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Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors in the Arts Thomson & Craighead: The Academy of Saturn
Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College
Above: Thomson and Craighead, Untitled (Balloon drop), 2016. Video and balloons, dimensions variable. Courtesy and © the artists.
Above: Thomson and Craighead, Untitled (Balloon drop), 2016. Video and balloons, dimensions variable. Courtesy and © the artists.
February 2–April 26, 2018

Talk and reception: February 7, 6:30–8:30pm
Reed College chapel, Eliot Hall

Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College
Reed College Library
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97202
USA

T +1 503 517 7851
[email protected]

www.reed.edu
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The Cooley is proud to present The Academy of Saturn, a solo exhibition by celebrated UK artist-collaborators Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead. Since the mid-1990s, Thomson & Craighead have explored the visual, statistical, and poetic nature of networked information and its relationship to capitalism, war, and everyday life. The title of the exhibition—The Academy of Saturn—derives from Voltaire’s 1752 novella Micromégas, in which colossal astral travelers from The Academy of Saturn visit earth and engage in a philosophical discussion with a group of scientists. Radical scale shifts of knowledge and comprehension result in an absurd, zero-sum exchange between the species; however, the story is an acerbic parable about the inanity of war and the value of external perspective. With kindred tenacity and wit, Thomson & Craighead explore global information’s competing—and increasingly intertwined—experiences of intimacy and incomprehensibility, touching information to be here now.

Distillation, order, and observation take different forms throughout the exhibition. The monumental Horizon(2009–present), for instance, comprises a grid of real-time webcam images from every time zone in the world. In Thomson’s words: The result is a constantly updating array of images that read like a series of movie storyboards, but also as an idiosyncratic global electronic sundial.” As Horizonconjoins time and space in axial form, it amplifies the lyricism of each circadian landscape.

Thomson & Craighead also snare and repurpose networked information in material form, often working with ongoing streams of personal utterance. For The Academy of Saturn, the artists are creating a new iteration of their text-based project London Wall (2010–present), entitled, appropriately, Portland Wall. The work is based on public “status updates” posted on Twitter and Facebook in a three-mile radius from the Cooley. The texts are transformed into graphic posters and installed onto the walls of the gallery, forming a vast meander of endlessly readable concrete poetry—fleeting thoughts, arrested and echoed in their community of origin. Perhaps the artists’ most alchemical work—Apocalypse (2016)—atomizes the King James Bible’s account of the horrors of the End Times in the form of a luxury perfume (developed in collaboration with Edinburgh perfumer Euan McCall). And in the video installation Control Room (2017), a cache of 35mm color slides found in the Aberdeen, Scotland harbor archives becomes the catalyst for an emotionally evocative, randomly repeating audio narrative. 

Jon Thomson (b. 1969) and Alison Craighead (b. 1971) are artists living and working in London. They make artworks and installations for galleries and specific sites including online spaces. Much of their recent work looks at live networks like the web and how they are changing the way we all understand the world around us. Having both studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, Thomson is Reader in Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, while Craighead is a reader in contemporary art and visual culture at University of Westminster and lectures in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University.

The Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors in the Arts Program was established by a generous 1988 gift from Edward and Sue Cooley and John and Betty Gray in support of art history and its place in the humanities. The program enables Reed College's art department to bring distinguished individuals in the arts to the college for periods of up to a week. The intent of the program is to bring to campus creative people who are distinguished in connection with the visual arts and who will provide "a forum for conceptual exploration, challenge, and discovery." The program is named in honor of art historian Dr. Stephen E. Ostrow, as a tribute to his career and out of respect for his advisory role in the formulation of the Cooley Gray gift and the design of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery. Ostrow is the Emeritus Chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. 

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February 6, 2018

location

Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, Portland