Irene Kopelman takes explorer's touch to The Challenger's Report exhibition at Gasworks

By Ben Miller | 20 January 2012
A photo of an installation of grey jigsaw-like earth on a gallery floor
Irene Kopelman, La morfología del paisaje determina sus vistas (The Morpohology of the Landscape Determines its Views, detail) (2011)© Irene Kopelman, gasworks.org.uk
Exhibition: Irene Kopelman – The Challenger's Report, Gasworks, London, February 10 – April 15 2012

At a time when the centenary of Captain Scott’s bid to push the boundaries of human knowledge in the Antarctic is being honoured, it’s worth remembering the wide-eyed altruism of his cause.

Argentinean-born, Amsterdam-based artist Irene Kopelman is as interested in the way we look at the land as she is in the earth itself, and in turn the way explorers such as Scott have investigated it throughout history.

The title of this show is a nod to the Challenger expedition of the 1870s, a four-year campaign which laid the foundations of modern oceanography.

And in a link-up with the Natural History Museum, it features a newly-commissioned series of large-scale paintings of microfossils, brought back from the Antarctic plate after Scott's Terra Nova mission failed.

They inform Kopelman's own practice, where drawings, paintings and sculptures trace dust, wind, rain and physical imperfections, borrowing patterns from nature and echoing techniques of observation and classification from science history.

Her commitment is thorough and tangible, based on empirical research she carries out in the field or while leafing through naturalist archives and collections, using "outdated curiosities" such as a handmade replica of a graphic telescope, an early 19th century optical instrument which will be on display here.

The show also makes space for La morfologia del paisaje determina sus vistas (The Morphology of the Landscape Determines its Views), a fired clay relief of canyons she ventured to in southern Brazil.

As well as expanding our understanding of the natural world, Kopelman wants to change the way we look at it.

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