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Heavier than Air

5 June — 18 July 2004

This was the first solo exhibition in the UK by New York based artist Paul Ramírez Jonas, demonstrating the artist’s remarkable inventiveness in his engagement with technology and technological change. Significantly, Ramírez’s technologies of choice are often low-tech or redundant; a mechanical wind-up camera affixed to a kite, air-powered automata or wax cylinder recordings. A sense of futile endeavour pervades the work and an almost perverse celebration of ‘failure’ as the unwritten history of technological advancement provides the basis for meditations on much broader concerns such as time, memory and loss.

The exhibition featured Ramírez’s signature piece, Heavier than Air, a display of five kites, replicas of prototype flying machines from the turn of the century. Attached to each kite was a clockwork camera that had taken a photograph of the artist on the ground below. These photographs depicted the isolated artist in an expansive landscape, the guide rope appearing like an umbilical cord connecting body to air. In the video, A Longer Day, he endeavoured to prolong the hours of daylight by driving west into the sunset, lengthening the day by twenty-three seconds. This farcical attempt to halt the passage of time epitomises Ramírez’s subtle humour and lightness of touch as he dwells on the nature of human mortality.

Coinciding with his exhibition at Ikon, Ramírez Jonas presented Another Day at Birmingham’s busy train and metro terminal, Snow Hill station. Modelled on an arrival and departure board display, the piece tracked ninety cities around the world evenly spaced along every fourth meridian. As the display counts down to the next sunrise, the name of the city paused momentarily before leaving the screen as sunrise breaks, optimistically suggesting that there is always another day.