the sun never sets
25 October – 11 November 2023
Artist in Conversation
Wednesday 1 November 6-8
All welcome. Join us for drinks from 6 and Julian discussing his installation at 6:30.
The Sun Never Sets
The starting point for Julian Rowe’s The Sun Never Sets was his chance discovery of a novel The Invention of Morel. This strange novel, written by Adolfo Bioy Casares more than 80 years ago, describes what today we might think of as virtual reality. The setting is an island presided over by an absent inventor whose elaborate machinery overlays reality with illusory images of past events. The Invention of Morel is an example of a particular literary idea – that of an enchanted island dominated by a magician or magus with the power to manipulate the perceived world – which can be traced all the way back to Circe’s island in Homer’s Odyssey, and includes the Arthurian Avalon, and works by modern authors such as HG Wells and John Fowles. It appears in cinema in The Forbidden Planet and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The pre-eminent example is of course Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which the idea becomes a metaphor for art itself.
Reading The Invention of Morel sparked off a series of works, culminating in Julian’s installation The Sun Never Sets, an installation of six shrine-like ‘stations’, comprising painted images and little treasure boxes similar in form to Duchamp’s “boîte-en-valise”.
The opened boxes fold out like miniature theatres to reveal various objects and images, and a small video screen. A short video runs in each box, and each video brings together fragmentary but interlinked stories about islands, magicians and charlatans. Amidst references to Homer, Shakespeare, Carl Jung and Amelia Earhart, the sins and follies of the age of empires, and the post-imperial crisis that continues to play out on our own small island, these island stories invariably begin with an arrival or a moment of discovery, preceding the subsequent gradual revelation that all is not as it seems. The islands may be reached in many ways, by air or sea or dreams, and under various, often involuntary, circumstances, as an exile, as a refugee, or by accident. Islands may be mirages or illusions, such as Crockerland in the Arctic, enchanted like Circe’s island in the Odyssey, or hopelessly remote like the benighted Clipperton Island in the Pacific. Magicians too are a mixed bunch, from Doctor John Dee, who has a strong claim to having invented the British Empire, to the mythical Morgan le Fay, and the rapacious lighthouse keeper Victoriano Álvarez. In the end, some islands at least must be abandoned, either temporarily like Tristan da Cunha or, in the case of St Kilda, forever.
The recurrent island image in the paintings is the result of visits Julian made to Skellig Michael, a rock at Europe’s westernmost extremity which was once the home of a monastic community that kept the flame of learning alight during the centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This image also forms part of an accompanying installation Bow-wow, the Watchdogs Bark, which represents an earlier approach to the essential subject matter of The Sun Never Sets and presents motifs around the character of Sycorax from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Julian’s work is informed by the past, an infinite resource of forgotten images, cultural artefacts, literature, music, and historical events. The elements he selects may be photographs, postcard images, film clips, found objects and even sounds. Each of these items makes its own unique contribution to the discovery of new meanings. He plunders all these things and bring them together in new combinations that bear relevance to the present.
Meet the Artist Event
Saturday 28 October 10:00 – 16:00
Meet Julian and view the exhibition with tea and cake