Catherine Payton, Thin Place #1, 2012 C-type print
Július Koller, Po-Krik (U.F.O.), 1983, Black and white photograph – Courtesy of gb Agency, Paris
Joe Winter, Xerox Astronomy, 2008
Catherine Payton, Disco, 2012

We Are All U.F.O.-naughts

Gintaras Didžiapetris | Július Koller | Catherine Payton | Joe Winter

4 August – 2 September 2012
Fri – Sun 12—5pm or by appointment

I tried to resolve the discrepancy between utopia and real life. If I know that something unknown transcends me I cease to be merely a ‘human-ape’, but am also a human extra-terrestrial.

– Július Koller, 2003

Artists have long used mundane materials and everyday scenarios in order to construct objects and images that speak of the sublime and the cosmological. The biblical frescos by Fra Angelico were after all produced using something as commonplace as egg white. The Slovak artist Július Koller took this premise, that everything ordinary contains within it the potentiality to resonate beyond its designated means, as a core agenda of his conceptually driven art practice. Taking the acronym U.F.O., with its extra-terrestrial connotations, as a form of signature, he created a body of work spanning more than thirty years through which he attempted to transcend ‘human-ape’ status. While the photographs shown at Rhubaba utilise such imagery as the flying saucer, they are nevertheless permanently rooted in the reality of Koller’s day-to-day existence. These self-portraits, Po-Krik (U.F.O.) and Mysterious Cultural Situation (U.F.O.), are almost comic in their equation of supernatural metaphor and banal situation. In We are all U.F.O.-nauts the work of Koller is shown alongside three younger artists work that similarly seeks to play on the border between the real and the imaginary.

Xerox Astronomy is an artefact from a larger installation by the American artist Joe Winter. The work is produced by a photocopier placed at the heart of a mechanical system of desk lamps altered to circulate above the photocopy bed. The mottled black prints seen here being afterimages of the trajectories of these light sources. Winter takes the utterly mundane, a generic work assistant and banal embodiment of 21st century office environment, as a means of creating an image which recalls a form of scientific visioning infinitely more intangible and foreign than the form used in the production of the work, astrophotography. He liberates this enclosed system, allowing it the opportunity to speak out-with its own set environment. As he states: ‘I am interested in looking at a given system and seeing what else it has the potential to speak about, apart from its narrow band of acceptable usage.’

The artificial constellation of stars or blurry extra-terrestrial objects seen in Winter’s prints are, however, exactly that; artificial. They are suggestive of hoax-UFO photography, like that of Stephen Darbishire the 13 year old boy who in 1953 took what is thought to be the earliest British example of an illusory extra-terrestrial photograph. In a similar fashion, Catherine Payton’s work serves to animate the ordinary by pairing a willing suspension of disbelief with charlatanism. Her beguiling attempts to levitate or convince the audience they are watching a mirror-ball spinning are tempered by a conscientious amateurism. Her efforts are always anchored to the knowable stuff of everyday life, the celestial claims of her imagery brought back down to earth again forcibly.

Payton leaves us with niggling questions about the possibility of these surreal acts and the potential to navigate imaginary spheres. The Lithuanian artist Gintaras Didžiapetris in turn makes work that is both evasive and probing. A piece of paper with a cross design is tacked to the wall; ‘it is itself’ states the artist, ‘not an image or a construction’. It may bring forth thoughts of wrapping-paper, marginalia or the Photoshop crop tool, particularly as it is a cut-away from a larger stretch of a printed digital file. However, it quietly resists resolution, sharing with Koller’s oeuvre a critical stance to the dominant principles of art interpretation, questioning the status of artwork itself.

We are all U.F.O.-nauts correlates the everyday with the otherworldly, demonstrating the possibility implicit in every element of our daily existence to function on more celestial plains. As Koller has said, while his interest is in the transcendental, this is not at the expense of the real. The ordinary sites and matter employed in his photographs and actions, anchor what could otherwise be viewed as utopian to our tangible reality, ‘utopia with a question mark.’ What pervades in the work of Koller, Didžiapetris, Payton, and Winter is an invasion of questions and the opening up what appear to be closed systems of communication. This is where the power of such work lies, the extra-terrestrial may not be as disconnected from daily life as it may seem.

Part of Edinburgh Art Festival 2012
With additional thanks to gb agency and Sarah Cook