Celebrated UK artists Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead explore the visual, statistical, and poetic nature of networked information and its relationship to capitalism, war, and everyday life. The title of the exhibition—The Academy of Saturn—derives from Voltaire’s 1752 novella Micromégas, in which colossal astral travelers from The Academy of Saturn visit earth and engage in a philosophical discussion with a group of scientists. Radical scale shifts of knowledge and comprehension result in an absurd, zero-sum exchange between the species; however, the story is an acerbic parable about the inanity of war and the value of external perspective. With kindred tenacity and wit, Thomson & Craighead explore global information’s competing—and increasingly intertwined—experiences of intimacy and incomprehensibility, touching information to be here now.
Distillation, order, and observation take different forms throughout the exhibition. The monumental Horizon (2009–present), for instance, comprises a grid of real-time webcam images from every time zone in the world. In Thomson’s words: “The result is a constantly updating array of images that read like a series of movie storyboards, but also as an idiosyncratic global electronic sundial.” As Horizon conjoins time and space in axial form, it amplifies the lyricism of each circadian landscape. Thomson & Craighead also snare and repurpose networked information in material form, often working with ongoing streams of personal utterance. For The Academy of Saturn, the artists are creating a new iteration of their text-based project London Wall (2010–present), entitled, appropriately, Portland Wall. The work is based on public “status updates” posted on Twitter and Facebook in a three-mile radius from the Cooley. The texts are transformed into graphic posters and installed onto the walls of the gallery, forming a vast meander of endlessly readable concrete poetry—fleeting thoughts, arrested and echoed in their community of origin. Perhaps the artists’ most alchemical work—Apocalypse (2016)—atomizes the King James Bible’s account of the horrors of the End Times in the form of a luxury perfume (developed in collaboration with Edinburgh perfumer Euan McCall). The project was inspired by Master Bertram von Minden’s fifteenth-century altarpiece depicting forty-five scenes from the Book of Revelations (housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). The artists determined Apocalypse’s olfactory notes by calculating the number of times a given substance, such as “blood” or “flesh,” is mentioned in the text.
Thomson & Craighead’s interest in the found poetry of historical narrative and networked culture speaks to artistic forms such as the Oulipo movement founded in the 1960s. Oulipo artists constructed their work using patterned constraints such as palindromes and the S+7 technique, in which each noun in a text is replaced with the seventh noun that follows it in the dictionary. In Thomson & Craighead’s sculpture Here (2011–present, also produced in a new iteration for the Cooley) a regulation street sign displays the distance the sign exists from itself if pointing in the direction of the North or South pole. Like a palindrome, the work encapsulates its own unidirectional movement: physical geography tuned to the logic of networked space. And in the video installation Control Room (2017), a cache of 35mm color slides found in the Aberdeen, Scotland harbor archives becomes the catalyst for an emotionally evocative, randomly repeating audio narrative.
The Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors Program in the Visual Arts was established by a generous 1988 gift from Edward and Sue Cooley and John and Betty Gray in support of art history and its place in the humanities. The lecture program enables Reed College's art department to bring distinguished individuals in the arts to the college for periods of up to a week. These visitors give public lectures and seminars with students.
The intent of the program is to bring to campus creative people who are distinguished in connection with the visual arts and who will provide "a forum for conceptual exploration, challenge, and discovery." The program is named in honor of art historian Dr. Stephen E. Ostrow, as a tribute to his career and out of respect for his advisory role in the formulation of the Cooley-Gray gift and the design of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery. Ostrow is the Emeritus Chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Jon Thomson (b. 1969) and Alison Craighead (b. 1971) are artists living and working in London. They make artworks and installations for galleries and specific sites including online spaces. Much of their recent work looks at live networks like the web and how they are changing the way we all understand the world around us. Having both studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, Thomson is Reader in Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, while Craighead is a reader in contemporary art and visual culture at University of Westminster and lectures in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University.
Exhibition curated by Stephanie Snyder, John and Anne Hauberg Curator and Director, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery
Thomson & Craighead
Untitled (Balloon work), 2016
Video (3:19 min), printed balloons. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artists. © 2018 Thomson & Craighead.
Thursday, April 26 at 12:00pm to 5:00pm
Cooley Art Gallery
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, Oregon 97202-8199