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Lynette Wallworth: a Timely Journey into the Alien World of Coral Reefs : RowlandsModernArt.com
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Lynette Wallworth: a Timely Journey into the Alien World of Coral Reefs

| May 29, 2012 | Comments

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Lynette Wallworth’s Artist Coral:

Rekindling Venus

Timing is always important in art but it is nothing less than crucial when your project is tied to an event so rare that it will happen next month – and then not again for 105 years.

The Australian artist Lynette Wallworth is in that position. She spoke of her hugely ambitious film work that has been five years in the making and will be premiered next month as part of the London 2012 festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad. “It is a call to action,” she said. “A harking back to a possibility.”

It is inspired by a rare astronomical event, Venus’s transit of the sun, when that planet passes directly between the sun and Earth. The transits come in pairs, few and far between – 2004, 5-6 June this year and then not again until 2117 and 2125. The previous pair was in 1874 and 1882 and before that 1761 and 1769.

It is the 18th-century transits that have particularly fascinated Wallworth because they led to what was perhaps the first example of worldwide scientific co-operation.

One of the big challenges of the age was to work out how big the solar system was and how much distance was there between Earth and the sun. One man occupied with the question was English astronomer Edmund Halley who speculated that observing the transit from extreme parts of the globe would help scientists come close to the calculation.

“He also knew he wouldn’t live to see it,” said Wallworth. “That was the part of the story that, in the beginning, hooked me in.”

Halley wrote a letter to the Royal Observatory, the astronomers of the future, “begging them that when the time came they would go in ships around the world to observe this event”.

And they did. It has a resonance today because it was not a problem that could be solved in one place; observers had to be all over the planet – around 120 in 1761 (French, British, Danish, Swedish, German, Italian, Portuguese) and an even more in 1769. It was the reason Captain Cook was in Tahiti.

Some remarkable things happened. The French allowed British ships safe passage, even though the two countries had recently been at war and were far from friends. “It was an undertaking that was for the benefit of all humanity,” said Wallworth. “An attempt by countries to act globally for a scientific problem. It was amazing … beautiful, sort of mind boggling. There are so many moments that caught me as an artist.”

That inspired her to make a “call to action” film showing the extraordinary, almost alien beauty of coral reefs – one barometer of climate change. “Coral is the canary in the coalmine of the ocean,” the artist said. “They can handle very little temperature change. It is impossible for us to imagine a sky without stars but we have to be able to contemplate an ocean without coral and they are extraordinary communities.”

Wallworth commissioned filming by underwater cinematographers, including the Emmy award-winning Australian David Hannan who shot around three-quarters of it. The film is strange and beautiful to look at and will be even more incredible for viewers as it will be shown at planetariums across the world.

“People will think they are in space, think they are moving through stars,” said Wallworth.

Almost trance-inducing music has come from artists including Antony and the Johnsons and the Australian Aboriginal singer Gurrumul.

Wallworth said the film is “a harking back to a possibility. Is there a way to think forward, like Halley did, in terms of imagining what we might need to do? Is there a possibility of acting in unison?”

The film will initially be shown at planetariums in 25 cities across the world but Wallworth hopes it will have a life beyond that. She said: “I’m hoping it will build a new audience and that is part of what makes it exciting.”

• Lynette Wallworth’s Coral: Rekindling Venus will launch on 6 June and be shown at the Royal Observatory planetarium in Greenwich, London from 7 June-6 July and the Birmingham planetarium at various dates in June.

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Category: Art News