Lina Iris Viktor presents a gilded new exhibition in London, delving deep into the complex history of one of the world's most desired metals.
Of all the metals present on Earth, gold has a particularly compelling story. It is said to be created, as indeed they all are, in supernova nucleosynthesis, or during the dying of a star, when it is one of the very last elements to form. It is then ricocheted into our universe in the form of asteroids and meteors, which rained down on our planet long ago, planting its reserves deep beneath its surface. Though gold is not scarce in the universe, it is very scarce on Earth; we’ve excavated only three Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth so far. And it is all the more precious for it.
“That, to me, is a glorious story!” exclaims British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor over the phone from her studio in New York, after telling it. Her own practice weaves photography, painting and installation with plenty of gold: since 2014, gleaming 24-carat veins have run across her work, delineating ancient symbols or picking out the profile of her protagonist. As a result, Viktor’s pieces are almost celestial in the way they seem to gather up all the light in a room. “There’s an emotional reaction that happens when people are in the presence of pure gold,” she continues. “Human beings have had this storied history with it ever since we found out it existed. Ancient civilisations had such a reverence for it that they likened it to the sun on Earth. It was godly. It wasn’t a material of this planet. To be in the presence of it wasn’t monetary, but a spiritual wealth, a conduit between worlds. You look at the most religious spaces on the planet – the cathedrals, mosques and temples – and they’re all gilded.”
Read more in the British Journal of Photography's October 2019 issue.