Text by Elio Schenini, 2014

On the 16th of July 1945 at 5:29 in the morning at Socorro in New Mexico, for the first time in the history of humanity and immediately after the unexpected and sudden flash of an enormous ball of fire, a column of smoke and detritus with the shape of a mushroom cloud rose for a number of kilometres into a dark sky that was not yet veiled by the first light of dawn. ‘Trinity’ was the code name of this first nuclear test whose positive result had the immediate consequence of the sadly infamous explosions of Little Boy and Fat Man in the skies over Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a few weeks later. During those months of the end of the Second World War a group of American scientists had managed for the ends of warfare to manipulate the brilliant intuition according to which matter and energy are equivalent, formulated forty years before by Einstein in his special theory of relativity. In starting out from a mass of uranium or enriched plutonium and inside them priming an uncontrolled nuclear fission it was in fact possible to release a quantity of energy until then without precedent. Such a quantity of energy, immediately clear to public opinion worldwide, was capable of provoking devastating effects. The division of matter led to the multiplication of energy and, consequently, to the destructive potential available to mankind.

In the complete darkness in which the room was immersed, a few seconds after the sound of the opening of the camera’s shutter, a drop of milk weighing 2 grammes and with a diameter of 7,26 millimetres had fallen from the edge of a tap that was 40 centimetres from a container holding a mixture of milk and water. In the exact moment in which the drop had ‘pierced’ the surface of this liquid a flash of light with a duration of little more than two thousandths of a second, obtained thanks to the help of a Leyden jar, had for an instant interrupted the darkness. Then darkness once again enveloped everything: the click of the shutter that closed itself had for merely a moment preceded the swish of the heavy velvet curtain which Arthur Mason Worthington had moved, allowing a ray of sunlight to enter the room. With minimal variations regarding the weight of the drop and both the height from which it was allowed to fall and the liquids used, this ‘scene’ was repeated hundreds and perhaps thousands of times between the close of the Nineteenth and the opening years of the Twentieth Century in the laboratory which Worthington had installed in his home in Tavistock, in the south of England. The result of this patient and obstinate research was then put together and published in 1908 in the volume entitled Study of Splashes in which 199 photographic shots – by way of a series of sequences – reproduced the diverse types of craters and ripple effects that a drop or another body could produce on the surface of a fluid.

From among the pioneers of ‘high-speed photography’, Worthington captured images that in a new way allowed the seeing of situations which had always been “visible” to our eyes but that due to the speed of the movement that characterised them would never have been possible to perceive without the aid of a photographic device. Thanks to the division of the exposure times in increasingly smaller units, by way of photography it was possible to capture the single moments that composed a space-time event within a potentially infinite perspective, as was true in Zeno’s paradoxes which also with division led to multiplication.
The flanking of these two distant and different worlds – the first nuclear experiment and Worthington’s high-speed photography – constitutes the starting point of the project titled Division Leads to Multiplication which Samoa Rémy has expressly elaborated for the exhibition of the Manor Ticino Art Award. As is always the case in her work, this project starts out from a decontextualisation and a recontextualisation of apparently disparate iconographical elements – prints, drawings, scientific illustrations, photographs – which on the basis of formal or conceptual analogies have been flanked/combined in order to create new signifying chains. In this case the mysterious and surprising analogies which are triggered between the black & white photographs of an atomic mushroom cloud and those of the splashes produced by the fall of a drop in a liquid immediately project us into a cosmic dimension that constitutes the thread which unites the entire exhibition (a dimension, moreover, accentuated by the interventions carried out by the artist on these same images).

While the photographs that document the first nuclear experiment are covered by metal paperclips that in a spoke-like fashion ‘branch off’ from the atomic mushroom, almost as if wanting to give concrete visibility to the radioactive and blast waves which the bomb produces, in the case of the photographs by Worthington the artist instead sets out from a series of digital prints on which she has applied fragments of transparent adhesive tape, subsequently photographing the results obtained. The ripples on the surface of Worthington’s water now appear to be enveloped by jagged and transparent elliptical orbits, passed through by myriad reflections of light. In the dichotomy of these two gestures, that of drawing out the lines which from the centre are directed towards the edges of the image by using metal ‘points’ and that of circumscribing with the adhesive tape a form at the centre of the image, what is evidenced is this movement of expansion starting out from a nucleus which finds its graphical representation in the large glass sheet placed in the middle of the room in which these two series of works confront each other and on which one has the reproduction in a schematic form of a parallelepipedon from which cones emanate.

A sort of synthesis between these two worlds in which the microcosm of the dynamics of fluids and the macrocosm of the atomic explosion converge is a work entitled Ripples on the Surface. In this video the hypnotic and almost abstract vibration of lights, forms and colours is obtained by filming from a certain distance the ripples and waves produced on the surface of the water while the sound recording of history’s first nuclear explosion is very loudly replicated. The images of the waves that cross the surface of a liquid make us refer to those that move the surfaces of the seas and oceans which the old inhabitants of the Marshall Islands attempted to describe with their navigation maps made by binding fibres of palm trees. Two of these maps with which the Micronesian navigators managed with exceptional precision to orientate their voyages through the wave swells produced between the various islands of Micronesia are reproduced by the artist on two blackboards using white chalk. On a third blackboard, instead, there is a graph that describes the expansion movement of the universe as elaborated by the Belgian physicist, Georges Lemaître, the first person to theorise the unlimited expansion of the universe starting out from an ‘initial’ point.

However, the Marshall Islands are also the place where the United States carried out most of their nuclear tests and where the effects of radioactive fallout have been most dramatic. It is to these radioactive ‘clouds’ that in some way one has the allusion of the black & white photographs taken from a book treating German castles that the artist has completely covered with a layer of wax mixed with an orange pigment, leaving only the windows uncovered. Immersed in an acidic and blazing/flashing chromatism, together with all the surrounding landscape, these buildings are the image of a humanity barricaded inside itself in order to protect itself from invisible forces, the representation of a fear that appears without appearing.

If the radiation starting out from a centre is the movement from which the expansion of the universe began then in the environmental installation that we find in the last room of the exhibition the artist reminds us that also the contrary movement exists: in other words, concentration around a nucleus. The cone trunk made up of metallic beams/spokes that converges around a point on one of the walls in fact seems to compress the light that comes out from a square panel. Although in the density of this compression we are already aware of the emergence of a new explosion, of a new drop that is about to fall into the water.

Translated by Howard Rodger MacLean