MY BURNT FROST 2008

PETER HENNESSEY
MY BURNT FROST

2008

EXHIBITION TEXTS

My Burnt Frost continues my investigations of the space between images and experience in the contemporary world, as well as my interest in sculpture as the performance of objects. My particular concern for this show is the point at which objects cease to exist or transform themselves. The moment after which the thing can only be remembered, when the opportunity for actual experience explodes. The focus for the works in this exhibition is an event that occurred on February 21st this year, when the US Navy used a SM-3 missile to destroy a damaged spy satellite, known as USA-193. This operation, code-named ‘Operation Burnt Frost’ was justified on the basis that the satellite, which had malfunctioned shortly after deployment and was in a rapidly decaying orbit, carried 450kg of toxic hydrazine that could potentially produce a toxic gas cloud if it survived re-entry. However, many (including Russia) were sceptical of the hazard that this relatively small quantity of hydrazine presented, claiming instead that this was a de-facto testing of a US missile defence system. The US government stridently denied this claim, although six days after the event US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates did say that the mission’s success showed that U.S. plans for a missile-defence system were realistic.

I was interested in this occurrence for a number of reasons. I have a long-standing fascination with what I call ‘inaccessible objects’, such as satellites, for both aesthetic and conceptual reasons, and USA-193 is particularly intriguing. Not only was it physically inaccessible (up in orbit) but it was even visually inaccessible, as it was classified so there are no publicly accessible images or even descriptions. We know it only in the vaguest terms, as a blurry dot in an optical telescope image or the deliberately meaningless code-names USA-193 or NROL-21. Now it has been blown up and its existence is further reduced to a series of informational echoes in the media. How could we attempt to represent this thing that we could really never see?

I see my sculptures as more like performances than representations. They attempt to physically ‘act out’ the objects that they represent. There is certainly a physical resemblance - otherwise it would be a poor performance indeed - but they do not tend towards visual equivalence. Instead they attempt to manifest the physical presence of the objects. In many ways they embody the absence of the thing rather than fabricating its presence. Therefore, instead of trying to reproduce the absent object, as I have done in much of my previous work, in this case I am looking more at the moment of its disappearance.

In the central work of the exhibition, My USA-193 (...now you don’t), I am presenting the remnants of a performance of the destruction of the spy satellite. Sealed into a toughened glass case are the remains of a scale reproduction of the spacecraft that has been destroyed in a scaled down explosion. The case itself shows signs of the damage caused by the detonation that has occurred within it, and the viewer is left to try to imagine what the scattered fragments might have been. Accompanying this work is a video of the explosion event, showing the destruction. However, at no point is the viewer ever allowed a definitive inspection of the original object. The exhibition also includes a series of small bronze sculptures titled Debris Piece #1, #2, #3. These capture collections of flying debris, reproducing moments from the process of explosive destruction that has transformed the original object.

Peter Hennessey

2008