The Path of Totality

2010
Projection of 79 slides.
(Projection size 45 cm. aprox. in its largest side).

   

The empire of the Sun

 

The idea that art generates knowledge is not new, and with their practice many artists contribute to the expansion of research into various fields of knowledge.

 

While each area of Western knowledge has been structured so that the presentation of results is more or less predetermined by the way in which each discipline is taught, contemporary artistic practices involved in research turn to other resources to convey information, and in many cases they are able to open fields of study that voluntarily or involuntarily have been previously overlooked.

 

In Paloma Polo’s practice, various interests converge in the relationship that science and technology have with economic, social and political developments insofar as they facilitate and instrumentalise them and in the way that such relationships can be explored and known. The research methods she employs are developed according to the interdisciplinarity her projects require, because Polo is not a historian, scientist, sociologist or anthropologist. Her methodology could be considered close to that developed in the first half of the twentieth century by the intellectuals connected with the Annales magazine, who favoured the need to associate various areas of knowledge in social sciences in order to achieve a wider view of an area of study.

 

Therefore, in The Path of Totality, Polo embarks on an investigation of the expeditions to observe solar eclipses that various Western powers have carried out since the mid-nineteenth century. Although these expeditions were apparently in search of purely scientific results, the political networks that made them possible were based on power structures that acted according to the logic of expanding Western institutions and markets; in other words, a colonialist and imperialistic logic.

 

Polo would basically make an inventory of the expeditions that failed in scientific terms, not because she has any special interest in the notion of failure, but because by stripping these expeditions of their scientific value, failure offers the possibility of focusing on their parallel stories; on the small pieces of evidence that enable an understanding of how this context was appropriated and observed. In other words, she allows the explorers to be positioned as historical subjects representing specific interests and revealing characteristic idiosyncrasies in their observations.

 

The captivating constructions produced with local materials are circumstantial adaptations that supported the equipment necessary for studying the eclipses. All the paraphernalia that these scientific observations implied was based on local labour and on power relationships that have still not been studied but that are revealed not by scientific data but by the anecdotal tales ignored by science.

 
Catalina Lozano

 


Acknowledgements

 

Tony Misch (Lick Observatory, California), Richard Ellis (CALTECH, California), Jay Pasachoff (Williams College, Massachussets), Elisabeth Davies (Harvard Observatory, Boston), Mary Markey (Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington), Judith Dartt (University of Chicago Library), Gregory Shelton (Naval Observatory, Washington), Dan Lewis (The Huntington Library, California), John Sanford (Antique Telescope Society), Don Nicholson (Canergie Observatories), Andrew Murray (Manchester University), Philip Shane, Peter Hingley (The Royal Astronomical Society, London), Adam Perkins (The Scientific Manuscripts Department at the Archive of the Cambridge University), Mark Hurn (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge), Serge Koutchmy and Jean Mouette (Institut d’astrophysique de Paris, CNRS/UPMC.), Fonds Daniel Chalonge à l’Observatoire de Paris, Jean-Francois Hochedez (Observatoire Royal de Belgique), Jean Marc Lariviere, Axel Hofman ( Sonnenobservatorium Einsteinturm, Postdam.), Wilhem Kegel (Institute of Astrophysics, Berlin), Rob van Gent, (Astronomical Institute, Utrecht), Godelieve Bolten (Historical Archive Haarlem), Halima Naimova (Observatório Astronómico de Lisboa), Rafael Bachiller (National Observatory of Madrid), Santiago Paolantonio (National Observatory of Córdoba, Argentina), Makiko Aoki (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan).