Skylab - Commodore mount, from, The Aesthetics of Amateur Astro-imaging, 2010

Early in 2009 I began a year long performance as an amateur astro-imager. The accumulated data from this performance was then exhibited in the 2010 Adelaide Biennial: Before and after science in a configuration titled Skylab-commodore mount, from, The Aesthetics of Amateur Astro-imaging

Ulanda Blair - Seeing in the dark

Matthew Bradley’s The Aesthetics of Amateur Astro-imaging

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) is a landmark film in the annals of science fiction. While many praise the work for its bleak view of the twenty-first century, where signs of post-apocalyptic urban decay undercut the marvels of technological advancement, the film is also remarkable for how it envisages the wonder and meaning of the human condition. Exploring a futuristic landscape through the eyes of anti-hero Rick Deckhard, Blade Runner illustrates how memories, experiences and emotions form the spectre of consciousness, and how the desire to transcend our limitations – be these physical, mental or spiritual – defines our humanity.

Artist Matthew Bradley navigates similar existential terrain in his sculptural, performance and video-based practice. Bradley, a maverick inventor and amateur astro-imager, uses homespun technological improvisation to test his and his audience’s pedestrian realities.  Making sophisticated sculptures by modifying pre-existing objects and machines, Bradley’s sculptures rely on human interaction for their functionality, at the same time that they impart profound new experiences and insights. Departing from the emerging discourse of trans-humanism, Bradley remodels technology not to promote a linear logic of human progress and evolution, but rather to mobilise an intimate engagement with the irrational world.  As the artist himself explains, “I am using technology against itself and the modern world, combining and using equipment in such a way that I escape the trap of its prescribed logic. It’s like pushing aside a scale on the skin of the giant technological monster and seeing the world as unfiltered and unmediated.” [1]

In The Aesthetics of Amateur Astro-imaging, Bradley has turned his attention to deep space, inserting high-resolution web-cams into specially sourced telescopes to record still and moving images of the Moon and planets. In this project we experience not only the breathtaking videos Bradley has created during his year-long ‘performance’ as an amateur astro-imager, but also his modified astro-imaging tools, configured into an embryonic sculpture of clustered telescopes, calculators and cameras. With its intricate materiality and dynamic composition, Bradley’s sculpture reveals the processes of its own creation; when the imaging capabilities of each custom-made machine are exhausted, the artist upgrades his technology, adding to the cluster “like an insect shedding its exoskeleton and growing another”.[2]

Bradley’s videos, created through the telescopic sculpture and projected large in the gallery space, have a disorienting and destablising effect. When contemplating these works, our fascination with the spectacle of space is unravelled.  Planets appear like apparitions; observed and yet partly unrecognisable, banal and yet strangely awe-inspiring. Possessing a type of enigmatic alchemy, the images mark out a dark unconscious realm where scientific logic has only a precarious hold.

Indeed, in The Aesthetics of Amateur Astro-imaging Bradley investigates the phenomenology of the intangible, transforming commonplace objects and scientific imagery into exhilarating, yet troubling speculations on spatiality and temporality. Bradley has long embraced eruptive, destructive and transgressive moments of human experience in his art, and yet the space he captures here is one of validation and refuge, a space where madness makes sense. Bradley’s project reveals a world of transformation and flux: an infinitely expanding universe that cannot ever be measured or known. Paradoxically, The Aesthetics of Amateur Astro-imaging celebrates human endeavour, and our advancements in worldly ignorance. 

[1] Matthew Bradley, in email correspondence with Ulanda Blair, August 2009.

[2] Matthew Bradley in conversation with Ulanda Blair, Adelaide, August 2009.