The British artist Dan Holdsworth has spent the last 20 years exploring the furthest reaches of how technology is changing the way we see the world. For his latest commission for Audemars Piguet, Holdsworth offers us an alternative way of viewing the planet that extends beyond what the human eye can register and a new form of sublimity that the brain can readily assimilate. In Holdsworth’s body of work, we can begin to make sense of the revolutions in image-making that digital technologies have allowed. In Continuous Topography Dan Holdsworth visualises and dramatizes time…and makes it palpable.
Around the same time that he was beginning to acquire Holdsworth’s work the curator of the UK’s national collection of photography at London’s V&A made two startling claims; the first was that there were more photographs in the world than bricks. The second claim was that half the globe and everyone in the industrialised world are now photographers. But amongst the millions of images in the world, just as with the millions of objects, only a few are made to ‘defy time’ by being worthy of the museum and rewriting how we observe our surroundings. Holdsworth’s inclusion in such collections for over two decades, as in those at the Tate, Pompidou Centre, Museum of Modern Art Vienna, Saatchi Gallery and many others reveals him as one such figure in today’s art world.
Continuous Topography offers what Holdsworth calls a “future archaeology” in which we see an extraordinary landscape as if from the future. Holdsworth asks us to imagine time in a new way, to see what will remain of our own time and what is unique to our own moment. He poses this question using the very technologies characteristic of and unique to our time. Continuous Topography is created with both technologies beyond our ordinary reach, with precision and scope we can scarcely imagine – specialist mapping software that only governments and universities ordinarily have. In plotting topographical space with extraordinary precision, Holdsworth allows us to imagine time in a parallel way: as that we know exists but never see.
To create Continuous Topography Holdsworth, working with doctoral researcher Mark Allan, spent months undertaking fieldwork in the Vallée de Joux, in the Jura mountain range. The Vallée is the home to Audemars Piguet, whose artistry and precision engineering are world-renowned. As Holdsworth remarks of their landscape: “in a way, time was invented here.” Indeed the Jura mountains gave their name to an entire geological epoch – the Jurassic age. Some 220 years ago the Romantic writer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt coined the term Jurassic in this landscape, creating a revolution in how we imagine and quantify time.
Holdsworth’s work not only asks us to reimagine our own time, but to do so by using the very latest technologies to look at timespans beyond our imagination. Holdsworth’s is a form of photography unlike that ever seen before. His artwork is made using drone cameras, geomapping and satellite positions technologies, and ultra-high-end digital imaging platforms to map the world with a precision never seen before. In Holdsworth’s world, ‘time’ is the quantity that we can never grasp but is precisely that which is precious and which gives order and meaning to each of us.
Holdsworth’s insight is that the twenty-first century allows new forms of vision that offer us new forms of insight. To create Continuous Topography, the artist worked with drones that photographed every square inch of a landscape with military precision. He then correlated each image with GPS co-ordinates to create a ‘point map’ of the terrain of whose exquisite beauty matches that of the landscape itself. Each image in Continuous Topography is painstakingly built of tens of millions of points in space enmeshed together. Early naturalists such as John Ruskin and his protégés the Pre-Raphaelites could only have looked on in awe at what Holdsworth allows us to know about our natural world. Continuous Topography is best seen, as all of the finest forms of creativity are, as an extraordinarily audacious artistic, scientific, and technological experiment alike.
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