That Golden Stain of Time

Dan Hudson

9th - 30th November 2018

Catalogue text by Barbara Isherwood and Lisa Baldissera, courtesy of Angell Gallery, Toronto, Canada 

Supported by Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Foundation for the Arts

Dan Hudson: Time is of the Essence

 

The presence of Dan Hudson’s installation, The Illusion of the Sun Going Down, at Valletta Contemporary seems particularly appropriate. The diptych consists of two views of the sun — a video of the sun setting over the Bacino San Marco in Venice, and a monumental close-up of the sun spinning in space from the exact same moment, created from time-coded images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

 

Less than 15 kilometers from Valletta Contemporary is the Mnajdra temple complex, where over 4500 years ago some of Malta’s earliest inhabitants paid homage to the sun through the construction of a megalithic structure oriented so as to frame the summer and winter solstices. For our Neolithic ancestors, the daily and seasonal cycles governed by the earth’s movement around the sun ordered their lives – when to get up, when to go to sleep, when to plant, when to harvest. Marking through ritual the longest and shortest days of the year was perhaps their way of trying to assure that nature’s most powerful force would continue to provide its life-giving glow.

 

Five thousand years later, we no longer concern ourselves with the potential prospect of the sun’s permanent disappearance — one thing of which we are confident is that each morning the sun will rise. We might not be awake when it does, and many urbanites may see little of the sun while toiling in the concrete jungle. As to the sunset, it often takes a vacation or a relaxing evening on a patio for most of us to look up and admire the ineffable wonder that is in the sky above.

 

Dan Hudson invites us to stop for a moment and contemplate this daily phenomenon that we take for granted. Pairing the Venetian sunset video with NASA imagery of the spinning inferno, projected at large scale, brings home how this element of our quotidian existence is in fact the almost incomprehensible power at the centre of our solar system.

 

As is typical of Hudson’s work, the process involved in assembling the NASA  images into a four-minute video was labour intensive, entailing the editing together of over 12,000 stills. Dedicating himself to highlighting time’s very nature often entails the artist spending several years on a single project. Each component of the video trilogy Around the Sun (two elements of which are on view in Valletta) involved a year of filming, and another year of editing. For News, Weather, Sports, Hudson set up his camera at Quarry Lake Park in Canmore, Alberta (the artist’s home town), and filmed segments at the same time of day, from the same spot, throughout the course of a year. He assembled the clips into a time lapse that paradoxically unfolds in real time. Over the course of the 3.53 minute loop, we cycle through the four seasons, watching human leisure seekers (and a few elk) appear and dissolve, like fragments of memories of good times past, their activities shifting with the seasons from cycling and walking, to picnicking, and swimming, to skating and hockey. Nature’s palette changes from winter’s black and whites, to the browns and greens of spring, to the summer’s vivid hues, to fall’s warm blaze, then colours fade away and a snowy wind signals the return of cold weather.

 

This dream-like flow of human and natural activity is accompanied by an audio collage of radio clips culled from news and science programs. Reports of manmade and natural disasters, war, political upheaval, celebrity nonsense and sports scores are interspersed with references to more fundamental issues — the nature of time, what happens when we die, and the question of life beyond our planet. As a woman playfully swings a child in a circle, a voice asks, “Where did the universe around us come from?” The existential quality of this mix of the mundane, the catastrophic and the profound is accentuated by bassist Chris Jennings’s sombre score (Hudson studied composition at York University and sound is an integral aspect of his video works.)

 

River, also part of Around the Sun, brings us to a quiet spot in the mountains, near the source of Bow River in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. People are not present except in the soundtrack, recorded 100 miles away in Calgary. As the general din of urbanity — traffic, chatter, cell phone alarms — rumbles on, the river and seasons flow past. “The rose is without 'why'; it blooms simply because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it,” said the 17th century German mystic, Angelus Silesius.  With his Around the Sun videos, Hudson suggests that rather than ignoring or being horrified by Nature’s unselfconscious indifference, we can find solace in knowing that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

 

The video Winter Crows is perhaps Hudson’s most poetic meditation on the relationship between urbanism and nature’s cycles. While living in Berlin, Hudson was mesmerized by the annual gathering of crows that make that city their winter roosting ground, a compelling spectacle that nevertheless goes largely unnoticed. The video begins with a view of the earth as seen from the International Space Station, accompanied by a low machine-like rumble that slowly builds as we descend in a series of dissolves through the cloud layer. Chirps and caws announce the presence of the crows, who appear, first one, then two, then many, flying around the golden spire of Berlin Cathedral. The sight brings to mind one of Hudson’s inspirations, the German Romantic artist David Caspar Friedrich, whose melancholy paintings often feature symbols of death such as crows, graveyards, ruins and shipwrecks, set within vast, unpopulated landscapes, where they act as a reminder of human insignificance in the face of Nature.

