Zan Wimberley works across photography and video to explore ideas surrounding mortality, immortality and mourning in a post-internet, twenty-first century context. By creating artworks which negotiate the space between the heavy and almost incomprehensible reality of death and the absurd or macabre nature with which it is often met in contemporary society, Wimberley’s work offers a thoughtful and poetic series of ruminations on the human condition.
Wimberley’s first solo exhibition at Artereal Gallery, Who could bear to look up at the night sky and know which stars are already dead, deals with the undercurrent of hedonistic nihilism so inherent in our contemporary culture, showcasing dramatic black and white photographs of exploding fireworks alongside a series of stereoscopic images of stars and constellations, both
of which are used as metaphors for the transient nature of life and the ultimate fragility of our existence within the wider universe. The exhibition’s poetic title suggests a subtle comparison between death and the constellations, prompting the thought that the stars above us are perhaps already dead and it is just their last light that is still reaching us.
Presented en masse as an installation, I dreamt about climbing into the night sky is a series of sixteen photographs of fireworks erupting against an impenetrably inky sky. At once strikingly beautiful and sublime, each image captures the thrilling sense of wonderment and awe, which fireworks never cease to evoke. And yet underlying these poignant images
is a sense of loss, for every climactic explosion is fleeting, lighting up the sky and wowing the masses below before fading away into nothingness, leaving behind nothing but an empty void and a sense of melancholy.
These bittersweet musings on life, death and passing time were inspired by a slightly bizarre moment of happenstance and an unlikely experience in the artist’s life. Stuck in peak-hour traffic, Wimberley found herself staring at an advertisement on the back of a car which encouraged people to consider having their cremated ashes turned into fireworks. Inspired by this slightly macabre concept, Wimberley has turned her attention to an examination of the broader existential and philosophical questions surrounding death – likening the momentary joy and celebration associated with fireworks to contemporary society’s hedonistic and glib approach to life and our ongoing struggle to find meaning within our existence.
Complementing this series of photographs is a series of four stereoscopes which depict four fictional constellations – each of which references an artist or celebrity who has recently died. Titled Black Star, in reference to David Bowie’s last album and recent death, these stereoscopes offers a subtle commentary on the culture of melodramatic online breast-beating which now accompanies news of a celebrity’s death, a trend often seen on social media and via internet commentary.
Heavily influenced by pop-culture and music, the Black Star series holds up a mirror to those sub-cultures within contemporary society that tend to canonise celebrities after their death – a bizarre phenomenon illustrated recently when Belgian astronomers collaborated with a group of hard-core Bowie fans to register a constellation shaped like a lightning bolt in honour of David Bowie. The creation of the constellation is part of the Stardust for Bowie tribute project, where fans can use Google Sky to add their favorite Bowie songs with a short note to a virtual version of the constellation.
Responding to these currents within contemporary online culture, Wimberley’s stereoscopes maps of fictional constellations dedicated to recently deceased celebrities offer a light-hearted yet antagonistic look at the complex subject of mortality and its associated philosophical questions which have of course held a fascination for artists since time immemorial.
On a more personal level, Who could bear to look up at the night sky and know which stars are already dead, acts as a moving tribute and poetic paean to the artist’s father, who passed away almost four years ago to the date of the exhibition’s opening. The significance of this is hinted at throughout the exhibition via numerous subtle but evocative gestures, with the fourth anniversary of his passing informing the decision to create four stereoscopes and to make each photograph from the series I dreamt about climbing into the night sky an edition of four.
A keen novice astronomer and a talented woodworker, the Artist’s father has likewise left an indelible mark on this series of works, as evidenced by the Victorian blackwood frames and the stereoscopes, which the Artist has painstakingly made by hand using tools inherited from her father and wood sourced entirely from one particular tree.
Reminding us that we will all inevitably be touched by death at some point in our lives, Wimberley’s work is a powerful testament to the human spirit and our ability to find beauty and poetry in the face of the inescapable tragedy and melancholy which at time defines the human experience.
Zan Wimberley is a Melbourne based emerging artist who trained in Scientific Photography at RMIT before working under Cinematographers on major feature films within Australia. Zan graduated from a Masters at Sydney College of the Arts in 2013 and has since been working on her own practice, including exhibitions at Firstdraft and Annette Larkin Fine Art. Her work can be found in numerous private collections throughout Australia.