Phantom Moon

2008



2 channel video and sound

“In a few years pictures of the earth’s orb as seen from distant space will become commonplace … But today, little more than 24 hours after Lunar Orbiter transmitted its historic first view of the world totally suspended in space, a sense of wonder touches our access to a phenomenon denied to all previous generations.” NYT, Pg 22, Aug 27 1966.

In “Phantom Moon,” the first photograph of the earth as seen from the moon is transformed into a ‘seascape’ of Halftone dots as a camera scans over it. This disorienting video is juxtaposed with a slide projection as a camera circumambulates the model blue whale displayed at the New York Natural History Museum. In addition to these visual elements, audio scripts (taken from news reports, documentaries and written by the artist) simultaneously play like echoes or dreams and keep reframing this juxtaposition.

Four and a half billion years ago the shattered fragments of the earth recombined to form the moon. Circling us, it appears night after night, affecting the cycles of the body and mind. The compounds found on the surface of the moon fully correspond to those found on earth, and yet Neil Armstrong described its dead surface as grey and powdery, like ash. The moon is the obsession of the romantic, it symbolizes the virgin and is seen as the archetypal object of desire, but when we reach its surface we find that it is barren.

It was from the vantage of this floating ‘phantom limb’ of the earth that we first saw an image of our own planet in its entirety. As predicted by an op-ed column from 1966, this image has become ubiquitous in our time, as if it were an obvious fact we had seen with our own eyes. We have accepted the eye of the camera as our own and the photograph as the fixed perspective of reality. While, in our daily lives we experience this infinitely fascinating and contradictory earth only in glimpses, we simultaneously imagine it – project it – in its entirety.

In László Krasznahorkai’s novel “The Melancholy of Resistance” we are presented with the protagonist who encounters the body of a Whale. One of the audio tracks describes this encounter. As he circumambulates this enormous being he realizes that “seeing the whale did not mean he could grasp the full meaning of the sight”, since to comprehend all its parts itself “appeared a singularly hopeless task.” What fascinates him most is his inability to understand the very fact that this creature “had witnessed the wonders of an infinitely strange and infinitely distant world.”

A central contradiction of our reality is the fact that our intimate experiences in the world are of a fleeting, fragmentary, ambiguous nature, whereas our knowledge (understanding) of situations appears to be all-encompassing. If the function of photographs is to attempt to – pretend to – collapse the distance between “our” reality and the camera’s ahistoric eye, then maybe the photograph has to be destroyed or unraveled to reveal the irreconcilability of this reality. One of the audio scripts voices this contrary desire to fracture rather than conflate, through the admissions of a man who desires an amputation. Here one in invited to contemplate this desire to fracture what is presented as whole and to attempt to see the entirety of that which is experienced as fragmentary and contingent. Is it not in the vacillating field of this irreconcilability that our perceptions lie?