Leslie Thornton’s HANDMADE

Nov 4, 2023–Spring 2024


Leslie Thornton. HANDMADE. 2023. 8K video (color, silent), originally conceived for two 4K monitors, 11:34 min. Courtesy the artist and Rodeo, London/Piraeus. © 2023 Leslie Thornton
  • MoMA, Floor 1

For more than five decades, Leslie Thornton has probed how we see and make sense of the world. Her newest work, HANDMADE (2023), is a video diptych that juxtaposes natural phenomena with technological discovery. Above, we see the chaotic, digitally manipulated streams of a gale-force storm. Below, we see the crafting of a handwoven device made by a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He is making a sensing instrument for a massive research project studying antimatter, particles that have the opposite charge of ordinary matter. When matter and antimatter collide, they destroy each other. Billions of years ago, in the vast storm of the Big Bang, antimatter all but disappeared; the research that Thornton chronicles may allow us to better understand this mystery and, by extension, the origins of the universe.

Yet the complex device we see being built has the simplest of means. “The object itself is a beautiful thing made out of parts from a hardware store,” Thornton notes. “[The physicist] said he learned how to weave by watching videos on YouTube.” These vignettes are interspersed with haunting film recordings of fluid dynamics studies, which chart the unpredictable movement of liquid and sand. The studies, in turn, echo the eerie plumes of particle collisions—events so fast as to be beyond human perception. But they also echo the torrential rain that Thornton captured with a handheld camera while lying down in a “killer storm” on Lake Huron in Michigan. She edited and layered this footage so that the vectors of rain are both vertical and horizontal, creating a form of weaving with light.

Thornton is drawn to the material aspects of scientific research, often hidden, that form the bridge between theory and proof. Her works in film, video, and sound consider these forces of discovery and the sea changes—the promises and dangers—they imply. HANDMADE intertwines both the thrilling and mundane, the beautiful and terrible, to contemplate the relationship between what Thornton calls “the space of science” and “the space of the world.”

HANDMADE, originally conceived for two 4K monitors, is presented here on a large-scale media wall designed by and realized with thanks to Refik Anadol Studio for Anadol’s installation Unsupervised (2022).

Organized by Stuart Comer, The Lonti Ebers Chief Curator of Media and Performance, Michelle Kuo, The Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and Erica Papernik-Shimizu, Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance, with Lydia Mullin, Manager, Collections Galleries, Department of Curatorial Affairs.

The project is made possible by Hyundai Card.


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