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George Henry Longly: Microgravities

NıCOLETTı, London

Thu 9 Feb 2023 to Sat 25 Mar 2023

Artist: George Henry Longly

What does microgravity do to us, both as material bodies and social beings? In Microgravities, his first solo exhibition at NıCOLETTı, British artist George Henry Longly presents a new body of work including sculpture and video that expresses the artist’s interest for life in space – Longly has notably collaborated with Victor Buchli, Professor of Material Culture at UCL, and has contributed to his project ETHNO-ISS: An Ethnography of an Extra-terrestrial Society: the International Space Station (2020–ongoing), which focuses on the quotidian and material dimensions of the ISS and its bodily and material techniques.

Installation Views

Weaving multiple references ranging from NASA imagery, science fiction and horror film posters to Flintstones characters and moonscape paintings, the artworks in Microgravities are composite assemblages of various materials such as marble, glass, aluminium and wood, through which Longly explores the physical and emotional effects of living in space.

Indeed, microgravity – ‘the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless’, according to NASA’s website – is responsible for metabolic and behavioural changes for space travelers. Gravity modulations affect, for instance, the microbiome composition of their guts, reminding us of the critical role that microorganisms play in the emergence and sustainability of animal life, as well as in every aspect of the biosphere’s health. Longly takes inspiration from the model of animal-bacteria symbiosis to reflect upon the intimate relationships between countless microscopic elements occurring within a single body. Conversely, the circuits, connective systems and punctured patterns at the surface of his images signal the artist’s sustained attention to the tiny grips that hold us – and the universe – together.

In Bedrock (2013–23), a painted block of marble engraved with dismembered characters from the animated sitcom Flintstones, Longly implements these ideas within the very making of his work, as if the assemblage of disparate materials and parceled forms acted as a way to excavate the tenuous complexities that both make up and hide beneath the sleekest surfaces.

Materialising the artist’s reflections on the micro implications of the macro (and vice-versa), the other artworks in Microgravities often play with the imbrication of scales: a baby’s face is patterned with a constellation, itself designed as an electric circuit (the image comes from the poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, in which space traveler Dave Bowman eventually turns into a ‘star child’), while a video showing of the inside of the International Space Station allows us to project ourselves in a spacecraft, both artworks functioning as microcosms reflecting and enveloping the cosmos.

Longly is looking at us looking at space. The exhibition is an invitation to consider the cultural representations we created through different mediums (from film and video games to posters and branded merchandising) and registers (science fiction and fantasy, but also popular sciences). Referencing sci-fi movies such as Event Horizon (1997), a horror film in which a rescue vessel uses black holes to move through space and eventually ends up visiting hell, Longly’s work shows how outer space has always been seen and used as a mirror of human fears, hopes and beliefs. As with microbes and their impact on the whole ecosystem, mundane objects and popular imagery are treated here as physical and metaphorical portals granting access to what is greater than ourselves.

As so few of us have traveled to space, this snippet of a memorabilia collection triggers a broader question: what are we after as we deploy boundless efforts of imagination to apprehend what is out of reach? Perhaps the panoramic moonscape seen from the ISS appearing in COSMO (2023), seemingly expanding the gallery space to infinity, is a reminder of the quest for self in which we are involved – as both individual and species –, continuously wandering across scales of existence, whose spectrum ranges from our microbial allies to infinite space.

George Henry Longly lives and works in London. He holds a MA in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins (2005) and has exhibited extensively in the UK and internationally. His sculptural works are made using marble, mirror or metal and combine low-fi craft, textile, collage and industrial processes. His interdisciplinary practice encompasses curation, photography, video, installation, sculpture and design.

In 2021 he set up Ridley Road Project Space in his studio on Ridley Road Market.

Notable solo shows include go-go mirrors at Ridley Road Project Space, London, UK (2021); Benthos at Galerie Kandlhofer, Vienna, AT (2019); The Tissue Equivalent at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR (2018); Toxungenous Activities at Fiorucci Art Trust, London, UK (2017); We All Love Your Life at Red Bull Arts, New York, US (2016) and Park Nights at Serpentine Gallery, London, UK (2013). His work has been included in group exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2020) and Kunsthal, Aarhus, DK (2019), among others.

Longly is an associate lecturer in Fashion Photography at University of the Arts London and has collaborated with ETHNO-ISS. An Ethnography of an Extra-terrestrial Society: the International Space Station (University College London).

George Henry Longly, Microgravities, 2023. Installation view, NıCOLETTı, London, UK. Photograph by Theo Christelis

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