Immanence and Distortions Merge
Immanence and its distortions is a digital artwork collaboration between artist Ashley Holmes and emerging scientist Ruby Holmes, part of the exhibition Emergence curated by Michelle Hall, her third (and largest) of its kind. The show features partnerships between scientists and artists. The artists were challenged to create new art in digital movie format expanding scientific understanding and communication channels.
The duo began to collaborate after Ashley commented on an instagram post of Ruby’s, where she had documented her volunteer work of propagating coral specimens asexually at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, saying her image and caption was indeed “a work of art”.
Their work Immanence and its distortions is a moving visual ode to the process of coral spawning – a symbol of philosopher Henri Bergson’s élan vital or life force. The digital film commences with a time-lapse of microscopic coral larvae growth, petri dish visible and irksome wriggles occurring. It moves into the rhythmic night time dance of spawning ovum and sperm bundles releasing from coral polyps and lifting and floating into liquidity. Even though the filming is taken under scientific conditions it is mesmerising.
The familiar melody of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 is the polyps’ muse – apt as coral only spawn at night, and usually after the full moon. Ashley has matched the ascending pitches and in his words “emphatic flurry” with his visuals to impart a sense of transcendence.
As the sound piece carries the camera zooms out and the viewer comes to realise they are not watching coral spawning once removed, but through a screen through a screen, that is framed and gilded. I am encouraged to then question, and the reverence of art history plays – a gold frame equals treasure, worth and yesteryear.
The camera continues to zoom and it’s confirmed we’re on a slow journey outward. The gold frame around the screen is set amongst more gleaming gold and silver frames, a tiny scroll of text is visible, and we begin to witness a shrine – to a rare natural process that is under threat by so many inhibitors. Further zooming reveals a wunderkammer-like collection of lit candles and dried white coral forms. Are they relics from the real world, or are they prepared forms, like the frames and the spawning of the coral under controlled circumstance?
The Mexican or Spanish style assemblage seemed appropriate to Ashley – expressing a folk art class that resembles a home alter for reverence to Jesus, The Holy Mother or a deceased loved one. All are connections to a past.
The quality of the rendering is glossy, colour-charged and sexy. It’s visually delectable. This quality coupled with the shrine symbolism may inspire audiences to be in awe of the numinous quality of the reef it’s pointing to. It also suggests we may one day only experience the wondrous processes of the reef in an extracted, twice removed form, ahead in the pathway of time, looking back.
Ashley references Deleuze interpreting that the latter thought that there is a cosmic kind of creativity in everything. He says that the work is about exploring “what it is that makes the experience of a thing mystical or reverential. Everything exists as part of the vital interconnected processes of the universe. The processes go on whether or not humans exist to witness them.”
The paradox of creating something to then be used as a hint to revere the original is not lost on Ashley, nor was it on Deleuze. Ashley remarks, “In trying to make something special in the human sense we cannot avoid changing its immanent status.”
Immanence and its Distortions will be exhibited as part of Emergence which is travelling to three locations in North Queensland: Townsville, Cairns and Mackay.
words: Alex Christopher
Alex Christopher is an independent writer, curator, educator and PhD student student currently residing in North Queensland. Her research focuses on the experience of people finding work in Australian art museums and galleries. She’s been a sessional lecturer since 2011 in the areas of professional practice and creative development at the School of Arts and Creative Media, James Cook University.