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Drawing the Vast and Invisible Dark Matter of Our Universe

Timelapse of the installation of "Representation of Dark Matter" by Abdelkader Benchamma at the Drawing Center (GIF by the author, images courtesy Drawing Center)
Time lapse of the installation of “Representation of Dark Matter” at the Drawing Center (GIF by the author, images courtesy Drawing Center)

The majority of our universe is energy and matter that we cannot see. The dark matter that overwhelms our earthly objects emits no light, and is therefore a nebulous thing to represent, something that is more an idea than a vision. French artist Abdelkader Benchamma is fascinated with these cosmic mysteries, and in an installation at the Drawing Center called Representation of Dark Matter, he sketched in tiny pen and India ink lines, shaded with charcoal, a huge drawing of what, to our eyes, is nothing.

“I really liked the challenge of giving form to something that’s so arcane and cannot be seen by the naked eye,” curator Joanna Kleinberg Romanow told Hyperallergic. “The result is a drawing that segues from representation, with imagery inspired by encyclopedia renderings of the Milky Way and the Big Bang, to pure fantasy: ideas and imagery conjured in Abdelkader’s imagination.”

Representation of Dark Matter is the first in a new series at the Drawing Center where artists are invited to fill the stairwell with site-specific installations. Benchamma’s drawing opened in April, and after 12 months will be painted over white to prepare for a new interpretation of the space.

Abdelkader Benchamma, "Representation of Dark Matter" (2015), installation view (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)
Abdelkader Benchamma, “Representation of Dark Matter” (2015), installation view (all photos by Jose Andres Ramirez, courtesy The Drawing Center)

Romanow explained that as the Drawing Center’s first on-site wall drawing, there were a lot of unforeseen challenges when working in the narrow stairwell with a scaffold. “Abdelkader was incredibly resourceful in finding ways to gain access to all of the area’s surfaces, especially those inaccessible by the scaffold,” she said. “Aside from a lot of acrobatics, at one point he created a ‘drawing instrument’ comprised of a long measuring stick with a marker attached to it in order to reach those impervious surfaces. As a result, he was able to achieve a fully immersive constellation.”

Benchamma said in an interview with Studio 360 that “the spectator can really go inside to feel the drawing” and “it’s like a paradox between the precision of the drawing, everything is very precise, but at the end you can’t say what it is.” The completed work is a vortex of moving lines, the details emerging as you climb the stairs, representing in a way how all matter has this gravitational pull, even if we can’t see it. Benchamma often approaches huge ideas of astrophysics in his art, such as in his 2011 monograph Dark Matter published in conjunction with an exhibition at Galerie du jour agnès b. in Paris. In those monochromatic, densely drawn black lines, shown in the time-lapse video provided by the Drawing Center below, is an attempt to unravel and connect with this almost unfathomable power in our universe.

Abdelkader Benchamma, "Representation of Dark Matter" (2015), installation view (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)
Abdelkader Benchamma, “Representation of Dark Matter” (2015), installation view
Abdelkader Benchamma, "Representation of Dark Matter" (2015), installation view (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)
Abdelkader Benchamma, “Representation of Dark Matter” (2015), installation view
Abdelkader Benchamma, "Representation of Dark Matter" (2015), installation view (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)
Abdelkader Benchamma, “Representation of Dark Matter” (2015), installation view

Abdelkader Benchamma: Representation of Dark Matter continues at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street, Soho, Manhattan) through March 1, 2016.

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