A series of toned gelatin silver films created by exposure to starlight without a camera at Lake Tyrrell in northwest Victoria. Each film is mounted on an individual pane of 335 mm x 355 mm x 4mm starphire glass. Unique objects. The nine panes have been acquired by RMIT University (9 panes).
Lake Tyrrell in the semi-arid Mallee region of Victoria, Australia, once served as a celestial observatory for the indigenous Boorong people. The heavens mirrored in its saline shallows enunciated a sacred reciprocity between sky and country, a reciprocity long ago ruptured by clearing and colonization. This pre-history is reflected in the source of the lake’s name, ‘tyrille’, meaning ‘a space opening to the sky’ analogous to the ‘chora’ of classical Greek myth. The rationale and overarching project title of ‘Syzygy’ – a ‘yoking of opposites’ or an ‘alignment of three or more celestial objects’ – was an act of poetic restoration, an ersatz re-yoking or realignment of the lost reciprocity of earth with sky using camera-less, indexical methods of image-making.
On nights free of reflected solar light, large sheets of gelatin silver film were placed under pre-recorded images, laid out on the lakebed and exposed to the naked light of the stars. The prepared images included carbon powder prints on tracing paper of the bodies of two dancers performing a self-choreographed piece in daylight on the lake-bed. Flay inverts the conventional presentation of landscape as an anthropic sign by alluding to correspondences between poignant, salt-flecked veneers of human flesh and the eviscerated skin of the salt country upon which they were made.
The gathering of faint nocturnal light invited ‘reciprocity failure’ – depressed sensitivity in low light normal with analogue emulsions – a sensitometric decoupling analogous to the story of ‘failed’ reciprocity between land and sky informing the project. By turning the lake’s surface into a photographic focal plane/plain reciprocating the night sky in a ritualised imaging process, the project honours the lost sacrament and serves as a metaphor for our global ecological predicament.
Like all elemental silver found on Earth, the silver in the project artworks was forged aeons ago by stellar nucleosynthesis. Exposed to the night sky, the invisible silver halides of the unexposed films were transformed into visible metal literally by the ‘light of the universe’. Thus, in a very real sense, the images are congealed starlight – a haunting vision of the numinous.
In addition to Flay, other photographic films exposed by starlight at Lake Tyrrell include the whole of the namesake project Syzygy as well as part or all of the more recent artworks Dancing on Mars, The Ravens, Fate, Moire, Elegy, Instructions for Mending the World andTyrrell Dark Emu.
Flay’s source prints of graphite on tracing paper constitute the affiliated series Flay – In Graphite.