The View from Nowhere

Semiconductor at Le Lieu Unique, Nantes


  1. a solid substance that has a conductivity between that of an insulator and that of most metals, either due to the addition of an impurity or because of temperature effects. Devices made of semiconductors, notably silicon, are essential components of most electronic circuits.

The British duo Semiconductor – Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – have chosen their name clearly well. In their work, which consists of installations and films, they make the connection between art, science and technology. Or rather they attempt to conduct, “lead or guide (someone) to or around a particular place”. They “explore the material nature of our world and how we experience it through the lens of science and technology, questioning how these devices mediate our experiences”.

Semiconductor’s first major solo exhibition in France is named after the animated film installation ‘The View from Nowhere’ (2018). Its title alludes to the idea of scientific objectivity and is a reference to the work of the philosopher Thomas Nagel with the same title in which he confronts the objective and subjective view on the world with each other (Oxford University Press, 1986). Semiconductor’s installation is based on their observations during their residency at CERN, the laboratory in Genève that studies fundamental particles and that houses the Large Hadron Collider.

Le Lieu Unique at Nantes, that co-produced the exhibition together with FACT (Liverpool), is the only art partner in France for CERN and has in the past also shown work of other artists that were CERN residents such as Ryoji Ikeda with supersymmetry (2014). Since Patrick Gyger became the art’s centre director in 2011 the exhibition program has revolved explicitly around the idea of utopia, with a specific interest in science fiction, but also and clearly connected to it, the link between art and science. Housed in the former LU biscuit factory since 2000 the art centre is therefore in more than one sense a truly unique place.

Apart from ‘The View of Nowhere’ the exhibition shows three older installations that all evolve around the analysis of the material on quantum level: ‘Where Shapes Come From’ (2016), ‘Through the AEgIS’ (2017) and ‘Parting the Waves’ (2017). The last two installations act more as cinematic sculptures, creating black and white or colourful graphic patterns based on the study of quantum particles and sound. A purpose-built cinema within the large exhibition space also shows an overview of older films from the period 2006-2012. Based on scientific material or archival documentation from various institutions the results Seem to position themselves somewhere between fact and fiction. Especially ‘Indefatigable’ (2010), in which some kind of shrub is meticulously dissected borders on the absurd.

What connects the work of Semiconductor and makes it so intriguing is the view that they give us of a world that continuously surrounds us and that we are part of, but which we are hardly or not at all aware off. On the one hand, it documents the spaces in which science and technology take place, the weird messiness of these workshops and the people that work there. Through the added animation, the science and technology itself or the phenomena it studies, which are usually not visible for the naked eye, get pictured as well. Materiality is thus confronted with a certain kind of immateriality. While immersing myself in the installations and films I had in any case the impression to be transported to another side of life and thus to get a true and new insight in it. Semiconductor’s work clearly goes beyond a purely didactic quality as it is simultaneously poetic and inventive, thus combining the objective and subjective in a brilliant way.  And that is exactly what binds or can bind art, technology, and science.

Until 3 June 2018
Le Lieu Unique
Quai Ferdinand-Favre, Nantes
Tuesday-Saturday 2-7pm; Sunday 3-7pm
Free entrance

Images from Semiconductor ‘Where Shapes Come From (2016)

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