Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Hiroshi Sugimoto

Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Hiroshi Sugimoto

The Biennale Keynote Address was delivered by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto , whose site-specific installation Faraday Cage (2010) premiered in the old Power House on Cockatoo Island.  Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of the most significant artists working in the medium of photography today.

The Address (below)  was presented at the City Recital Hall, Sydney on Thursday, 13 May at 7 pm

For the 17th Biennale of Sydney, Sugimoto has produced a new installation Faraday Cage (2010) presented inside the abandoned Power House on Cockatoo Island., which draws upon mythology and the history of photography.

The installation comprises light-box mounted prints from the artists Lightning Fields series, presented on stage-like platforms that ascend towards a thirteenth-century Japanese sculpture of Raijin, the Japanese God of Thunder.

The work results from Sugimotos recent experiments of photographically imaging electricity on large-format film and explores the relationship between light, energy, power, and the dawn of life itself….”

Armed with a camera, a metal table, and hundreds of thousands of volts, Sugimoto freeze-frames the fractal zing of electrical charges in his “Lightning Fields” series.



video courtesy of Gary Warner


Lightning Fields

The word electricity is thought to derive from the ancient Greek elektron, meaning “amber.” When subject to friction, materials such as amber and fur produce an effect that we now know as static electricity.

Related phenomena were studied in the eighteenth century, most notably by Benjamin Franklin. To test his theory that lightning is electricity, in 1752 Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm. He conducted the experiment at great danger to himself; in fact, other researchers were electrocuted while conducting similar experiments. He not only proved his hypothesis, but also that electricity has positive and negative charges.

In 1831, Michael Faraday’s formulation of the law of electromagnetic induction led to the invention of electric generators and transformers, which dramatically changed the quality of human life. Far less well-known is that Faraday’s colleague, William Fox Talbot, was the father of calotype photography.

Fox Talbot’s momentous discovery of the photosensitive properties of silver alloys led to the development of positive-negative photographic imaging. The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.

He wields a Van de Graaff generator to send up to 400,000 volts through film to a metal table. The resulting fractal branching, subtle feathering, and furry whorls call to mind vascular systems, geologic features, and trees. “I see the spark of life itself, the lightning that struck the primordial ooze,” Sugimoto says.

By essentially establishing a micro-environment in the dark room akin to the conditions of an electrical storm, Sugimoto creates lush large-scale black and white prints that resemble botanical and biological images, landscapes, high-power microscopic magnifications, and lightning itself. This richly layered process creates works that, in the tradition of Talbot before him, elegantly blur the boundary between science and photography.

– Hiroshi Sugimoto

1948 Born in Tokyo, Japan

1970 Graduated from Saint Paul’s University, Tokyo

1974 Graduated from Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles

1974 Moved to New York

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