Evoking many historical precedents in painting, photography and video, Gerrard’s virtual worlds do not belong to familiar lens or time-based media. The medium of simulation has enabled the artist’s visual exploration of the monumentalism of land art in the age of Google Earth, the harnessing of dance choreography and athletic performance through motion-capture, and, in this instance, the conflation of 18th century scientific experimentation with modern-day technological advancements through the NASA space exploration program.
X.laevis (Spacelab) 2017 portrays a frog suspended in zero gravity at the center of a hermetic vitrine. The scene is a response to an etched diagram from 1791 of Luigi Galvani’s primitive experiments in bioelectricity, the scientific breakthrough discovered through the application of electricity on the amputated legs of dead frogs. Gerrard has painstakingly amalgamated this into a rendering of a more recent scientific experiment, captured on video and posted to YouTube during a mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992. The experiment established that vertebrates can reproduce in zero gravity. A scientist is portrayed by a pair of gloved hands, which, in turn, present, protect and trap an African clawed frog (X.laevis), which hangs at the center of the clinical spacelab. At random intervals, and each time perfectly unique, the frog spasms, as though animated by a historic memory, which sends it into an uncontrollable spin, before attempting to correct itself.
This contemporaneous image is the absolute product of its medium, using a series of algorithms and computer rendering to supply a mash up of historical and seemingly sci-fi imagery. Depicting a suspended interplay of the human and natural world, the viewer is forced to anticipate a future in which sustaining life beyond Earth becomes critical to human survival.
John Gerrard is widely regarded as a pioneer in digital media. His hyper real works are made using 3D real-time computer graphics, a technology originally developed for military use and now widely adopted by the video game industry. Often exploring the contemporary landscape, such as his portrait of a solar thermal power tower recently installed on a large-scale LED wall at Lincoln Center, his works frequently refer to structures of power and networks of energy that have made the expansion of human endeavor possible in the past century.
X.laevis (Spacelab) 2017 was commissioned by Wellcome Collection as part of the exhibition Electricity, which runs from 23 February 2017 – 25 June 2017 in London. A new commission by Channel 4, Western Flag was broadcast across the UK to mark this year’s Earth Day on 22 April. Western Flag was also exhibited as a major new public LED wall installation at Somerset House, London.
John Gerrard (b.1974) lives and works between Dublin and Vienna. Recent exhibitions include ‘Marching in Circles’, Long March Space, Beijing, 2017; Shanghai Biennial, Shanghai, 2016; ‘Power.Play’ at UCCA, Beijing, 2016; ‘Cuban School’, SFMoMA, New Acquisitions, San Francisco, 2016, ‘Art in the Age of…Asymmetrical Warfare’, Witte de With, Rotterham, 2015; ‘Solar Reserve’, Lincoln Center, presented by the Public Art Fund, 2014; ‘Exercise’, Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, 2014l; ‘Pulp Press (Kistefos) 2014’, a permanent install for Kistefos Museet, Norway; ’Exercise(Djibouti)’, Modern Art Oxford, UK, 2012; ‘Infinite Freedom Exercise’, Manchester International Festival, UK, 2011; Royal Opera House, London, UK, 2011; John Gerrard, Ivory Press Madrid, Spain, 2011; John Gerrard, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth, Australia, 2011; Universal, Void Gallery, Derry, N. Ireland, 2011; What You See is Where You’re At, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2010; Oil Stick Work, Art on the Underground, Canary Wharf Station, London, UK, 2009-10; Directions, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, 2009 and ‘Animated Scene’, 53rd International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Italy, 2009.