Nikola Uzunovski at the Federico Luger Gallery
Gallery website: http://www.federicolugergallery.com.
Reviewed by Giovanna Costantini
Heliacal rising occurs when a star or other astral body such as the moon, a planet or a constellation first becomes visible above the eastern horizon in the moments immediately preceding sunrise. Each day the star will rise slightly earlier and remain visible longer before light from the sun causes the star to disappear in a cosmic setting. Not all stars have heliacal risings. Some linger just above the horizon permanently, making them always visible in the sky at dawn before becoming eclipsed by the brightness of the sun; others may never become visible at all.
Nikola Uzunovski’s photographs at the Federico Luger Gallery in Milan in January call to mind just such a cosmic phenomenon, one important to the ancients in signaling the beginning of a new year, the arch of its zenith and reunion with the earth envisioned well into the Renaissance as a crystal globe filled with distilled water to convey the dazzling radiance of solar light.
Uzunovsky’s photographs derive from a project called “My Sunshine,” installed in a laboratory created within the Macedonian Pavilion of the 53rd Venice Biennale last year through which a helium-inflated balloon bisected by a reflective Mylar mirror could be positioned above the horizon as a surrogate of the sun. Inspired by a visit to Finland and an attempt to photograph the arctic tundra on the shortest day of the year, Uzunovski observed that under certain circumstances, the sun’s rays appeared to hover above the surface of the earth, never touching the ground, illuminating only upper branches of the trees. In certain points, he noticed, it was possible to touch the light with the tips of one’s fingertips. He was further motivated to augment illumination for Laplanders deprived of sunlight in areas in which diurnal light was limited to only 5-10 seconds.
Two years later in a studio in Trieste, Uzunovski collaborated with physicists from the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics and SISSA the International School for Advanced Studies to develop geo-positioning coordinates for a solar replica. Together with Pierdavide Coïsson of ICTP, for example, the artist was able to identify December 22nd as a day when a very high logarithmic value (24.000 m) could be assigned to sunrays that would reach the polar circle, after which the altitudinal value decreases. With John Miller of Oxford University he charted the sun’s path by means of solar declination equations and measurements of light that could be reflected from the ground. During the same period, Uzunovski accumulated climatological data from Finland on wind speed, temperature and cloudiness during winter in the Lapland region. He constructed a non-flying apparatus during an artist residency at Pollinaria, an interdisciplinary research center in the Abruzzo region of Italy, where in its rugged landscape he tested the model under varying atmospheric conditions. He later refined these studies through collaborations with students from the University of Lapland and the Art University of Helsinki. As a result he was able to realize a flying, helium-inflated balloon two meters in diameter, controlled by detachable cables capable of creating the illusion of a “second sun.”
The installation in Venice included a wealth of data, computational formulae, graphs and technical drawings that emphasized the precision and clarity of the project’s scientific research as well as intriguing allusions to sacred geometry. Some of the diagrams reference Platonic solids and Euclidian geometry, while others recall figures drawn from optics and ocular refraction. Here the elegance of mathematic reasoning forms an artful corollary to the delicate arcs and swelling bell curves of computer graphics, with the balloon itself a suggestive 3-dimensional model of Leonardo’s proportionality, measurement and design.
At first glance, the aerostat calls to mind the external panels of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Prado, where a transparent grisaille bubble opens onto fantastical panoramas of sin and debauchery. But Uzunovski’s celestial orbs point to microcosmic-macrocosmic correspondences that are as metaphysical, if not mystical, as they are astrophysical and allegorical. These perfect spheres produce rims of haloed radiance from a mirror of the heavens, replicating a cosmic unity comprised of synergistic hemispheres. It is a model of universal dualism that has inspired artists since antiquity.
Creation myths typically commence with the separation of light from primeval darkness, order out of chaos. Archaic religions from Egypt to Teotihuacan worshiped the sun as the source of life and regeneration. In the west, the association of external illumination with intellectual clarity is most often identified with Plato’s Parable of the Cave. But the hermeneutic of light as a metaphor for spiritual awakening appears in virtually all religious traditions from Tibetan Buddhism to the Book of Job, the Torah and the Koran, and from Abbot Suger to African fire-stealers and Hindu goddesses of the rising stars.
Pythagoras’ Music of the Spheres envisioned a celestial monochord that extends from above to below to unite creation in symphonic harmony. Dante’s Divine Comedy conceived of the universe as a series of spheres of varying degrees of light from which the heavens open to reveal the Empyrean in eternal peace and the purity of light.
To encounter Uzunovski’s photographs anew beyond its documented history allows one to transcend time and place to an other-worldly space in which beings, as medieval astronomers or lunar astronauts, rotate the mirror, triangulate the light, poised in absolute symmetry between the material world and ethereality. In this space, these stunning photographs convey the quiet grandeur of the cosmos and humanity’s humble, mysterious relationship to it. The photographs also remind us of the regenerative power of light and of our universal aspiration to touch infinity.