We are not usually aware of the passing of time. But when we stand and gaze at a sunset, it’s a rare moment of communion with the planet, a few minutes’ meditation on the nature of time and space. Artist Sunny’s new show Sunny Side Up brings together a series of beautiful sunset images, but things are not quite what they seem.
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We are obsessed with the sun going down. In 2017, 286 million pictures of sunsets were uploaded to Instagram. Way out in front was California, where 5.7million sunsets were snapped, but with Sicily, Bali, Paris and Sydney making up the top five, it’s clearly a worldwide phenomenon.
There’s a scientific element too – psychologists have claimed that gazing at a sunset can boost emotional well-being, connectedness with others and life-satisfaction levels. The artist and curator Sunny has long been fascinated by the reasons people are so drawn to sunsets, why a hush descends in even large groups when the sun finally dips below the horizon and why we are so compelled to share pictures of sunsets with our peers.
Was it possible, he wondered, to recreate our communal relationship with sunsets in a gallery setting, to go beyond the Instagram square and recreate one of nature’s finest experiences?
There are two types of images featured in Sunny’s new show. The first are the sunsets themselves – big, immersive photographs into which we viewers are compelled to lose ourselves. These are the types of sunsets that launched a million Instagram posts – vibrant shows of nature played out against impossibly candy-colored skies.
Alongside these, Sunny has placed solar images taken high up in the atmosphere. These very different, but equally intriguing shots create a nice duality in the show. On the one hand we have the sunsets, which we fetiishize to an incredible degree; on the other we have the sun itself, shot deep in outer space, stripped of all human context.
The nature of his work means Sunny is always wearing the strongest sunglasses known to optical science. As he spends hours gazing at the sun, he needs to protect his eyes as well he can, although he insists any damage is a small price to pay for his art.
The opening of The Sunny Side Up attracted artworld movers and shakers, as well as figures from the worlds of politics, entertainment and environmentalism. The popularity of the opening reflected the eclectic appeal of the subject – we are all, it seems, suckers for a good sunset.
Although he spoke to journalists on the opening night, Sunny gives little away. He prefers the work to speak for him and wants viewers to submit themselves to the power of his pictures without too much conceptual thinking. The effect, as you can see, is almost unbelievable.