They Used to Call it the Moon, Baltic 39, Gateshead

There are few subjects, or spectacles, which can be viewed and shared equally across the world without the distancing effect of technology, or the Chinese whispers of accounts, renditions and re-enactments. This distinctly international exhibition, at Baltic’s sister gallery; Baltic39 (colloquially known as “B 3 9”), centres around such a rare shared subject, or more specifically “entity”: the moon. Inevitably, the 36 works featured are imbued with varying cultural and historical influences stemming from both modern and ancient politics, philosophies, sciences, spirituality, folklore and of course art history, resulting from their multinational authors.

Despite the obvious geographical distancing of artists, their practices, research and interests all briefly intersect to consider the moon and outer space. Just as this exhibition meets these contemporary artists at early and mid points in their careers, the exhibition is itself a mere snapshot of a tiny fraction of the moon’s own life span, depicted from the vantage point of earth.

At a mere 4.5 billion years old its age alone is a staggering subject to contend with, let alone the physical and unimaginable expanse of the universe. So if nothing else, this collection of artists, are brave, or perhaps foolish. Yet one of the successes of the show is its deconstruction of the many faceted significance of space. Katy Cole’s Galaxias (2013) contemplates the incomprehensibility of such vastness directly, scaling back the science by precisely painting real galaxies upon children’s building blocks. Toying with her love of plays upon scale and explosions, Cole has created her own bite-sized “big-bang”.

Interestingly much of the work in the show stems from a post-moon landing child-like curiosity for outer space. Joseph Popper’s immaculate but imaginary creation of a space station on close inspection is revealed to be no more than a rather more sophisticated take on a child’s astronaut costume made of tin foil and a colander. It is wonderful in its exploitation of the wonderment inspired by the moon. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was assumed that after the leaps taken in 1969 the rest of the questions of space would be promptly answered, only to soon discover more mysteries. Yet the mystery of space is undoubtedly part of the appeal, opening portals to the real and imaginary, the past and the future. The sense of imminent apocalypse subject to the whims of suits simmers in Michael Mulvihill’s superficially dry images of blurry photographed meetings; plunging his pencil drawings into the depths of conspiracy theories surrounding the moon-landings during the cold-war.

Many of the works bleach the boundaries between fact and fiction, Kate Liston appropriates the Chinese myth of the “moon rabbit”, whilst Marko Tadic bases his imaginary archive on an equally fictional piece of literature The Invention of Morel (A, Casares, 1940), which too considers perception, censorship and memory. The show seems to centre around the significance of the artists’ response to the moon, as if it is more knowing, more understanding of its extra-terrestrial divinity. Yet it seems more pressing that this exhibition is about our shared responses and experiences of the moon; our inexplicable connection and synchronisation with it. Supposedly born of the debris of a gigantic collision, our tides subject to it, our ancient societies worshipped it, we all remain in wonder of it.

They Used to Call it the Moon, until 29 June, Baltic 39, 31-39 High Bridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 1EW.

Zara Worth

1. They Used to Call it the Moon, image courtesy of Baltic 39.