Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

To Boldly Gaze Where No One Has Gazed Before?

Lindsay Godin, “Planet X”

Numerous photographs of the great American folksinger and human rights activist Woody Guthrie lend an unexpected insight into an enigmatic project by photographer Lindsay Godin, part of which is currently on display at the Bountiful Davis Art Center. Futurisms, which Godin began assembling in 2019, contains apparently documentary images with evocative titles but no accompanying data. “Planet X,” for instance, shows a pale, wrinkled disc, possibly a sphere, floating before a dark background. Planet X is, of course, the popular name for a hypothetical tenth planet (now ninth, after Pluto was demoted) in the Solar System, for which several candidates have been proposed over the years. Next to it, “Moonscape No. 1,” another high-contrast photo, presents a low-lying, rugged, convincingly lifeless landscape that glows a luminous white under a black sky. Third in line, “Topography Scan,” shows a far more precipitous outcropping of rock, similarly lit as though by sunlight unmediated by clouds or, for that matter, an atmosphere.

Photographs of Woody Guthrie often show him with hand-lettered signs on his various guitars, each reading: “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.” Other musicians have taken offense at having their instruments called “machines,” and so Godin’s equally unusual references to rockets, currently the only means of travel to places like the Moon, as “machines” struck a chord. What did Guthrie mean, and what does Godin mean, by their use of this odd locution?

Lindsay Godin, “Primordial Sighting”

Lindsay Godin, “Moonscape No. 1”

In her statement, Godin identifies a continuity between the way some cultures have behaved towards the Earth’s surface in the past and how several nations currently exploring beyond Earth’s shores are acting. While some older cultures lacked any concept of land ownership, newer arrivals have assumed they were entitled to claim proprietary rights to possess and exploit that land. Her photographs reveal how some of those same nations may be presumed to see their activities in space as continuing what was done then. The disrupted stone circle in Godin’s “Primordial Sighting,” surrounded by tire tracks left by those who presumably discovered and investigated it, calls to mind both Native American sites in Utah that were trashed by treasure hunters and NASA’s satellite photographs of the Moon, readily found on the web, in which the Lunar Rover tracks are clearly visible on the no-longer pristine surface.

Godin further raises at least two other, potentially even more unsettling and unwelcome thoughts. In a pair of images, labeled “Tracking” and “Automated Tracking,” she argues that the same technology that enables remote sensors to take over for human actors in the tediously daunting tasks of seeking and sorting through huge accumulations of data — for example in searching the vastness of space for objects of interest (rocks, in her case) — can be applied back here on Earth to observe more mundane sights that until recently were regarded as private. We should keep in mind that only a few years ago, computer technicians were struggling to build a machine that could identify cubes and other simple shapes, while advances in Artificial Intelligence have enabled them to leap over this daunting step and, by comparing a sight to countless filed images, not only to recognize objects but to describe them in words; if desired, even to write convincing Elizabethan sonnets about them.

Some of Lindsay Godin’s titles refer to the object in the photograph, but others, like an early landscape, titled “Machine Gaze No. 1,” call attention to the devices that took the pictures. This may be her most disturbing point. The black rectangle in “Machine Gaze” suggests that, while it makes possible remote viewing, it also excludes anything that it wasn’t told to look for. Furthermore, in sending such machines to places we can’t currently go, like the Moon, Mars, and far beyond, technology has enabled the presumptuous behavior of past explorers to boldly go where no man has gone before. It’s only one more example among many of the things society ought to be discussing, before some future Neil Armstrong looks down the ladder from his perch on the Mars Lander, only to see a sign reading “Private: Keep Off. No Exploring Allowed by Order of the Owner.”

Assuming that it’s written in a language he can read.

Lindsay Godin, “Machine Gaze No. 1”


Futurism: Lindsay Godin, Bountiful Davis Art Center, Bountiful, through Sep. 9

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