Peter Miller is a photographer, and photography is the theme of his current exhibition „Actinism“ at the Crone Gallery in Vienna. However, it would be of almost no avail to search this exhibition for classic photography.
A large format camera of historic appearance, entirely coated in lead, is situated at the center of the gallery room. In finest handicraft, Miller worked each slab of lead with a hammer in order to seal his object with precision–quite a challenge considering the camera’s many folds. But what’s the function of this camera if no more light can enter, if nobody can look through it, if the moment of creation has been taken from her? The answer lies in the title of the work „X-Ray Camera“: a reference to the added outer coat’s materiality. Because the procedure of X-Ray diagnostics is closely linked to lead. It protects from radiation: because the metal absorbs radiation, it is worked into separating walls and protective aprons. Something similar occurs in this piece of work: lead protects and limits at the same time. Protection from daylight – which contrary to X-Rays is innocuous – makes photo production impossible. And precisely this object is paradigmatic of the exhibition. Because American photographer Peter Miller works with tools of photography, and constantly points at it in his choice of materials and objects, but without ever practicing classic photography. In fact, he expands photography, takes it from a two-dimensional world into the room’s three-dimensional realm and thus expands its laboratory.
Miller’s experimental treatment of light and his use of photochemical processes as a guideline allow him to work with different materials, image supports, and objects. „Actinism“, the exhibition’s title, can be translated from Greek as „Ray. In Photography, the term „actinic materials“ is used to describe all light and radiation sensitive materials. This also includes cyanotype, also referred to as blue-print, which was the first procedure based on iron instead of silver. The cyanotype process was developed by Sir John Herschel in 1842, but it was not widely known until Anna Atkins published a book illustrating this totally photographic printing-process.
In his work „Rain on a Sunny Day“, Miller applied this solution on a fabric on a 230 x 140 cm frame. Miller then positioned his work outside, at a slight angle – the laboratory and the processing were moved outside. The solution, which is soluble in water while unexposed, was partially rinsed off by the rain. In the daylight, other parts slowly turned blue. From the moment when the solution reacted to the light, its structure solidified and became water-insoluble. The result is a surface marked by the falling rain- the traces of rain.
Miller used the same method for his work „Machine“. The machine, in this case a paper airplane which Miller had drenched in his cyanotype solution, was exposed to light. At the end of the process, Miller once again straightened the paper. The folds are still visible and are substantially increased by the different intensities of blue coloring which varies depending on the amount of light or shade they were exposed to. Whether or not the drenched and therefore heavy paper airplane ever flew remains an open question for the visitor.
A light bulb connected to four old time switches can be found laying on the floor next to a wall. A handwritten note with mathematic calculations is located on the wall beside the bulb. Beginning with „24h hours“, hours are added and multiplied, until the sum amounts to 75.7. Underneath it reads: „Halleys Lamp“. This is the title of the work. But who was Halley? Halley visits the earth’s inner solar system about every 76 years, or at least comes near it. Halley is one of the best-known periodic comets that due to its light-intensity can be observed with the bare eye. Halley last visited the Earth in 1986. Its return is expected to occur in 2061. Miller uses precisely this time interval for his light bulb. He timed the four time switches so that the light bulb would light up for a moment in exactly 76 years. However, nobody knows when this is going to take place. The time switches’ progression depends on electricity. Every transport, every power outage leads to a delay. It can, therefore, only be guessed when the light bulb is going to light up. Whether or not it will still function is a separate question. And these are only a few of the many interesting questions of this exhibition. Ab-absurdum Miller continues the photogram that became famous through the work of Man Ray. He pays homage to László Moholy-Nagy and works with chakras and their respective crystals. Well worth visiting.
// Sabrina Möller
Peter Miller • Actinism
Exhibition: 11/11/2015 – 13/01/2016
Galerie Crone • Getreidemarkt 14 • 1010 Vienna