Stars is a series of Thomas Ruff's prints made from negatives supplied by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an international research center situated in the Atacama Desert of Chile.
The ESO was a massive undertaking, an attempt begun in 1972 [images were taken from 1974-1987] to document the entire visible universe. Or at least the half of it visible from the Southern Hemisphere. And just the objects of enough magnitude to show up with the then-new 100-inch UK Schmidt Telescope and the 1m ESO telescope at La Cilla, Chile. And which could be seen on Kodak's then-new, experimental, hypersensitized emulsion. The resulting 1,000+ photos are at once evidence of photography's futile limitations, and one of its greatest artistic achievements.
The Sky Atlas is just one of several sky surveys. Each starts out with the same ambitious goal; each takes years of painstaking work; each results in images and objects that exhibit conceptual rigor and contemporary visual appeal in equal amounts; and as technology progresses, each is rendered utterly obsolete by the next survey.
Thomas Ruff bought copies of the 600 negatives in ESO's archive and worked with this material from a purely artistic point of view. He did not simply use the negatives as he found them: instead he identified sections where the areas of black and white (depending on the density or the distribution of the stars) would serve to clarify the pictorial structure. Reproduced in a large format and framed in wood, the scientific shots in effect turn in to artistic works where only the titles, denoting the direction of the telescope, point to their origins in professional astronomy.
The Island will show over the summer some of the images from the series Stars, which Ruff produced between 1998 and 2001. The photographs will not be presented with the aim of making a solo-show of the artist in the most usual way, but have been rather selected to consider the linguistic content of his work within a program of exhibitions conceived as a whole project. Stars is in fact the third show organized at The Island, a project developed in an artist's studio located in London's East End.
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