Julie F Hill, “Dark River I”

“Dark River I”, sculpture, 2020.
“Dark River I”, sculpture, 2020.
Detail of “Dark River I”, sculpture, 2020.

Materials: digital print, mirror.

Dimensions: 150cm x 200cm x 100cm

Learn more about Julie F Hill at www.juliehill.co.uk

Artist’s comment: Our galaxy, The Milky Way, crosses the night sky as a belt of soft lights. Dark River I is a sculptural work that maps, or mirrors this celestial entity within the gallery using one largest images ever made of its central areas. Obtained with the VISTA survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, this huge picture is 108,200 by 81,500 pixels and contains nearly nine billion pixels. Dark River I presents a 9 x 3m section of this image but sculpts it into nebulous formations against mirrors. This mapping or mirroring references the beliefs of the Inca’s, whose empire at its height stretched from Ecuador to Chile. “Mayu,” (the Milky Way) was a life-giving river in the heavens with its earthly counterpart – the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, high up in the Andes Mountains (now in Peru). In the absence of artificial light pollution the Milky Way is a natural light source so bright, that ancient cultures could navigate by it. Today its light is no longer visible to one third of humanity, resulting in a ‘cultural loss of unprecedented magnitude’[1] The fabric-like quality of the printed and manipulated print also references South American textile art and the ‘kené’ or sacred designs of indigenous tribes. These tribes whose ‘geometric designs connected the universe in a continuous tissue – a primordial reality in which the planes of existence were once unified and whole’[2]. Mirrors can be highly scientific and are used as the primary light gathering component within most major reflecting telescopes – such as VISTA – to form our images of the heavens. They are also frequently encountered as illusory objects in folklore and fiction. For instance, in the works of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges to assist his labyrinthine narratives. In a similar manner the mirror is employed in my sculptures to help transport the viewer into other realms or worlds. Through my overall handling of the scientific data I attempt to rework it into an ‘affective space’ that affords a bodily and imaginative engagement with the viewer. The work questions how we come to know through the technology of the telescope versus the naked eye. The forms the print has been manipulated into reference river-like qualities commonly associated with the Milky Way noted above. This contrast between the ancient and modern, between ways of knowing – both indigenous and scientific – is intended emphasise the connection between earth and cosmos at this urgent environmental moment.

1. Milky Way no longer visible to one third of humanity, light pollution atlas shows, The Guardian, 2010 2. The Botanical Mind, Camden Arts Centre exhibition text. 2020