Shotgun Reviews

Radiohalo at Blain|Southern

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Adam Monohon reviews Michael Joo’s Radiohalo at Blain|Southern in London.

Michael Joo. Radiohalo, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Blain|Southern, London. Photo: Peter Mallet.

Michael Joo. Radiohalo, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Blain|Southern, London. Photo: Peter Mallet.

At the center of debate between creationists and the scientific community over the origin of Earth are microscopic areas of discoloration found within certain rocks: radiohalos. These spherical discolorations are traces of radioactive energy; each attests to the presence of radioactive particles trapped within rock as it formed. Once a geological curiosity, radiohalos have become crucial to arguments for a Young Earth since, according to creationist scientist Robert V. Gentry,[1] they should not exist at all if the Earth truly took millennia to fully form.

Michael Joo’s current exhibition at Blain|Southern, titled Radiohalo, is composed of works deeply concerned with similar themes. The works contemplate and record traces of energy, subtly questioning the relationship between nature and humanity as mediated by science.

At the center of Radiohalo is a new series, Caloric Paintings (2015–2016). Faintly visible in each work is a series of digits attesting to the amount of energy necessary to conduct a specific physical task, explained in each title—such as Untitled (Take) (2016) and Untitled, To (Drive) (2015–2016). Each work bears an exceptionally specific number, one that projects a sense of scientific precision, alluding to the intricacy of even the most mundane task. However, the very ambiguity of these titles leaves the accuracy of his methodology questionable, reminding viewers that the seeming exactness of products of the scientific process can belie shaky foundations.

Strictly speaking, these works are not paintings at all, but rather prints on canvas. Using epoxy ink, Joo screen-printed the photographic images of metal stamped with caloric values. The ink-covered canvases were then coated with silver nitrate, a compound once used frequently in photography. The latent image was then laid atop each canvas in ink to reveal itself, creating a silvery, semi-reflective image.

Joo employs silver nitrate elsewhere in the exhibition, too. Prologue (Montclair Danby Vein Cut) (2014–2015), a massive marble and steel sculpture, is coated entirely on one side with the material. Dark veins of silver nitrate streak down the marble’s striated surface, emphasizing not only the mechanical intervention that extricated the slab from a quarry, but also the jagged crack that divides the otherwise perfect chunk of marble into two.

By integrating silver nitrate throughout, Joo imbues his works with an aura of magic, invoking the early days of photography, when explanations both technical and mystical were invoked side by side—an age invoked by creationist science today.

Radiohalo is on view through April 9, 2016, at Blain|Southern, London.


Adam Monohon is a master’s student in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London’s History of Art and Archaeology of East Asia program and a graduate of Pratt Institute’s History of Art and Design program. He is especially interested in the history of photography, as well as in contemporary Asian art.

[1] Robert V. Genry, Creation’s Tiny Mystery (Knoxville: Earth Science Associates, 1988).