Mike and Doug Starn : ‘Attracted to Light’
06 March 2013 . Written by Catarina Fontoura
Mike and Doug Starn are identical twins and American artists born in 1961. Their work deals conceptually with photography and they are concerned largely with ideas of chaos, interconnections, time and physics. According to Demetrio Paparoni, who wrote the critical text ‘Tree of Life’ (in the book ‘Attracted to Light’ by Doug and Mike Starn), the Starn twins, like Renaissance artists, consider art to be an instrument to know the world and this view implies a relationship between Art and Science.
‘Attracted to Light’ (published as a book in 2004) is a series of photographs of winged nocturnal insects – moths – that, in the context of the work, serve as a metaphor for a reflection of light. For the Starns, light is everything: “light is power, knowledge, it is want we want, it is what we need, it is satisfaction, fulfilment, truth and purity.” They see the moth’s attraction to light (phototropism) as a spiritual quest that all of us might undertake at some point in our lives: “we are all moths.”
‘Attracted to Light’ is part of a larger group of artworks called ‘Absorption of Light’ that was exhibited in Stockholm in 2005. The exhibition, featuring eight monumental photographs, was illuminated by a single, blinding, carbon arc lamp of about 45,000 watts raised 13-foot in the air. This radical installation format emphasizes the importance of light in the Starns’ work. Light not only becomes part of the work itself, but it is also the central piece, allowing (or demanding) the photographs to orbit around it as the planets orbit around the sun. The photographs and the lamp become one colossal homage to the existence of light.
The two moth portraits in the exhibition are vivid – and disconcerting so – by virtue of their monumental scale. The scale allows us, together with the immersive artificial light, to see ourselves existing in the moths’ scale. This uncanny effect is exalted by the tactility of the Thai Mulberry paper the photographs have been printed on, the texture of which is reminiscent of the texture of a moth’s wing, extremely fragile and dusty. The fragility of the art objects and of the insects reminds us in equal measure that light can be divine but also mortal.
Mike and Doug Starn’s website: www.starnstudio.com