For this exhibition the French artist Félicie d'Estienne d'Orves (Athens, 1979) proposes a reflection around ‘deep’ fields of visual perception that she denominates «Deep Fields» which in line with the work of the Land Artists of the 1970s offer new areas of artistic exploration.
The name of the show is inspired by an image of a small region in the constellation of Ursa Major taken by the Hubble telescope and known as Hubble Deep Field (HDF). In this seemingly empty region of the sky, a window of a few millimeters has revealed nearly three thousand distant galaxies embracing a cosmic perspective of more than thirteen billion light-years. HDF (Hubble Deep Field) is a photograph, a visual proof of an infinity of worlds in which each galaxy contains billions of suns. The image testifies to other dimensions of reality and literally projects thought into new horizons.
‘Do I dare/Disturb the universe?/In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.’ Like T.S. Eliot’s ageing narrator in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock, one can question the meaning of all actions when time is up, for whatever time is left, time is always up – our days are numbered. ‘What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?’ (Ecclesiastes, 3, 9). So why all the rush? Félicie d’Estienne d’Orves takes a singular attitude towards action. Stepping back and making a pause may help put things into perspective: look up, look afield, look beyond. The visual artist doesn’t say: do nothing. Acting is relating. And the first act is seeing. Everything is relative, yes, but everything is related – all is one. Watch, contemplate – embrace the universe. In her solo show Deep Fields, one of the pieces that helps you understand the exhibition is the image of a sunset, the light-box allures and invites the visitor to take that moment of pause and engage with the photographic landscape. The colours differ from the usual hues of a twilight sky. What you see is not what you get: it is not a common sunset: it is a Martian Sunset.
Just as the impressionists went into the fields to capture natural light, here the artist embraces the landscape through a ‘tele-vision’ (distant gazing) process : ‘I work with a distant landscape which is thousands of millions of kilometers away, my depth of field is augmented by the sensors of the martian rovers and the astrophysician’s models.’ Our gaze and our minds contemplate an ‘extra-terrestrial horizon’: ‘To watch the sun setting is to experience a horizon line. The closer you want to get, the further it will move back. To describe it Greek philosopher and astronomer Anaximander (c. 600 BC) forged the concept apeiron, ‘boundless’, ‘infinite’, ‘that which has no limit’, not so much physical boundlessness as mental infinity.’
Why Mars? Because though no life on Mars has been discovered as yet Mars has never ceased to inspire. It is a metaphor of otherness. Echoing Continuum a film of a sunset on Mars in homage to Éliane Radigue (b. 1932) and set to a score of the seminal electronic composer, inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, her Martian Sunset and other pieces touching on the motif of the Red Planet, such as the Martian Sun series, delve into the theme of horizon as frontier. ‘Mars has been the starting point of scientific research on extraterrestrial life. Studying its environment and atmosphere will help us find out whether there could be any traces of existence in extra-solar systems. Notions of the cosmological horizon dating from the Big Bang or Giordano Bruno’s infinity of worlds (1584) have as from now been taken into account in the research of biosignatures on exoplanets.’
The title of this exhibition, Deep fields, is borrowed from the Hubble Space Telescope’s ‘Deep Field’, the image taken by the telescope (HDF) which was released in 1995. The tiny region shown on the celestial picture seems empty. But emptiness is illusory, that spot in space, the minutest of windows (just a few millimeters), gives us an imperceptible glimpse of three thousand distant galaxies embracing a cosmic perspective of more than thirteen billion light-years and containing billions of suns. HDF attests to an infinitude of worlds. In the same way Félicie d’Estienne d’Orves through her images (Cosmographies) or sculptures (Eclipse, Light Standards, Light DNA) aims to reveal unseen dimensions of reality and literally projects the gaze of our mind’s eye into new horizons.
Pursuing the path paved by the land artists of the 1970s, Félicie d’Estienne d’Orves roams not on earth but through the heavens depicting ‘skyscapes’ and sculpting light. Reality is a relation, i.e. both relative and related to, as show the different Light Standards, ‘light gauges’ measuring the time it takes for the light of a celestial body (Uranus, Mars, Venus, Sun) to reach us on planet Earth. Eclipse is a monumental black disc circled by a luminous ring, but Félicie d’Estienne d’Orves should not be taken too literally, this beautiful minimal sculpture is not so much the illustration of an astronomical phenomenon than a reflection on what she calls ‘deep’ fields of perception. Perception is deeper than the surface you see. ‘Deep’ means ‘beyond’, with the visual artist surface becomes interface, the shadow blocking out light from the sun in this Eclipse is no screen but a door to another dimension – infinity.
Sean ROSE, art critic and author.