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Largest-ever UK exhibition of the works of Simon Starling on view at Nottingham Contemporary
Simon Starling, installation view, Nottingham Contemporary 2016. Photo Andy Keate.


NOTTINGHAM.- Nottingham Contemporary is presenting the largest-ever UK exhibition of the works of Simon Starling – the Turner Prize winner who studied at Nottingham Trent University. The exhibition includes a new commission and some of Starling's major projects, most of which have never been shown in Britain before. The exhibition is part of season two of The Grand Tour.

Starling is interested in physical, poetic and metaphorical journeys. These include the journeys of objects and materials - geographic, economic and through time – and their transformation. His celebrated 1997 work Blue Boat Black is included here. Originally a museum display case, it was remade by Starling into a fishing boat, and then turned into charcoal to cook the fish that had been caught. Today, when the charred remains of the boat are exhibited, the cycle of transformation has come full circle.

This is joined by an ambitious new commission for Nottingham Contemporary. Project for a Crossing (2015/16), is a canoe cast in magnesium extracted from the contested waters of the Dead Sea. It rests on tanks of water taken from this mythologised, industrialised and militarised – as well as fast disappearing - sea. An initial inspiration for the project was the British engineer Frank Kirk, who in the 1980s built lightweight bike frames from magnesium extracted from seawater. After this exhibition, Starling intends to use his magnesium boat to cross the Dead Sea – a fraught journey that may only be partially possible.

Industry is a theme running through these installations, films, photographs and sculptures. Areas of investigation include lost histories of manufacture. In Nottingham this includes works referring to the physical processes that anticipated digital systems. Starling has said that as we become more distant from the means of production, he has felt the need to get closer.

The processes that led to computerisation are invoked in Red, Green, Blue, Loom Music (2015/16), a new work never before seen in the UK. During a visit to a textile factory near Turin, Starling unexpectedly found a sheet of handwritten music left on a baby grand piano - a score inspired by the sound of the factory’s looms. Using sound visualisation technology, the score was translated into bands of colour and “programmed” into Jacquard punch-cards, a forerunner of computer control systems. A woven rendering of the music was then produced on the factory’s textile machines. A pianola, controlled by a similar process to a punch card, accompanies sections of a projection that “weaves” together red, green and blue light beams. The work evokes the history of the Lace Market that surrounds Nottingham Contemporary, where waves of technical innovation powered the production of machine-made lace.

Other works include D1-Z1 (22,686,575:1) (2009), which was inspired by the first freely programmable computer, designed in 1936. In an 80-year interval between the invention and the art work, the power and scope of computing has increased exponentially. A 30-second animation depicting the card reader of the machine required more than 22 million times the memory of the Z1.

Another of Starling’s ongoing concerns has been the physical properties of photography, here recast as sculpture through epic distortions of scale. The Nanjing Particles (2008) are sculptures of two silver particles, one million times enlarged, taken from two 1875 photographs of a group of Chinese migrant workers. La Source (demi-teinte) (2009) is another large-scale work that deconstructs a photograph of a former mineral water bottling factory into its constituent “dots”. Remade as glass balls, the dots reconstruct a section of the photograph when viewed from a platform.

A contemporary alchemist, Starling perpetually transmutes matter. His relentless search for the source is sometimes taken as far as particles. “It’s about not taking anything for granted,” he has said of his work.

In a special partnership with Derby Museum, the exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary will include The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus (1795) by Joseph Wright of Derby, the foremost painter of the scientific Enlightenment. A daguerreotype made by Starling will be on display in place of the Wright at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Incoming director of Nottingham Contemporary, Sam Thorne, said: “I am thrilled that this major exhibition of Simon Starling's work, bringing together key early works with a remarkable new commission, will be the first during my tenure. Spanning almost 20 years, we are proud to be presenting this internationally renowned artist's largest show to date in the UK.”

The exhibition is part of The Grand Tour, a partnership of Nottingham Contemporary, Chatsworth, The Harley Gallery and Derby Museums, together with Experience Nottinghamshire and Visit Peak District and Derbyshire.

More works by Simon Starling, Back Drop (2012) and Nine Feet Later (2015), will be shown at Backlit Gallery, an artist led gallery and studio space near Nottingham Contemporary, as part of The Grand Tour fringe programme.





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