Review of The Great Moon Hoax Review, Leicester

The Great Moon Hoax contains the collaborative installation work of Kitty Wingate and Claire Davies and is currently on display at the Great Central Gallery & Studios in Leicester. The exhibition takes the works of Edward Everett Hale, the American author and historian; Sir John Herschel, the British astronomer who also worked extensively on botany; and Anna Atkins, the English botanist and the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. As its central ideas, the exhibition poses a look at Hale’s story titled The Brick Moon, published serially in Atlantic Monthly starting in 1869, while also diverging from the 143 year-old work of speculative fiction in which the first depiction of an artificial satellite is unravelled. The exhibition poster depicting plants in tones of blue and almost white seems to pay tribute to the work of Anna Atkins, who applied Herschel’s invention of the cyanotype photographic process to algae by making cyanotype photograms that were contact printed.Upon entering the Great Central, one is surrounded by the aura of old days in a quarter of the city that is now mostly hosiery and textiles manufacturing. The gallery invites the sky, the sun and the past into its corners. In all its whiteness, the gallery space captures all the light that the sky offers.

A pebble mosaic-covered sculpture resembling a meteorite reverses the story of Hale’s Brick Moon whilst silently sitting on the floor. Without walking much further, the naturally turning and twisting yellow diamond shapes in a single line of nine hanging from the ceiling appear against the backdrop of the windows. In the dark they appear, and in the light they become partly invisible. The mind plays tricks as the gallery space becomes a planet of its own. An umbrella plant, probably of the Schefflera dwarf variegated variety is, the only living, breathing element standing under a three legged triangular tall table. The second tall table shelters what looks like a tower of pyramids in maroon-red. The table tops carry a stone that looks like it could be moon rock. A large wall is covered with the digitally printed repetitive imagery of intermingling leaves. Nonagonal and hexagonal wooden frames recline against the walls of the gallery space.

Putting all this together in one’s head is not an easy task, even knowing that the collaborative installation is based on Hale, Herschel and Atkins’s works. All these seem to refer to the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 when a long article by Sir John Herschel appeared in serial form in the New York Sun. The article asserted that Herschel hadn’t only established “a new theory of cometary phenomena” but he had also discovered planets in other solar systems. He had also managed to solve or correct almost every leading problem of mathematical astronomy. There was more… The article claimed that Herschel had discovered life on the moon. As one might guess, the article was a detailed and well-thought out hoax planned by the media. So perhaps, the The Great Moon Hoax of 2012 in exhibition form pays tribute to that great hoax and also creates a seemingly physical system in which objects symbolise things above and beyond themselves.

Perhaps, this exhibition aims to be the great art hoax of all time as it strives to depict exploration, escape and endeavour. It intertwines the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 and the Brick Moon (both serially published and both imaginary) and turns them both upside down. Here in Leicester we have artists whose collaborative work creates life on the moon on earth itself in approximately thirty metres square. The Great Moon Hoax remains intact.

The Great Moon Hoax open until December 8, The Great Central Unit1, 27-35 Sussex Street, Leicester LE5 3BF.

Hande Eagle

All images credited to: The Great Moon Hoax, Kitty Wingate & Claire Davies.