Bettina Samson — Fedor Poligus — Les preuves du feu


Photography, sculpture

Bettina Samson
Fedor Poligus — Les preuves du feu

Past: February 26 → April 30, 2011

Bettina Samson develops a practice that is complex like a mosaic whose forms are often sourced from a non-linear history the artist likes to document: resulting in a dense and whole ensemble whose elements respond to each other like unpredictable intimations.

For Shine 2011, she enlarges and shapes tiny samples of iridium made in glazed ceramic. Covered in a platinum sheen, these sculptures reveal a seductive appearance that counterbalances the violence that iridium generates in the natural world. If this extremely tough metal is effectively all but absent from the earth’s surface, it can still be found, notably on meteorites. Iridium is the main indicator that allowed for the determination that the extinction of dinosoars was perhaps due to a meteoritical impact : traces of this mineral were found in the Cretateous- Tertiary Boundary, similtaneous with the massive and sudden extinction of animal and plant species.

The forms proposed by Bettina Samson, inspired by real fragments, are part of the artist’s recent research into Toungouska, an expolosion of great magnitude that took place in a remote area of Central Siberia. On the 30th June, 1908, the entry of a meteorite into the atmosphere provoked a shockwave without precedent, destroying the Siberian taiga over a radius of twenty kilometres and causing damage over almost one hundred kilometres. By reason of the vagaries of the tormented history of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, the first scientific expedition did not take place in the area until 1927, retrieving testimonies of the Tungusic peoples, probably including the shaman Fedor Poligus, who attributed this explosion to spirits.

It is not surprising that such an event would arouse Bettina Samson’s interest — her work constantly confronts different temporal stratum and different sedimentations of signification. Between science and magic, proven and presumed facts, she conceives her practise like a tight assemblage of sparse elements that allow her to explore different aspects of the same and unique contents. Here, she takes on iridium as both archeological and scientific proof and as witness to a mysterious event.

The same goes for the series of large scale black and white photographs namely How, by accident, Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity (2008-09). Obtained by the exposure of photographic paper to uraninite, the principal mineral of natural uranium, these prints reactivating the process — accidental — with which the physicist Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium has its own shine, without the stimulus of light.

In juxtaposing this series of photographs with the sculptures of Shine, Bettina Samson underlines a game of analogies that is troubling to say the least : the uraninite burns the photographic emulsion as the mineral iridium forms in combustion. Apart from both series making direct reference to the two minerals, both bodies of work each possess the risk, or the memory of a potential explosion. Like a shaman, Bettine Samson plays with the celestial elements (the etymology of the word iridium comes from the Latin iridis — « rainbow ») and the forces of nature and puts two materials to a test with fire, in this way generating tangible proof of phenomenons, however indescribable.

Marc Bembekoff
Sultana Gallery Gallery
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