A Cosmic Reminder of the Infinite Marvel Above
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A Cosmic Reminder of the Infinite Marvel Above

Ann Veronica Janssens’s Side (Studio Version).

A big city like Toronto can seem like the centre of everything. From the streets of a place as compelling and complex as this, it’s all too easy only to look inward at the interwoven fabric of city life and forget to look outward—or more specifically upward—at the impossible magnitude that exists above us.
As city dwellers, we are rarely confronted with the humbling reality of a dense blanket of stars. This is reserved for trips up north and rural interludes. The bright lights and hazy skies of Toronto make it almost impossible to discern all but a few points of light. It’s to our disadvantage not to have this nightly visual connection to something so vast that, if you really look at it and consider it for a minute, everything trivial melts away. It does, however, mean that we are far from desensitized to the awe that accompanies the contemplation of the cosmos.
This may be why the summer exhibition at the Power Plant is so much fun: that kind of innocent fun that accompanies feelings of wonder and possibility. “Universal Code” brings together twenty-three artists at the edge of the waterfront in the big bright city, exploring the theme of space. Much like the accompanying talk and stargazing party that we reported on earlier this week, the show is sometimes paranoid and sometimes celebratory. Unifying the work is a pervasive expression of sincere fascination that is so easy to tap into that there is almost a childishness to the show, but only in the best ways.

Angela Bulloch’s Night Sky: Mars from Venus.12.

Angela Bulloch’s Night Sky: Mars from Venus.12 shows us what the stars look like from the surface of Venus, taking us not only out of the city but off of the planet too. By transporting our perspective, Bulloch opens up a discussion about the singularity of our experience in a universe of almost infinite locations and vantage points. This zen-like meditation is executed in delightful materials that look a lot like a Lite-Brite close up.

Katie Paterson’s Earth – Moon – Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon).

For her piece Earth – Moon – Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), Katie Paterson translated Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” into Morse Code and sent it to the moon via radio. She then collected the code that bounced back—now altered by its journey and the distortions of terrain on the surface of the moon—and turned it back into music. A Disklavier piano in the gallery is set to play this new composition, a collaboration between Beethoven and the moon. However, at the time of our tour of the gallery, only an errant visitor was playing on the piano.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Telephone / Time.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller collaborate on the piece Telephone / Time. Those who venture to pick up the telephone sitting on an old desk can listen to a conversation between Cardiff and a mathematician about time, its bizarre characteristics, and our subjective experience of it. Listening in, we were treated to a discussion about how time can seem to slow down during experiences that signficantly impact our lives.

Keith Tyson’s The Block.

In The Block, Keith Tyson presents a block of bronze, melted and recast repeatedly to create a series of sculptures that represent the developments in our understanding of the universe. As each subsequent sculpture was destroyed to create the next, the only remaining evidence is photographs of the process and the re-created block that sits innocuously in the middle of the room, betraying nothing of its varied past.

Franz Ackermann’s Roter Platz.

Occupying an entire wall of the gallery, Franz Ackermann’s Roter Platz combines a mural with an applied sculptural element: a fragmented diamond reminiscent of the cover of Led Zeppelin III. The diamond references carbon—considered to be the building block of life—taking the show’s cosmic conversation from macro to micro.

Cerith Wyn Evans’s With the advent of Radio Astronomy…

Playing with the same concept of scale is Cerith Wyn Evans’s With the advent of Radio Astronomy… This text piece is a passage from Astro-photography Stages of Photographic Development, a 1987 publication by Siegfried Marx. At first comical and subsequently startlingly profound, the artistry of this piece is the simple act of making this rather magical piece of information known to more people. The fragility of our understanding of what lies beyond our reach is laid bare in these three simple sentences.
While we typically consider the depths of space to be the realm of science, and sometimes fiction, the ease with which the subject enters the gallery makes sense. Art often tries to come to terms with the individual’s place in the world, and it seems a logical extension to move to the consideration of our larger place in the universe. This exhibition offers us the chance to step outside of ourselves, above the bright lights, and right to the edge of the barely fathomable expansion of space.
“Universal Code” runs only until August 30, and admission is free.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.