Saturday, May 01, 2010

Moons of the Iapetus Ocean

'Empty peaks, silence: Among sparse stars,/ not yet flawed, it drifts.'  Tu Fu's short poem 'Full Moon' describes the strange effect of a landscape at night, 'all light'.  In David Hinton's translation the 'twice-sized moon ... scatters restless gold across waves' and it transforms the garden and house in which Tu Fu sits - 'on mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.'

Ando Hiroshige, Autumn Moon on Ishiyama Temple, c. 1834

Hiroshige used moonlight for landscapes, as above, for figure scenes like Trout Fishing in the Tamagawa in the Autumn Moonlight, and for animal paintings, such as Two Rabbits under a Full Moon.  His prints were an inspiration for Whistler's Nocturnes.  As a post about this at the Princeton blog says, 'Whistler’s Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water bears striking similarity to Night View of Kanazawa under the Full Moon, depicting a moonlit bay done in a binary color scheme of blue and gray.'  Whistler got the idea of calling his moonlit scenes 'nocturnes' from a Chopin-admiring patron.  He wrote ‘I can’t thank you too much for the name ‘Nocturne’ as a title for my moonlights!...You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me – besides it is really so charming and does so poetically say all that I want it to say and no more than I wish.’

Among contemporary artists, Darren Almond has shown a particular interest in the way landscapes look under a full moon.  For his Fullmoons series he has traveled the world photographing the landscape at night, using a 15 minute exposure so that they shine with a strange luminosity.  A couple of years ago he exhibited some of these photographs, taken around Britain, in a show called ‘Moons of the Iapetus Ocean’.  The title is reference to the sea between England and Scotland 400-600 million years ago; Almond's frozen moonlight takes these places outside measurable time.  All these sites take on an unreal quality and, as a Times review said, images like Fullmoon@Gairloch or Fullmoon@Wester Ross seem to show 'the mossy, ferny landscapes of bygone British folklore.'  More recently, at the Tate's Altermodern exhibition, Almond showed three full moon images that recall the poem by Tu Fu: still, misty views of the mountains of Huang Shan - 'empty peaks, silence...'

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