From our friends at Glasstire, today we bring you a review of Simon Starling’s film Black Drop. Author Peter Lucas notes, “The collaboration of art and science interests that led to the creation of the piece are fitting for its subject matter, as are the intersections of Texas arts institutions that led to the work’s first local exhibition at [a] suburban museum.” This article was originally published on July 25, 2014.
The transit of Venus between the Sun and Earth is the rarest of predictable, observable astronomical phenomena, occurring in pairs eight years apart with more than a century gap between them. Beginning in 1639, observations of that planet’s tiny silhouette passing in front of the Sun have been key in our understanding of bigger-picture spatial relationships, allowing us to estimate the size of the Solar System and the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
On the occasion of the most recent Venus transit in 2012, British artist Simon Starling documented it and created Black Drop—a film that explores the history and significance of Venus transit observations, as well as the nature of perception, observation, and recorded image technology. After premiering at Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory last year, Black Drop has made its Texas debut at the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts in Spring, Texas, alongside Starling’s related sculptural work, Transit Stone. The show opened in mid-June and is now in its final week. Starling’s 28-minute film—an interesting, almost deceptive mixture of straight documentary and poetic meditation on its subject and itself—takes its name from the biggest puzzler of transit observations over the centuries: the distorted elongation of the planet’s silhouette as it intersects the very edge of the sun. This stretched “black drop effect” has presented challenges in drawing accurate conclusions from Venus transits. The importance of this little visual distortion makes this history as much about our vantage point and modes of perception as it is about the movements and scale of the Solar System.