Drawing on the area’s strong ties to observation and innovation, and from Orchardson’s detailed research into the early astronomers who made Greenwich their base, the exhibition consists of a series of intricate sculptural forms and large-scale photographs, all encompassed within vast concrete walls that arc through the space.
Orchardson’s research into the archives of the Royal Museums Greenwich uncovered a collection of scientific paraphernalia that once belonged to the astronomers William and John Herschel. This miscellany of mirrors, materials and apparatus was used for experimentation or research, able to transport willing minds to other worlds through scientific discovery. A compendium of objects imbued with potential, to use the words of writer WG Sebald, like “beads on an abacus designed to calculate infinity”.
In Orchardson’s work these objects are again transformed, re-imagined through a series of composite sculptural forms and large scale cyanotypes - a process pioneered by John Herschel. The immersive environment they populate is defined by large-scale concrete walls, reminiscent of the remains of an enormous dismantled telescope or ancient observatory, that serve to frame the photographs and smaller sculptural forms that playfully animate the space.
As with much of Orchardson’s work, the installation pauses to consider ways we attempt to comprehend the unknown. The photographic imagery is less easy to classify out of context, and we find ourselves dwelling on the objects’ beauty and begin to try to understand afresh their former significance as means by which to “calculate infinity”.
Robert Orchardson (born Glasgow, 1976) lives and works in London. He studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee, and at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has exhibited widely with recent exhibitions in Brussels, Glasgow, Birmingham, London, Dundee, Aberdeen and Vancouver. His work is in numerous collections in the UK and abroad and recent commissions include editions for Art on the Underground, Whitechapel Gallery and the Scottish Print Network.