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Art Editorial

ngcafeature18.jpg Life, the universe and everything

In her latest exhibition, Material Sight, Fiona Crisp explores how we might encounter spaces where the frontiers of knowledge are being expanded. You can see it at the new Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art which is now situated within the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

We humans may think that we now know just about everything worth knowing and there are not too many mysteries still to be unfurled before us. The planet’s oceans, mountains and jungles have all been traversed and mapped, our DNA has been unravelled and sequenced, and Ben & Jerry’s have now worked out how to make birthday cake into an ice-cream (it was a lengthy process but their treatment of vanilla cake batter and pink frosting has finally – FINALLY! – paid off).

But while some of us humans are sitting in happy valley, eating vanilla cake ice-cream batter with pink frosting, there are others who recognise that we’ve merely scratched the surface when it comes to some of life’s biggies: who are we, exactly? What is our place in the world? And what is our place in the universe? (And what the hell is the universe, anyway?) You’ll find these humans – let’s call them scientists – in places such as the Boulby Underground Laboratory, which is over a kilometre beneath the Earth’s surface. It is, in the team’s own words: “A special place, a quiet place in the universe where studies can be done almost entirely free from natural background radiation.”

And it’s in environments such as these where some of the most complex questions about the structure and history of the universe are being trialled. Other sites that are also exploring everything from the macro scale of the multiverse to the micro scale of the sub-atomic world include Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology and Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso in Italy, and for nearly two years artist Fiona Crisp has worked with these three leading research facilities.

Across all these sites, knowledge is being pursed at scales beyond common or garden comprehension, and indeed the locations where these tests and experiments are taking place are often a mystery to us, too. What Crisp is attempting to do in this show is explore how we might counter this sensory remoteness, not though a documentary narrative, but by being placed into a physical, tangible relation to the spaces and laboratories where this science is performed.

The resulting exhibition sees her building a landscape of image and sound, augmenting the gallery architecture with scaffolding walls that support a cycle of large-scale photographs and moving image works.

Crisp is an artist well known for creating installations of large-scale photographs that question the presence of the photographic object as an unstable and deeply equivocal phenomenon.

Her previous projects have including working in the early Christian catacombs of Rome, and in a Second World War underground military hospital, and it’s a major coup for the newly appointed National Gallery for Contemporary Art to house her latest major exhibition.

So put down that Frankenstein cake/ice-cream hybrid and grab yourself a large slice of thought-provoking before this exhibition up sticks for London in the summer.

Fiona Crisp: Material Sight, until 13 May, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Sunderland. ngca.co.uk