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Something Like the Sun

Installations by Aspen Mays at Pitch Project

Jun. 16, 2015
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It is dark down there, in mines far from the surface of the earth and the warmth of the sun. But strange and unique things occur, one of which is the formation of mineral deposits known as pyrite suns. These are made when formidable geologic pressure flattens pyrite into discs, often appearing decorated with gleaming, reflective striations. The beams emanating from the center are something like the sun. Or at least, the radiant, schematic version we draw on paper rather than the one we see when we raise our eyes to the star and burn them to see.

Artist Aspen Mays has quite a fascination with these objects: “I love the thought of a sun that is found buried in the earth, in the blackness of a coal mine.” Her background in art and the natural sciences influence her installations for “Pyrite Suns, Miner’s Dollars,” on view now at The Pitch Project. Pyrite suns have a few names, including sun dollars or miner’s dollars. Pyrite is also known by the familiarly dismissive term, fool’s gold.

The conflation of light and dark, dead air and bright life, are metaphorical overlays for the dozens of specimens from the artist’s collection. They are photographed on black backgrounds and blown up in prints lining the walls of the main gallery space. Mays directs our attention to texture, to line, to discoveries that lie beneath the surface. The value of pyrite suns ultimately becomes solely based in their beauty and contemplation, their making through change and time.

They are actually fragile. Over time, when exposed to oxygen and water, reactions happen and iron sulfate, sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide take over. The Milwaukee Public Museum has contributed specimens suffering from this rot to a small room in the exhibition. Their decay and deterioration is a contrast to the seemingly pristine disks photographed in the main exhibition space. The photographs are facsimiles; the decay is real. The shimmering fool’s gold has radiant beams but is colder, far less valuable than the sun it represents. It is easier to behold but not as lasting.

“Aspen Mays: Pyrite Suns, Miner’s Dollars” continues through Sept. 12 at The Pitch Project, 706 S. Fifth St.

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