Summer is officially here, and with all the subtlety of a drivetime DJ playing sunshine-themed hits, the Chisenhale is offering a pair of films by Australian artist Nicholas Mangan all about the role of the Sun (our star, that is, not the newspaper) within human society.
A solar farm in the Spanish desert, audiovisual data from Nasa’s Heliospheric Observatory, Mexico’s Aztec Sun Stone, dendrochronology specimens that record solar cycles – this is a project that wears its oft-mentioned ‘extensive research’ on its sleeve. The problem, at least with the main piece, ‘Ancient Lights’, is that you never get a sense of the clips building into a meaningful whole; half the time you don’t even know what you’re looking at without reading the accompanying notes. Visually, there are some effective moments, such as cutting between a tree slice with its whorled knots and the sun with its spots. And the fact that the projection equipment is powered by solar panels on the gallery’s roof is a nice touch – so that you’re watching energy and light from the sun converted into the moving image of cinema. But overall, it’s hard to shake the feeling of the film merely invoking or alluding to a lot of potentially interesting ideas without exploring them in any significant way – almost as if the concepts were better dealt with in a different medium (the accompanying publication’s interview with Mangan is, indeed, vastly more interesting).
It’s strange, because the other film is the exact opposite. It depicts a coin spinning in slow motion, its rotations gradually slowing and flattening, before miraculously righting itself again, in perpetuity. The coin is a Mexican peso, portraying the Sun Stone on one side – but you don’t need to know that. Nor do you need to know how the trick is done (my guess is the ground slopes in some way). The point is, the work’s meaning is intrinsic: the awareness of some eternal, calendrical cycle, of ceaseless energy, stemming from your experience of the piece itself.