 

While crows may sometimes be viewed as ominous, as birds in flight they also symbolize the idea of freedom. Although this is as much a human construct as the idea of the sun “setting”, Hudson effectively directs us to this reading by contrasting the birds’ elegant movements with that of the city’s human occupants. People enter the picture, striding purposefully along, their chatter subsumed into the pervasive roar of the city. A lone crow on a car roof is juxtaposed with a claustrophobically dense crowd, in the midst of which an agitated woman shouts to an unseen party, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. We feel palpable relief as this scepter of urban angst is replaced by the sight of hundreds of crows swirling round the Cathedral’s dome and the Berlin TV Tower, signifiers of the human ideologies.

 

As the sun sets in a glorious panoply of orange and pink, the lead-footed march of earth-bound pedestrians gives way to the crows’ beautiful ballet, accompanied by a soaring soprano and symphonic score appropriately derived from Mozart’s 1780 “Vesperae solennes de confessore”, written for the sunset evening prayer.

 

The appearance of the crescent moon signals the beginning of our journey back to the cosmic realm. As the birds disperse, the camera zooms in until we see only the moon. In just over three minutes, Hudson achieves with eloquence his desire “to tie the ground below our feet to the cosmos above our heads.”

 

The ultimate fate of those who disregard this connection is summed up in Atlas, one of Hudson’s lenticular photographs. The subject is a statue of the mythical defiant Titan who was condemned by the gods to spend eternity holding up the sky. Atlas is one element of a 19th century monument to Bismarck, Germany’s first Chancellor. In its current location in the Tiergarten, a public park that was once the hunting grounds of Prussian princes, the Bismarck Memorial seems more a symbol of “sic transit gloria mundi” than the tribute to Germany’s global power it was intended to be. The dynamism of the lenticular image reinforces this more philosophical interpretation — as the viewer moves past Atlas the landscape background morphs from season to season, reminding us of the folly of humanity’s hubris in the face of its inevitable comeuppance by time. Thankfully Hudson gives this poignant but ineluctable truth a beautiful face.

BARBARA ISHERWOOD

July 2018

Time Insuperable: Dan Hudson’s Fragments of a Year - Berlin

 

 

Memory, the mind’s power of having present what is irrevocably past and thus absent from the senses, has always been the most plausible paradigmatic example of the mind’s power to make invisibles present.

-Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind

 

In 1912, the 3,300 year old bust of Queen Nefertiti was excavated by a German archaeologist in Egypt and one year later, taken to Berlin.  It was for a time at the Egyptian courtyard of the Neues Museum where it resided until the beginning of the Second World War.  The empty museum stood as a bombed husk for many decades after, its interior living only in the memory of those who had once experienced Friedrich August Stüler’s famed building.[1]   Finally, in 2009, after a period under East German abandonment and later, restorative architectural work, the building once again opened to the public after sixty years.  Architects David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap had decided that the war’s encryptions on the building remain: Egyptian and modern German histories shuttered together by bullet holes like an Enigma code tapping out messages from a more immediate past, while revolving on the longer historical time of Egyptian culture, is Nefertiti’s gaze (unknowable, inscrutable), her figure formed of stucco and limestone.

 

In her final book, The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt wrote, “Not sense perception, in which we experience things directly and close at hand, but imagination, coming after it, prepares the objects of our thought.”[2] Inside a space which is at once stabilized ruin, historical trace and restoration, the gallery which houses Nefertiti seems hurled forward through time leaving behind it all traces of the lived context and ideologies which governed the lives of those its makers and witnesses, a combination of pillage and the passage of time.  Sense perception provides an image of the emerald green bruised walls of Nefertiti’s room at the Neues Museum, but imagination is required to connect the events of the past and to use it to make sense of the present.

