Paul Malone : Solar Portal

'Solar Portal' Golden foil with movie in box : as part of the Project Portal window display. APT Gallery, London. March 2021.
About the Artwork

This artwork was presented as on of a sequence that occupied the gallery window while shut down due to government restrictions. It consisted of 8 sheets of golden foil that was clipped together at the back into a 5 mtr x 4 mtr continuous sheet. The window had gaps in it so let in the wind from outside which gently wafted the sheet into a subtle sense of motion.

In front of the sheet was a TV set horizontally into a gold painted plywood box. Looping on the TV was a movie of a sunspot from the Swedish 1 metre solar telescope. This had been processed to enhance the filaments that were originating on the periphery of the solar surface and descending into the inner umbra of the sunspot.

The 3rd part of the installation was a text (included here on the right) that linked together historic theories of the Sun and the nature of its photosphere. Included in this was a highlighting of the biggest mystery in astrophysics - i.e. why, given the Sun rotates is it a perfect sphere.

The impression of the work is to give a sense, through scale and movement, of the implacable nature of the Sun and its mystery. The movie of the sunspot disappeared sometimes when the actual Sun was shining onto the glass and then reappeared when the sky started to become dark. The whole window was enveloped in multiple reflections both internally within the piece and externally with the environment in which the window was enveloped.

The golden light and the presence of the sunspot alludes to the writings on George Woodward Warder in his 'Cities of the Sun' as being the place whereto we all go when this Earthly life is over.


Movie of the Installation

Text with the artwork

"The Sun rises, the Sun sets. And shines down upon our ignorance. Theories about what the Sun actually is and how it operates have been legion over the centuries; and, despite the best efforts of our scientists, we are no wiser.

Today, the biggest mystery in astrophysics is the paradox of why the Sun is a perfect sphere. It should be oblate due to the centrifugal force of its rotation. During a total eclipse, the Sun ought to extend out both sides of the Moon's equator which itself does not rotate. The Earth is 1000 miles longer around its equator than around a line of longitude traversing the poles. Jupiter, with its 10 hour day, even more so.

This perfection of the Sun had been noted since prehistoric times and forms the basis of many mythologies. It was not so much the proposal that the Earth orbited the Sun that pitched Galileo into trouble with the authorities as his observation of sunspots - a despoliation of 'God's perfection'.

It is easy to dismiss these early theories as failures of observation and superstition but they were consistent with the data of their times. If the Earth orbited the Sun then the winter stars would get brighter during Autumn and the summer stars in the Spring. This was fatal to the heliocentric theory of the Solar System for over 1000 years. Only when the true distances to the stars were measured was this resolved. However, belief was so entrenched that even 30 years later, at the time of Pierre Borel (1620 - 1671), there were severe punishments for the adoption of the Copernican system.

At the time, the famous astronomer William Herschel (1738 - 1822) thought that the photosphere of the Sun was a layer of glowing clouds beneath which was a landscape not too dissimilar to that of the Earth, with mountains and valleys and cows grazing in the fields. This view of the Sun persisted for many decades. As recently as 1901 this idea was iterated by George Woodward Warder in his volume 'The Cities of the Sun'.

And this is the subject of my artwork in Project Portal. We are faced with the implacability of the Sun's photosphere, the mystery of what it is and what lies beyond. In this, the role of sunspots is critical. Sunspots are the portals through which we traverse down to the actual surface of the Sun. Looking down into this umbra we are blinded by the surrounding brilliance and can see but blackness; that is except for the little studied 'umbral flashes'.

Warder contended that it is through these portals that we travel once we are free of Earthly constraints - that 'old, old fashion'. In this artwork I am inviting you to preview that journey and imagine its ultimate conclusion."

Images of the Installation (click to enlarge)