted using pigments and a variety of techniques. Colonies was born of the artist’s personal experience of a viral infection, but over the last two years – through the pandemic, numerous lockdowns and subsequent gallery closures – it metastasised to something more universal. Playing with scale so that asteroids and bacteria become human sized, the work magnifies the cellular to create a sense of cartoonish horror and appealing wonderment. Visitors to Hazelhurst can engage with the exhibition through an Augmented Reality (AR) app that can be accessed on their smart phone. Developed by Zome specifically for Colonies, the AR content enables visitors to learn more about the various figures and forms throughout the installation. Carrie Kibbler Curator

Opposite: Colonies (detail) 2021 digital render

5


essay Amy Prcevich

Before I arrived, and long after I left Christopher Langton’s immersive installation, Colonies, speculative fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin was on my mind. In her novel The Word for World is Forest we’re introduced to the Athsheans – a group of fictional humanoids who enter into a daily, communal and lucid dreamtime state in order to achieve cognitive and physical balance. For the Athsheans “dream time” is as real as what they call “world time”. Colonies exists between a scientifically accurate “real-world”, and a biologically inspired dreamscape. To enter into a dialogue with the exhibition is to spend time within, and in-between, these states of reality. The exhibition offers up colour-dense, metallic, oversized sculptural objects which take the form of enlarged bacteria, fungi and viruses and scaleddown asteroids and astronomical

6


matter. The cellular organisms and space matter exist alongside personlike figures – some with foamy, bulbous skins, some with knotted, muscular flesh bursting through smooth exterior casings – all of which appear to be playing host to a virus or being overwhelmed by bacteria. Floating and grounded and hovering, the forms within the exhibition alternately defy, or succumb, to gravity, while our feet are firmly planted on the concrete gallery floor. In terms of biology, a colony is a community of animals or plants of one kind living close together or forming a physically connected structure. With this point of reference in mind the sculptural forms in Colonies become metaphorical objects. They stand in for, and gesture toward, astronomy, humanity, or biology, but we know that these so-called humans or asteroids,

or organisms don’t occupy a realworld that we can easily relate to. The proximity of the heterogeneous forms implores us to suspend our sense of reality and ask how, or if, they are coexisting or fighting a war with each other in order to survive. The physical entry point to Colonies positions us at the periphery of the exhibition. We hover right on the edge of the installation surveying the mass of sculptural matter from the perspective of a sweeping panorama. The staticness of the forms is eerie. These seem like objects that would have been wrangled with during production and installation, and we experience them here in a state of forced suspension. From this observational distance it’s unclear if the forms invite us in for conversation or dialogue, or if we will forever be an outsider, an onlooker, an intruder in 7


their “real world”. As we venture further into the exhibition, we must grapple with what it means to assume the role of explorer, in order to traverse through a familiar, although essentially unrecognisable, environment. Colony/colonies/colonise. The exhibition is an exercise in world building. Where are these forms from? Where will they go? The oversized organisms are too large to physically inhabit us, so we must ask, again: can we co-exist with these organisms, or must we overcome them? There are several instances in the exhibition where the human figures seem engulfed by a virus. While we are physically close to the objects, it is because of this visual warning that we feel able to bear witness to the complex relationship between guest and host, but not able to freely interact with the world created by Langton. 8

Moving through Colonies feels akin to moving through levels and scenes in a video game. As we progress through the exhibition, and become immersed into its world, we embrace a demeanour of both curiosity and caution. The humanoids, asteroids and creatures in Colonies are untethered to our own sense of reality, but we’re given a hint of the exhibition-world through sculptural vignettes. In one corner of the exhibition is a cluster of figures standing atop a surface that we can recognise as a moonscape. In another moment, we encounter a ground-dwelling sculpture suggestive of a creature in a rockpool. These moments see us stumble across sculpturally subtle forms, reminiscent of the gentle sense of floating we associate with outer space or underwater worlds. This subtleness, however, is contrasted by the often


