City Gallery City Gallery Wellington


Semiconductor: The Technological Sublime

23 March–14 July 2019

UK artist duo Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt are Semiconductor. Assisted and informed by access to scientific data and technology, their visually spectacular, intellectually engaging moving-image projects delve into unseen and unseeable worlds, making the invisible visible. Many of their works have developed out of fellowships at science facilities—places like NASA, CERN, and the Smithsonian.

Semiconductor’s works are not just informative, they’re beautiful, presenting information in an affective, seductive way. Take Earthworks (2016). This five-channel computer-generated animation processes seismic data to represent the folding and faulting of the land. The activity is sped up, encompassing millennia in moments. Represented in fauvist eye-candy colours, earthly strata well-up as marbled waves, dwarfing us. The experience is immersive and entertaining. (This piece has local relevance; it includes seismic data from the Kaikoura quake.)

Semiconductor’s subjects range from the ultrabig to the ultrasmall, from celestial activity—the surface of the sun—to the trajectories of subatomic particles. 

Brilliant Noise (2006) mines and animates the data vaults of solar astronomy. Usually cleaned up for public consumption, the source images have been left in their glitchy, raw form. The disruptive rain of visual noise they contain is just another level of information—indices of energetic particles and solar winds. The soundtrack highlights the hidden forces at play upon the solar surface, by directly translating areas of intensity within the image brightness into layers of audio manipulation and radio frequencies. 

Through the AEgIS (2017) is a space/time-lapse video. Captured by the AEgIS experiment at CERN, it reveals how antimatter responds to gravity, showing pions, protons, and nuclear fragments flying out from ‘annihilation sites’. The particles ionise a photographic plate that reveals their trajectories as varying sized tracks. Using a special microscope with a super-shallow depth of field, the photographic image is mined, by shifting the focal plane in two-micron steps. Scanning forty layers of emulsion, the work reveals details that would otherwise remain unseen.

While celebrating the revelatory capacities of scientific technologies—and their ability to deliver a new kind of technological sublime—Semiconductor also invite us to consider the philosophical problems they pose.

Earthworks was commissioned by SónarPLANTA and produced by Advanced Music.