Holdsworth’s Spatial Objects are strange, alluring portraits of the ‘objects‘ that every one of us encounters every day, and which are the building blocks of vision in a digital age, but which ordinarily lie beyond our perception. The titular ‘objects’ are single “data points” – pixels marking a unique point in space, as GPS co-ordinates. The starting point for these works has been geological mapping data from the US Geological Survey of Crater Lake, a protected National Park in the western United States. When transformed into a 3D model, the data allows us to see every single point in the landscape in virtual space. Holdsworth has created photographs of individual pixels, blown-up to a scale that they become possessed of a monumental physicality. In each work, we encounter the edges of an individual plane of one pixel: each image shows only “a fragment of a fragment” of the landscape, in the artist’s own words. Here, we experience the space of nature just as it is mediated through our omnipresent screens – as pure RGB colour and light.
The title Spatial Objects derives from a term in computer programming to designate objects that exist, as Holdsworth notes, “in simultaneous symmetry within the virtual and the real”. These works are paradoxical objects, making virtual space powerfully present, and representing ‘real’, natural spaces through almost completely abstract imagery. Pixels, Holdsworth notes, are the basic building blocks of all digital communication. Here, we see the digital equivalent of William Blake‘s aspiration to ‘see the world in a grain of sand‘: we are dwarved by microcosmic objects that usually escape our recognition as objects. Holdsworth’s Spatial Objects seem almost to present us with the world seen from a pixel’s own perspective. Where Continuous Topography orchestrates tens of millions of pixels harvested as unique data points to make an alien, ghostly world, Spatial Objects make the apparently ‘virtual’ space that individual pixels occupy feel startlingly tangible and animate. Both series offer new, twenty-first forms of sublimity in which the geological and the virtual are intertwined, and made vivid.
The project is accompanied by both a 122pp catalogue entitled Spatial Objects, along with a major 280pp monograph surveying Holdsworth’s career published by Hatje Cantz, entitled Mapping the Limits of Space.
Dan Holdsworth began his career as one of the youngest artists ever to be acquired for Tate’s permanent collection, aged 25, and has subsequently had works acquired by the Pompidou Centre, Museum of Modern Art Vienna, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Arts Council Collection amongst many others. Since the 1990s Holdsworth has investigated how we perceive landscapes and urban space in a digital age, when virtual space and ‘real’ space have become enmeshed. His earliest works often dwell upon the virtualisation of the ‘real’, and the conditions in which man-made light dominates the landscape. Since around 2010, Holdsworth’s work has become radically transformed whilst continuing to investigate his longstanding ideas around the nature of landscape, and the nature of photography alike. In 2018 alone Holdsworth has been the subject of three new books: Mapping the Limits of Space, a mid-career survey; Vallée de Joux, a book-length study of an Alpine Swiss valley that is the result of a seven-year collaboration with Audemars Piguet; and Acceleration Structures, based on a major new commission from Rolls-Royce. A fourth new book, Spatial Objects, is also released in the UK this year.
Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Sunderland SR6 0GL
Following a capital redevelopment project in 2017-18, the new Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art reopened in March 2018 at National Glass Centre, part of the University of Sunderland. Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, having been one of the very first contemporary art galleries in Britain. It has provided major international figures with their first UK exhibitions, including Harun Farocki and Cory Arcangel; and fourteen Turner Prize nominees with public exhibitions from Sean Scully in 1972 to Sam Taylor-Wood in 1996. The gallery is developing a new permanent collection of contemporary art for the city of Sunderland, working alongside its partner venue National Glass Centre.