Jay Mosher & Rory Middleton

September 6 to October 6, 2012

Rory Middleton and Jay Mosher are multidisciplinary artists whose paths’ initially crossed at The Banff Centre in 2010.  This meeting fostered a continued dialogue and eventually, collaboration. The artists have some overlapping facets throughout each of their individual practices, including an interest in site-specific works, installation and landscape. These similarities in presentation and content have fueled their current exhibition at The New Gallery, Talisman.


Though Jay Mosher and Rory Middleton’s Talisman appears to conjure the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), its inspirations lie, instead, with a bit of camera trickery by the director later in the film. While travelling to the Moon to observe the uncovered alien artifact, Dr. Heywood Floyd settles in for a long intergalactic space nap. His pen leaves his unconscious hand, floating throughout the ship’s cabin in zero gravity. A flight attendant appears, plucking the floating pen out of the air. It’s a lovely effect in a film full of them, achieved by Kubrick by taping the pen to a sheet of glass, which was then placed and rotated in front of the camera.

You can see the flight attendant giving a slight pull to get the pen off the glass; a moment both lost to viewers in the greater experience of the film, or adding the slightest of visual otherness in an otherwise still landscape. Talisman, like Kubrick’s film, best expresses what SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) physicist Paul Davies describes as “the eerie silence,” the unseen (and unknown) presences in an uncomprehendingly vast universe.

The Talisman is a towering, circular glass plane (58-and-a-half inches in diameter) that slowly rotates with the aid of a specifically-designed mechanism at the base. Like the coolly stoic images of those 1960s and 70s sci-fi films it shares – meditative works like Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) – the Talisman is alien-like, mathematically perfect, coming alive with the hints of light and particulate that float around it. Additionally, the accompanying film features music by The Phantom Band’s Duncan Marquiss. The haunting chords are tone clusters in b flat, the same sound pitch generated by a black hole in the Perseus cluster, 250 million light years from Earth. The adjacent notes when played together create a throbbing pulse loaded with all of the sounds, images and fantasies created by years of science fiction speculation.

The film, shot in the Alberta Badlands (itself looking like an ancient alien land), is the ideal way to see the Talisman – indeed, it feels as if it has been there all along, uncovered like Kubrick’s monolith. Talisman feeds on the supernatural aura of the prairies, inspired in part by ecologist Don Gayton’s The Wheatgrass Mechanism: Science and Imagination in the Western Landscape. Alternately described as both “a region indifferent and often brutal to those who live in it,” and something mystical and ancient, the Alberta prairies are loved, feared and often exploited, but rarely explored. Not unlike the Talisman, perhaps – as Gayton says, “the most erratic of badland landscapes might actually be reproduced by some complex mathematical fractal.” Though reproduced by whom – or what – he doesn’t venture to say.

– Bryn Evans

Bryn Evans is an Alberta-based writer and critic, and the past President of the M:ST (Mountain Standard Time) Performative Art Festival.

Works cited

Davies, Paul. The Eerie Silence: Renewing our Search for Alien Intelligence. New York: Mariner Books, 2011. Print.

Gayton, Don. The Wheatgrass Mechanism: Science and Imagination in the Western Canadian Landscape. Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1992. Print.

United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Science News. Black Hole Sound Waves.  Washington, D.C.: NASA, 2003. Web.