The combination of science and popular culture often leads
to fantasy based in fact – moving further and further from the truth. This
story looks at the work of three artists who have explored contemporary ways of mythologising
Frost’s religious visions of Earth
In early 19th-century London, the public flocked to lectures on astronomical topics. Isaac Frost's book ‘Two Systems of Astronomy’ was an attempt to discredit assumed scientific fact.
Plate 1, The Newtonian System of the Universe. From Baxter’s Prints of the Muggletonian Universe. (1846) by Baxter, George (maker)Science Museum
Newtonian cosmology was the established explanation of the universe at the time. Frost’s imagery depicts a Newtonian solar system as an infinite collection of virtually identical systems.
Among these systems, there is no room for God – and therefore no reason to believe that there is anything special about humanity.
Plate 7, System according to the Holy Scriptures. From Baxter’s Prints of the Muggletonian Universe. (1846) by Isaac Frost (maker)Science Museum
In an image designed to comfort the viewer, Frost displays Earth as the singular entity in the universe. This emphasises the significance of humanity, and places Heaven physically within reach of the pious.
In Frost’s case, ‘science fiction’ is used by a religious group to resist the majority view. Frost’s work apes the language and visuals of scientific study, and his images convey the scriptural path as the most appealing.
Lawrence’s ‘One Small
The 1960s saw vast and unsettling social change, especially in the USA. Yet one-fifth of the world's population paused to gaze starwards to watch a man walk on the Moon – the largest ever global audience for a single event. The Moon landing continues to astound the public imagination.
The ‘folklore’ of the Moon landings has been shaped by images created after the event, and Sandra Lawrence’s bold print embodies this. Her reimagining offers an image that contemporary television transmissions – blurry images in black and white – could not.
As in Lawrence’s work, images of the Moon landings often emphasise the idea of a wholehearted American triumph. Iconography of astronauts has often continued this tradition, playing on themes of American patriotism and masculine strength.
Phillips’ ‘Tales from the Floating World’
In ‘Tales from the Floating World’, Nicholas Phillips offers a reinterpretation of NASA photographs, envisaging a journey from Earth to the depths of space. The title is taken from a 17th-century Japanese poem written by Buddhist priest Asai Ryoi, which expresses the transience of life. Phillips uses space travel to symbolise a journey towards spiritualism.
Phillips’ artistic practice is based on his own photography, which he uses as guides for his paintings. He sees this method as a way of ensuring his record is entirely objective.
As we have seen with previous works, there is a clash between fact and fiction here. Scientific photographs should be objective, simply documenting what is visible. Yet, in Phillips’ paintings, the human hand and subjective eye of the artist transforms them.
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