Lux Art Institute
Lia Halloran: Artist-in-Residence
September 7—November 3, 2018
Los Angeles–based Lia Halloran has long explored the intersection of art and science, an idea manifest in the artist’s choice of both subject and medium. In her recent series, Halloran traces the cyanotype process back to its origins. Astronomer Sir John Herschel invented the process in 1842 as a way to duplicate his extensive notes about the very subject Halloran explores here. Creating large-scale cyanotypes, some up to six and even eight feet in height, Halloran uses the sun to create images of the universe — solar selfies, if you will. But the images have a history of their own. The artist’s research was abetted by a partnership with Harvard University, allowing her to use historic astronomical photographic plates as sources for her imagery. These plates were made by a group of women who worked at the university from the late 18th century until the 20th. Rather than being recognized individually for their contributions, the women were known collectively as “Pickering’s Harem,” and later as “The Harvard Computers.”
The exhibition at Lux included ten cyanotypes and one of the artist’s hand-inked negative transparencies, countered with a series of smaller portraits of planets, stars and solar systems, mounted in a diamond formation in the far corner of the gallery. These monochromatic visions convey a feeling of grandeur and simplicity, despite the vast complexity of Halloran’s subject. Kant’s well-worn definition of the sublime, predicated upon the feeling of terror when confronted with the incomprehensible vastness of the natural world or the universe, never quite manifests here. But neither do Halloran’s galactic cyanotypes offer a dry, rational taxonomy. Rather, what comes across is the sheer splendor of this experience, as if crystallizing that moment at which the unknowable is brought into the framework of the known. It is captured in the swirling pools of cyan blue into which the sun has bleached the spiral paths of distant galaxies alongside traces of the artist’s gestural brushstrokes. These marks do not embody an emotional exercise, as is regularly attributed to the gestural brushstroke, but instead provide an indexical sign of humanity’s presence within, and mediation of, the sublime of our wondrous, ever-expanding universe.