brash, gaudy use of colours and the mechanical textures of the forms. The body of work is produced by printing segments of each form with a 3D printer self-designed and produced by Langton. The segments are then manually joined together and handpainted. This creates a clash between the organic and the digital. We can understand that the works have been crafted by hand, but it’s the hand of a cyborg, with Langton being totally comfortable with his machinery. Of relevance to the world at stake within Colonies, and with a nod to Donna Haraway’s 1985 text The Cyborg Manifesto, Langton’s mechanicallycomfortable hand signals a tight coupling of humans with non-human entities. This mirrors the way Colonies interrogates the potential of kinship between a human “host”, and a virus, or bacterial, “guest”. In a physical, practical, real-world sense, Colonies has us witness the infinitely expanding, accumulative mass of this exhibition. Originally scheduled for display in 2020, the COVID-induced delay in exhibition allowed for 18 months of additional making-time which saw the production of three mammoth, fleshy, peachy-pink inflatables. These inflatables slouch into position on the floor of the exhibition space and are the most virus-like of Colonies’ sculptural forms. They are so large that they allow for a hiding place within the exhibition, somewhere for the audience to loiter behind, to slowly peek out from, and to rest. The exhibition is revealed and obscured as we move around them, and we again become conscious of the relevance of

the exhibition title. Colonies. We are, in effect, immersed within, and exploring, colonies that have emerged from multiple families and origins, both in the real world and in the artist’s mind. To call to mind once again Ursula K. Le Guin, dream-time and world-time, Colonies makes me wonder what it would mean to communally dream about synthesising the lived experience of the human and non-human world. As an exercise in illustrating the moment at which exhibition-time and world-time meet, Colonies posits that if we invest a genuine care and curiosity for both the human and non-human world we might all be better guests and better hosts.

Colonies installation 2021 Hazelhurst Arts Centre 9


10


11


12

Colonies installation 2021 Hazelhurst Arts Centre


13


14


15


Watch the film here

16


In support of the exhibition ZOME is enabling visitors to engage with exclusive content about the works through their Augmented Reality app. Using smart devices in the gallery space viewers can discover more about the artist’s inspiration behind individual works in Colonies. Following the close of the exhibition, the QR codes can be used to view this information outside of the gallery space. 1. Download ZOME app 2. Sign-up using email 3. Open ZOME while in Colonies. Make sure location services are enabled on your smart device 4. ZOME it!

17


18


SPECIAL THANKS The artist would like to thank Stephanie Eather, for her tireless and dedicated work as studio assistant; Anna Steele for her help in the final stages of painting and Guy Langton for his help in wrapping and packing the artworks. The artist would also like to acknowledge all the dedicated staff at Hazelhurst Arts Centre and especially Carrie Kibbler for her enthusiastic support of this project which continued during the COVID-19 lockdown and her commitment to see it eventually open to the public after four months. Thank you to Amy Prcevich for her insightful essay, and to Assistant Curator Naomi Stewart for her curatorial support and beautiful catalogue design. Thank you also to Jan Minchin and the team at Tolarno Galleries for exhibiting the initial body of work from this series, Colony in 2019 and their ongoing support. Christopher Langton is represented by Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne tolarnogalleries.com Hazelhurst Arts Centre would like to thank the artist for developing this engaging and awe-inspiring exhibition for our visitors. Thank you also to Theo Wohng and his team at ZOME for making Christopher’s work come to life through their Augmented Reality app.

Hazelhurst Arts Centre acknowledges the Dharawal speaking people, traditional custodians of the land on which Hazelhurst stands, and pays respects to elders past, present and emerging. HAZELHURST STAFF Director: Belinda Hanrahan Curator: Carrie Kibbler Assistant Curator: Naomi Stewart Public Programs & Education Coordinator: Kate Milner Public Programs & Education Officer: Samantha Relihan Marketing Coordinator: Viola Soliman Arts Centre Coordinator: Fiona McFadyen Team Leader Visitor Services & Administration: Caryn Schwartz Administration Coordinators: Vilma Hodgson, Giada Cantini and Cameron Ward Gallery Shop Manager: Neta Mariakis Exhibition Preparators: Gilbert Grace, Paul Williams, Jenny Tubby, Adrian Hodgson, Christopher Zanko, Brendan Van Hek, Athena Thebus

Principal partners

Christopher Langton Colonies 26 July - 28 November 2021 Curated by Carrie Kibbler © 2021 Hazelhurst Arts Centre 782 Kingsway Gymea NSW 2227 Australia T: 61 2 8536 5700 E: hazelhurst@ssc.nsw.gov.au www.hazelhurst.com.au ISBN: 978-1-921437-85-4 Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the National Library of Australia Image credits: All installation images by Silversalt Photography Page 4: Christopher Langton Colonies (detail) 2021, digital render. Courtesy of the artist Videography: Constantine Productions


20