Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

David Haines: Cosmic Vapour

by Jane Somerville

14 Feb 2011

The earth is round. It revolves around the sun, along with other planets, stars, moons. This is what we are taught - that we are just a small part of an inconceivably infinite cosmos. But how would you describe this expanding physical world, its infiniteness and enormity? For instance, how would you describe to someone what a star looks like, could you describe its smell, or even a smell you associate with looking at one?

Cosmic Vapour is the title of David Haines' recent solo show at Breenspace. At first, we may think that Haines simply makes aesthetic processes employing knowledge more often seen in the area of science. But on thinking about this, Haines makes us consider our descriptions of the natural world in a poetic way. His works are encountered through both sight and smell and in doing so taps into an emotional language that we use to order the knowledge we gain from looking at the natural world.

The photographic series The Phantom Leaves depicts leaves, plants and flowers from Haines' own garden that appear ignited by an electric current. We see details like the veins of the leaf and a dramatic halo surrounding them. Created with a home-made Kirlian camera using a process which involves pumping high voltages through the objects that are being photographed. As if an experiment, these actions of electricity coursing through the leaf, give rise to slightly different appreciations of its form. It's not so much about giving these things a new life (as in a Frankenstien-like application of electricity), but a different, nuanced and subtle appreciation of something mundane.

On one wall are three life-size photographs of clouds titled Radiant God Head (Particle System) . White and fluffy, they hover against a black background - their form is so perfectly sublime, they appear to be fairytale clouds, or even more sinister, a mushroom cloud from a bomb. They look like perfect specimens, which in fact were generated via a mathematical algorithm. Created randomly, they represent a truly abstract form onto which we project our appreciation of clouds.

Moleculars for Stars use Haines signature aroma compositions, which are periodically released from black cardboard geodesic sculptures and sit on three white plinths in the gallery space. The scents are barely perceptible and difficult to encapsulate in words, yet leaning over these dark cardboard forms it's like you might be looking into a small gap in the universe. That a scent might illustrate something billions of light years away yet something that is a regular sighting to us each night, ties into Haines' ongoing investigation of immaterial quality of scent and the way we might attempt to encapsulate the vastness of the universe.

David Haines

Cosmic Vapour


12 November - 23 December 2010