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The Time Before The Fire

8 August 2022 - 31 January 2023


Far above, over our heads a hidden choreography of national and commercial power struggles is playing out. Military, communications, GPS, imaging, monitoring, surveillance – satellites live fast and hard. Existence maintaining baseline performance in the New Frontier is precarious. 

Alongside them are the ghosts –  thousands of decommissioned siblings that have outlived their usefulness. They will tumble along their graveyard orbits for years or centuries before they hit the atmosphere and burn. At that moment of decommissioning they cease to be high functioning servants and become – what? Observable only as occasional glints between the stars or through increasingly strange radio signals, who knows what they might evolve into.

The Time Before The Fire is a new online residency by UK based artist Nye Thompson. For this commission, Thompson will present ongoing research alongside new work that looks at power, surveillance and machine agency through the discrete constellations of ghost satellites that inhabit the upper atmosphere.

We invite you to return to this online space, where over the coming months it will be populated with new content, which include an open call to satellite gazing, a recorded conversation between the artist and Prof. Lucie Green, an expanding body of research material and a new moving image piece.

Please follow us on our social media channels where new content will be announced for the course of Thompson’s residency.

ISIS-1 Observations: 2020-12-03 03:20:50 – 2020-12-03 03:32:33; 2020-11-20 09:09:52
2020-11-20 09:38:08; 2020-11-16 07:23:04 – 2020-11-16 07:51:29

These ‘drawings’ were generated by the ghost satellite ISIS-1 (launched 1969 and decommissioned many decades ago). Each one shows the radio wave transmissions detected from the satellite during a single overhead pass. The faint lines and dots trace out its tumbling eccentric movements. I find them rather poignant.

ISIS-1 passes over the UK 5 or 6 times every day. These 3 pass observations were unusual because during each one the satellite broadcast a cryptic data burst. 

The Time Before The Fire: Artist in Converastion – Nye Thompson & Prof Lucie Green, 16 August 2022

Artist profiles and statements

Nye Thompson

Nye Thompson (b. 1966) is an artist turned software designer turned artist. She’s known for her experimental software architectures exploring network-embedded power dynamics and machinic visions of the world.

In 2016 her first solo show – described by C4 News as “too shocking to broadcast” – became global clickbait and triggered an international government complaint. Since then, Thompson has exhibited widely, including Tate Modern, The Barbican, The Lowry, The V&A, ZKM, Ars Electronica and The Louvre. In 2021 Thompson & UBERMORGEN received the Lumen Prize Gold Award for their short film UNINVITED. She has been called “the new Big Brother” (Vogue) and “a contemporary Jacques Cousteau” (Bob & Roberta Smith). Her work is included in the V&A National Collection, as well as international and UK private collections. She operates between London and mid-Wales.

Prof Lucie Green

Lucie is a professor of physics and space scientist working at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory. She studies the evolution of immense magnetic structures in the atmosphere of the Sun that produce spectacular eruptions but has an overall interest in how these eruptions can impact our daily lives, should they collide with Earth. She has a passion for space and has collaborated for many years with artists, poets and film makers in order to bring the science of space down to Earth for all to enjoy.

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