 

During his time in Berlin from 2011 to 2013, Canadian artist Dan Hudson often visited Nefertiti at the Neues Museum, his experience there accentuating the way perception, imagination, memory and history influence the way we sense the world around us.  Hudson says, “I love the Nefertiti bust as an art work, but I was equally fascinated with the contemporary context of the sculpture in relation to the history of it. The idea of objects existing as a continuum seemed to bring into focus my thinking about the city of Berlin and its history within the broader arch of human civilization. In turn, this led to a process of working that resulted in Fragments of a Year – Berlin.”[3]

 

Fragments of a Year – Berlin (2012 – 2017) is a four channel video installation structured after the concept of four seasons. Hudson has recorded the city of Berlin through an evolving constellation of images, focusing on the seasons, themselves a trace of the Earth’s planetary movement around the sun.  The work addresses “the subatomic fabric of reality and the expanse of the universe. It is a way to give context and perspective to everyday life.” [4]  Fragments of a Year – Berlin is an assemblage of observations from the artist’s tenure as a visitor living in the city.  Documented at different locations throughout the city over the course of one year, Hudson’s work focuses on Berlin as a Western urban landscape and is composed primarily of hand-held camera.

 

Four wavering mirages of experience emerge—the fleetingness of the figures, urban fabrics and seasonal punctuations of weather and blossom, which capture our gaze combine convincing archive and fleeting memory.  Gesturing towards the armature of quantum mechanics, onto which this trembling world is constructed, Hudson’s methods incorporate the diverse epistemologies of art history, science and archive: the conflation of time with pictorial space in the multifaceted images of Cubism, which Hudson expands by “utilizing multiple timelines simultaneously in a singular space as a way to portray the depth of time,”[5] the connective tissue of particle physics and the documentary approach of pre-digital photo-panoramas. 

 

For how does one find one’s place in the world? It is through the constant negotiation of perception, both physical and imaginative, that one senses a vantage point from which to articulate experience.  As French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan established with his theory of the Mirror Stage, it is the child’s ability to locate herself in the world as an object, that begins the process of imagining her capacity to affect it. 

 

Hudson’s layered works resemble the silver surface of the mirror: the rectangular structures shimmer with the movements within, but this repetition of format suggests another armature that might be revealed—is the Hudson’s gesture subtractive or additive?  In the endlessly looping cycle of the four screens, we may find ourselves at the place that we started.  As Hudson explains, “Quantum theory describes subatomic particles as existing in a state of probability (the uncertainty principle). This project imagines how the visible world might look if it behaved the same as quantum physics describes the subatomic world. The segments that make up the images, like quantum particles, exist in a state of probability. They float freely but do not wander too far from their predicable position thus creating coherent scenes that are in constant flux.”[6]

 

Nefertiti’s sculpture may have been intended as a talisman to accompany her husband to the afterlife—but the Romans who came later had no illusions of such a place; immortality for the citizen rested entirely on great deeds, witnessed and worthy of retelling. For this form of timelessness, the poet was entirely responsible, as cultural recorder of history.  For Hudson, his carefully constructed installation articulates instead the notion of transience, his own poetic gaze focused on “the rate at which the individual scenes assemble and disassemble” and “the movements within the scenes.”[7] Fragments of a Year – Berlin demonstrates to its viewers that their presence as imaginative co-custodians, as witnesses to the world, is urgent and necessary, much the way a quantum particle’s position, becomes fixed only by its observer. In this instance, probability and uncertainty become atomic invitations to a co-created experience of the world.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/mar/16/neues-museum-berlin

[2] Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt, 1978) 13.

[3] From email correspondence with the artist, September 25, 2018.

[4] Dan Hudson, Artist’s statement, 2018

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] From email correspondence with the artist, August 22, 2018. 

LISA BALDISSERA

OCTOBER 2018

Dan Hudson is a mid-career artist based in Canmore, Canada. He works across a wide range of media including video, photography, sculpture and painting. His mesmerizing art projects explore the space between objective and subjective time within the context of everyday life. Hudson earned a BFA from York University (Toronto, Canada), studied anthropology at UCSD (California, USA) and attended art residencies in Banff, Berlin and Leipzig. As a student he was awarded three visual art scholarships. Since that time Hudson has received 7 international awards for various art projects, 19 visual art grants, and 5 peer assessed purchase awards. From 1990 to 2010, Dan Hudson also gained reputation as an award winning photo journalist with over 60 cover shots to his credit. Assignments to document extreme adventure sports took him to some of the wildest places on the planet. These kinds of experiences help explain the intimacy and honesty in which Hudson’s art works connect contemporary culture with the natural world. Dan Hudson regularly exhibits in international group and solo exhibitions. His works are represented in museums, public galleries and private collections throughout North America and Europe. 

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