The Celestial Equator: Diffractions

A series of three videos, 2012 

HD video: 11.39'

Excerpt from catalogue text: 
Through scientific experimentation we investigate the world’s phenomena, perhaps as an attempt to control the physical world. Yet it can also be understood as a rite of passage, a ritual in which we travel into a different realm of possible ambiguity and transformation – into the unexpected, the unknown – and leave this realm with new experience.

Lena Bergendahl’s film series The Celestial Equator is set in Kenya, and its two young female protagonists play the role of contemporary scientists. The first experiment unfolds in Diffractions. We encounter the women as they meticulously gather wood and prepare a fire. Their beauty, colourful dresses and slow gestures fill the screen. Later we discover it is not a domestic fire being prepared; one of the women squats by the fire and filters the light from a projector through a prism, creating an illusion of the aurora borealis, the northern light.

A mist of rainbow colours appears within the smoke against the now black night, and the women look at it with calm intensity. Now the women’s previous actions gain a ritualistic meaning: first preparation, then performance, and finally observation of the results.

The experiment is a modification of the Swedish poet and researcher Samuel von Triewald’s attempt in 1739 to explain the origin of the northern lights. In Diffractions, Bergendahl has removed these lights from their natural setting, the polar circle. She lets the experiment be executed near the equator, in order to investigate which differences may arise. This geographical tension is paired with the tension between the women’s material labour and the fugitive illusion into which it transforms. When the lights come to life, it is as though the physical world beautifully disappears into the night sky. The film series’ title The Celestial Equator refers to this fugitive illusion: A great circle is projected on to the celestial sphere – it exists on the same plane as the equator and is a projection of the equator into space, yet one that exists in our imagination. - - -

Text: Ida Marie Hede

Still images from video: Diffractions
Installation views: The Celestial Equator, Minibar Artistspace, Stockholm, 2012