New York

Doug and Mike Starn

Pace/Macgill Gallery

Constructed from an archive of images of the solar system, the works in Doug and Mike Starn’s luminous show “Heliolibri” cantilevered from the walls of the dimly lit space in a panoply of galactic imagery. The Starns’ heliocentric cosmologies excavate the mythical foundations of our universe through rich palimpsests: black-and-rusty-toned photographs of the sky and ocean waves, translucent book pages, and portraits appropriated from Eastern and Western art printed on transparent sheets of polyester.

As if to emphasize the degree of trial and error in the origins of cosmology, the collection of images and the edges of each case were joined with liberal amounts of adhesive, their surfaces smudged with fingerprints and glue. Fragments of Eastern scrolls (from the Shinto Nihongi to the Egyptian Book of the Dead), and pages from Western classics (from Plato’s Timaeus to Dante’s Paradiso) mapped the history of our attempt to represent the cosmos. In The Sphere of the Skull (all works 1992–95), a bright golden sun shines like an eye through the oculus of the craniumlike dome of the Roman Pantheon. Within this architectural embodiment of the vaulted heavens, the coffered ceiling suggests a Platonic order may underlie the sky’s infinite expanse. Orbiting the dome’s periphery is Plato’s Timaeus, open to a passage describing the creation of the heavens; the text swirls in an eddy, about to be sucked through the oculus into the solar abyss.

In Solar Plasma, an intense yellow glow emanates from the horizon, framed by the clawlike tendrils of the sun and the rippling waves of the sea, announcing either the dawn or the twilight of creation. Floating in the hazy epicenter of the composition among an array of ancient and contemporary images of the sun is a portrait of a young woman by Petrus Christus. The images seem to spin off the pages of a manuscript open to a study on solar plasma. The book’s binding becomes the physical and conceptual axis around which this anthropocentric universe revolves.

In “Heliolibri” the Starns suggest that the contemporary representations of the solar system delivered by NASA satellites or the Nobeyama radio telescope are as much a product of the foibles of interpretation as are the metaphoric ones of past centuries. Standing at the border between the age of print and the age of information, these solar constellations take us through various stages in our development of an “objective” view of the universe, only to land us back on earth amid the same constraints that have been vexing us since we began considering our relation to the heavens.

Kirby Gookin