Chisenhale Gallery presents a major new film installation by Melbourne-based artist Nicholas Mangan that continues his recent investigations into the relationship between energy and social transformation. Ancient Lights is the first solo exhibition of Mangan’s work in the UK and comprises two new films, presented within a specially conceived installation powered entirely by an on-site solar PV system.
This new work is the culmination of Mangan’s extended research into the physical and conceptual power of the sun, and the role that it has played in human economy, culture and technology throughout history.
Ancient Lights explores connections between the Aztec Sun Stone, rediscovered at Zócalo, Mexico City, where it was buried following the Spanish Conquest; the concentric mirrors of the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant in Southern Spain; and pioneering advances in dendrochronology carried out by A. E. Douglass at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. In one film, Mangan brings together footage shot on location in Spain and Arizona with audiovisual data gathered by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory project.
This work positions the sun at the centre of a series of cyclic systems, both geophysical and cultural. Drawing on Aztec ritual and the research of Soviet scientist Alexander Chizhevsky, who linked sun spots and the eleven-year solar cycle to periods of revolutionary activity, Mangan examines the relationship between entropy—as sacrifice or loss—and the perpetual movement of the sun.
The exhibition is powered by energy harnessed using solar panels placed on the roof of Chisenhale’s building, which feed a set of batteries installed in the gallery. The off-grid system operates as a closed circuit, enabling light from the sun to be transformed into projected light. A second film acts as a sculptural vignette, depicting a Mexican ten-peso coin spinning in slow motion. The coin loses and regains momentum in a continuous loop, as if in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium.
Ancient Lights expands on Mangan’s recent work into the relationship between culture and nature, which includes the acclaimed Nauru: Notes from a Cretaceous World (2010). Mangan investigates the economic and political implications of our engagement with the material world in order to facilitate new understandings of the structures and systems that govern our environment. At this time of increased global anxiety about energy supply, food security and extreme weather patterns, Ancient Lights reflects on the intersections of scientific and mythological attempts to understand our relationship to the sun in this Anthropocene era.
Nicholas Mangan (born 1979) lives and works in Melbourne. Recent exhibitions include Art in the Age of…, Witte de With, Rotterdam; Anthropocene Moment, Les Abattoirs, Toulouse (both 2015); Octopus, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne; Concrete, Monash Museum of Art, Melbourne; and Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (all 2014). He participated in the 2015 New Museum Triennial: Surround Audience, New York; 9th Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Alegre; and the 13th Istanbul Biennial (both 2013).
Thursday 16 July, 7pm
“The Aesthetics of Energy”
How is energy converted into culture? Rebecca Wright considers the ways that culture can be read as a transformation of energy, drawing from examples such as geographer Ellsworth Huntington, who read the European Renaissance as evidence of the high levels of mental energy brought about by its climate. Rebecca Wright is a writer and research associate on the AHRC “Material Cultures of Energy” research project at Birkbeck College, London.
Saturday 1 August, 2pm
Writer and recent Curator in Residence at LUX, Ellen Greig leads a gallery tour of Nicholas Mangan’s show exploring the geographical territories, from earth to outer space, present in the film. Greig draws on her own research into verticality and the limits of the visible in artist moving image.