Peter Hennessey & Patricia Piccinimi Greenaway Gallery, Adelaide 28 February - 28 March 2004
Peter Hennessey is obsessed with the extraordinary products of the space race. His massive 'build your own' Voyager space probe made from plywood and hinges fills the Greenaway Gallery in Adelaide and the associated panel works, drawings and video work explore an amazing narrative that brings some of the wilder aspects of the original project into focus.
Who would have believed that the Americans would have created 'The Golden Record', a twelve inch gold-plated copper disc encoded with118 black and white images and 90 minutes of audio and attach it to their two Voyager space probes in the hope that extraterrestrials might find it and, from the diagrammatic illustrations on the cover, build a machine that could play it? If it sounds more like an episode of The X-Files or a Jodi Foster movie, then you need to see Hennessey's exhibition.
The sheer lunacy of trying to represent the complexity of the earth in a few pictures and an hour and a half of sound is so fanciful that of course Hennessey had to create his own version by replacing the NASA voices with friends and acquaintances living in St Kilda. He asked them to send a message to outer space and by slowing it down and speeding it up has added a further level of difficulty for our extraterrestrial friends.
Played as a continual loop behind the massive wooden copy of the probe both the scale, the ambition and the thin edge of fanaticism that underscores this project is brilliantly conveyed. It is an act of homage with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
The extraordinary act of faith that got the project off the ground encapsulates the political, economic and scientific aspirations of both nations, but it was not only a battle for scientific and technological ascendancy it was also an aesthetic battle that pitted the NASA designers of the Gemini capsules against the equivalent Russian Soyuz orbiter designers. Each chose a different palette of colours - Black and Red for the Russians, White, Gold and Silver for the Americans - and both aimed to create spacecraft that explored the aesthetic dimension at the cutting edge of technology. Developing this theme Hennessey has worked with his partner Patricia Piccinini to create fibreglass panel works that pit the Soyuz aesthetic against the Gemini aesthetic.
Ultimately though it is the title of Hennessey's work that gives the game away. This is My Voyager, a personal act of devotional inquiry. In his catalogue essay the artist asserts that 'Like all great art, we should appreciate Voyager for the scale of its ideas and its symbolic intensity, rather than its practical efficacy'. The same can be said of Hennessey's remarkable project.