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Griffiths, DA., 2014.

Extinction Event [GRB130313A]: expanded photograph as cosmographic fragment

Output Type:Conference paper
Presented at:Cosmographies
Venue:Falmouth University
Publisher:Falmouth University, Falmouth, UK

Extinction Event [GRB130313A] is an expanded photographic installation that archives a brief cataclysmic happening in a lonely, troubled region of outer space. On 13 March 2013 a gamma-ray burst (GRB) lasting 300 milliseconds was observed exploding in the constellation Serpens. The project resulted from an interdisciplinary residency at Leicester University's X-Ray and Observational Astronomy Group, which studies radiation from distant gamma-ray bursts - among the most violent and epoch-changing events in the Universe. Whilst witnessing the GRB alongside international scientists I tested a new critical approach to photography's indexical problem of resolving the gap between object and reality. I applied a range of methods to document a phenomena impossible to record optically - gathering data, graphs, snapshots and voice-recordings surrounding the GRB discovery to form a composite representation of its historical moment. A microfiche maps the GRB origin and magnitude, through visualised and textual data representing photon traces recorded in its afterglow. Other images show the astronomers office, their charity cake-sale, and Earth's news on the day. In a teleconference recording, the NASA team verify their detection of radiation from GRB130313A, originating billions of years ago. They plan a shooting script of deep-field observations using the SWIFT telescope. Another voice recording describes the fictional apocalyptic effects of a GRB hitting a biosphere such as Earth. The project is theoretically framed, firstly, by media archaeology, which traces the historical function of visual technologies in our desire to discover, organise and communicate a unified knowledge of life through deep time. Secondly, Flusserian philosophy of photography depicts such a universe of 'technical images' as a scopic regime that increasingly displaces the written record as our primary means of remembering and communicating. If our accelerating photographic turn increasingly structures society, then will images ultimately archive all creation, existence and extinction events, and how reliable would be the record? As an expanded photograph using microfilm and sound, Extinction Event [GRB130313A] is suspended between stasis and narrative, taking on conditions of the cinematic. It refers to sci-fi myths of death-star scenarios, whilst the space telescope's crew operate as a cinematographic apparatus to shoot durational takes. In navigating and optically uncompressing its details, the microfiche browsers observe light over time, in gestures that enact the durational seeing and speculation inherent to astronomy, cinema and historiography. Through this archive the visual and textual meet in a compressed fragment of our broader cosmographic desire to locate our place in space and time.