Cosmic Background


Cosmic Background 2016 digital video projection


The work Cosmic Background processes static, recorded within an analogue television broadcast of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to produce a mesmerizing, psychedelic ‘background’ that resembles and references scientific imaging of Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation.

The particular screening of the film that served as the source for this work featured several intervals of black screen throughout. In keeping with director Stanley Kubrick’s instructions, these intervals accompanied the film’s original overture, intermission and exit music. Poor television reception, however, transformed these blank passages into fields of glitchy visual data. Revisiting this recording a decade later, the static has been scanned and filtered to accentuate and foreground patterns, in imitation of the conventions of assigned or ‘false’ colour in scientific imaging. Apart from a visual resemblance between the imagery of this work and the imaging of the CMB, the phenomenon of static was central to the discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, which is reputedly responsible for around 1% of television static. The first identification of this phenomenon in 1964 coincided with pre-production for 2001.

Writing in relation to this work, Kyle Weise has suggested: “Cosmic Background is particularly reminiscent of the fuzzy, almost impenetrable, images that are so often used in the press to ‘reveal’ the latest astronomical discovery. Such images invariably require overlaid graphics and ‘enhancement’ to become legible to a non-specialised audience, and so emphasise the mediated condition that is inherent to all images of space, which arrive filtered through atmospheric conditions or instrument lenses.”

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