George Henry Longly09.02.2023 - 25.03.2023
What does microgravity do to us, both as material bodies and as social beings? In Microgravities, his first solo exhibition at NıCOLETTı, London-based artist George Henry Longly presents a new body of work including sculptural assemblages and video that express the artist’s interest for life in space – Longly has notably collaborated with Victor Buchli, Professor of Material Culture at UCL, and has contributed to his project ETHNO-ISS: An Ethnography of an Extra-terrestrial Society: the International Space Station (2020–ongoing), which focuses on the quotidian and material dimensions of the ISS and its bodily and material techniques.
Weaving multiple references ranging from NASA imagery, science fiction and horror film posters to Flintstones characters and moonscape paintings, the artworks in Microgravities take the form of collages of various materials such as marble, glass, aluminium and wood, through which Longly explores the physical and emotional effects of living in space.
Indeed, microgravity – ‘the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless’, according to NASA’s website – is responsible for metabolic and behavioural changes for space travelers. Gravity modulations affect, for instance, the microbiome composition of their guts, reminding us of the critical role that microorganisms play in the emergence and sustainability of animal life, as well as in every aspect of the biosphere’s health. Longly takes inspiration from the model of animal-bacteria symbiosis to reflect upon the intimate relationships between the countless microscopic elements a single body is formed of. Conversely, the circuits, connective systems and punctured patterns at the surface of his images signal the artist’s sustained attention to the tiny grips that hold us – and the universe – together.
In Bedrock (2022), a painted block of marble engraved with dismembered characters from the animated sitcom Flintstones, Longly implements these ideas within the very making of his work, as if the assemblage of disparate materials and parceled forms acted as a way to excavate the tenuous complexities that both make up and hide beneath the sleekest surfaces.
Materialising the artist’s reflections on the micro implications of the macro (and vice-versa), the other artworks in Microgravities often play with the imbrication of scales: a baby’s face is patterned with a constellation, itself designed as an electric circuit (the image comes from the poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, where space traveler Dave Bowman eventually turns into a ‘star child’), while a video showing of the inside of the International Space Station allows us to project ourselves in a spacecraft, both artworks functioning as microcosms reflecting and enveloping the cosmos.
Longly is looking at us looking at space. The exhibition is an invitation to consider the cultural representations we created through different mediums (from film and video games to posters and branded merchandising) and registers (science fiction and fantasy, but also popular science). Referencing sci-fi movies such as Event Horizon (1997), a horror film in which a rescue vessel uses black holes to move through space and eventually ends up visiting hell, Longly’s work also shows how outer space has always been seen and used as a mirror of human fears, hopes and beliefs. As with microbes and their impact on the whole ecosystem, mundane objects and popular imagery are treated here as physical and metaphorical portals granting access to what is greater than ourselves.
As so few of us have traveled to space, this snippet of a memorabilia collection triggers a broader question: what are we after as we deploy boundless efforts of imagination to apprehend what is out of reach? Perhaps the panoramic moonscape seen from the ISS appearing in COSMO (2022), seemingly expanding the gallery space to infinity, is a reminder of the quest for self in which we are involved – as both individual and species –, continuously wandering across scales of existence, whose spectrum ranges from our microbial allies to infinite space.