Stars. Comets. Gravitational Waves.

Zeigler 50 Light Year Wide View, Star Birth and Death
50 Light Year Wide View, Star Birth and Death, by Eric Zeigler 44″ H x 91 W

In a week when human folly and violence are on full display, it can be  a relief to view our world through the wrong end of a telescope, reminding ourselves that we inhabit only a small and relatively unimportant corner of the cosmos.  Artist Eric Zeigler has made this possible and palatable in underlying, a handsomely curated collection of archival pigment prints from sources as diverse as the Hubble Space Telescope and Fermilab’s particle accelerator. The show, which is on view from now through July 30 at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, is an exploration of images made possible by our ever increasing technological means of perception.

In underlying, Zeigler casts his photographer’s curious gaze over the universe, examining everything from a minute and rare instance of  subatomic neutrino interaction to a star’s birth and death. Since the artist must rely (mostly) on images gathered from public sources, the essence of his unique work lies in his editing choices, framing, print color and scale. He has captured a few images directly, such as his  Meteorite, a slice of which he has photographed.  But I’m aware even as I write this that I am making a false distinction, because like all photographers, Zeigler’s considerable talent is in his eye and mind, translated through the technological devices that capture visual information, no matter how rudimentary or advanced.

Zeigler describes his wonder at seeing for the first time in 2015 a clear image of Pluto, previously visible only as a “several pixel-wide blur”.   He marvels too, at how our perception of time is altered by the knowledge that many of the images coming through our telescopes are of objects many light years away which, in fact, no longer exist. And in Milky Seas, he shows that even in our own natural world there are mysteries yet to be solved.

Zeigler Neutrinon Interaction by Eric Zeigler 40" H x 36"W
Neutrino Interaction by Eric Zeigler 40″ H x 36″W

Since its widespread introduction in 1839, photography has put documentation of the visible world within reach of just about everyone. Now with technological advances, human perception has gone beyond what we can see and record with the naked eye. And it can be argued that these most recent advances in our ability to quantify the universe are simply a development and elaboration of inventions–the telescope and compound microscope– by Dutch scientists in late 16th and early 17th centuries, during a period in history when observation of the natural world held particular fascination. The  creation of lavish botanical encyclopædias recording discoveries in the Western Hemisphere and in  Asia, the beginning of scientific illustration and the classification of specimens and even the invention of still life genre painting  were all features of this seminal  period of humanist thought. Eric Zeigler’s  work can be understood as another step on a road  already well paved with discovery and invention.

The theme of underlying is, ultimately,  that mystery still surrounds us, both near and far. The natural world and the universe beyond it is full of marvels yet to be discovered. And we can take some comfort in the knowledge that the thrill of discovery so intrinsic to human nature is still available to us.

 

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