In his momentous novel Snow, Orhan Pamuk begins the story of Ka with the seemingly modest but truthfully graceful aphorism ‘the silence of snow’, which for a novel of the same name reveals the obvious centrality of this crystallised water to the plot, a sort of omnipotent force that affects the lives of people in the book, simultaneously bringing both happiness and despair. Snow, it seems, is much more than frozen precipitation.
This mesmeric opening sentence was the initial thought that came to mind on first seeing the series of images that make up Dan Holdsworth’s Blackout exhibition at the Baltic. Taken in Iceland, these landscape shots of mountainous glaciers, which glow with a purity of absolute brightness that radiates a celestial light that reveals an intricate skeleton of arteries running through its form, are naturally composited against a truly black void of a night sky. The silence of these photographs is, to say the least, overwhelming.
Holdsworth, whose early work captured the tender scenes of empty everyday spaces – office buildings after work, parking lots at night – has recently been occupied with the natural world and is looking to represent the native landscape in an altogether different way. Therefore, through manipulation in the studio and occasional long exposures at the location, Blackout transports alien scenery to earth by conveying – or representing – extraterrestrial worlds through the re-contextualisation of our own planet. Which is to say we have a lot of the world to see, and linger about long enough, you will chance upon a sight to blow your mind.
Where, for example, do we see the unsullied abyss of the sky so clean and perpetual without logic or understanding? Ordinarily we are either greeted with stars or clouds or man-made lights dotted everywhere we go from street lights to car lights to square boxes of light emanating from homes, but we rarely see, if ever, nothing quite like this disturbing and beautiful chasm, which is contrasted against the diaphanous glaciers who prisms steal away the colour of rainbows.
There is something frightening about these images, and they entrap you with their duplicitous solidarity, the black overpowering you and dragging you in, whilst the translucent glaciers sparkle like newly discovered uncut diamonds, satisfying a vulgar thirst for money and power. The silence here is hypnotic, beyond the normal sway of verbal persuasion, and is an atavistic mystification and regard for things beyond our understanding.
It is therefore in the unnatural, in the human construction of hardware and software – which eclipses both our fundamental and outermost skills and capabilities – that magnifies objects way beyond our animal sight, that allows space shuttles to wander deep into space further than man has ever been, that allows us to glimpse into the darkness and unearth new meaning in our lives. Even in this digital age, as ostracised as we are from the physical earth, Holdsworth’s images grants us penance for our betrayal, and asks us to repair old or develop new relationships with the natural world. In the calm of these supernatural pictures we allow ourselves an opportunity to step out of the physics of time, to then exist in a space where rules do not matter and think without worry. Time is relative and it is here that one can efface one’s own personality.
Blackout is at the Baltic from 12 Nov 2010 to 20 February 2011
Published in Narc Magazine