Paul Fryer is playing God. One Marylebone Road, formerly the church of Holy Trinity, will become the setting for the artist's most significant solo exhibition to date, a giant cabinet of curiosities where science, religion and art collide.
On entering the church, we see a child-sized, winged human figure, convulsed on the altar steps. On closer inspection we see that he is a waxen image of Lucifer (Morning Star), caught fast in a web of telegraph wires: a symbol of frail humanity, trapped in a terrible web of his own making. The work references Fryer's earlier Martyr (2007), a poetic memorial to the first victim of the electromechanical revolution, a lineman who was accidentally killed by falling onto wires on Broadway in 1889. His public electrocution paved the way for the introduction of the electric chair in the US.
At 47' long, Time We Left This World Today almost fills the nave. It is a facsimile of the V2 Missile, the first rocket to leave the Earth's atmosphere, clinker-built from highly-polished wood, now more rocket-ship than weapon, preparing for a fantastic voyage. Upstairs, eleven dodecahedral Telstar communication satellites are lined up, stretching the length of the gallery room; each is made from a different sequence of exotic woods wonderfully figured in a virtuoso display of craftsmanship. In the artist's vision the milestone achievements of technological history and science are rendered impotent, yet take on a new and wondrous aesthetic.
Elsewhere Fryer 'paints' more landmark moments in wood marquetry: House Triptych depicts stages in the destruction of a clapboard house by a nuclear explosion; Edgerton Triptych shows an atom bomb nanoseconds after detonation, both events impossible to see under normal circumstances. In the Fryer universe time is stretched and truncated and the invisible is made visible. He delights in these revelations: "It's about showing things that people don't normally see. Electricity stays in the plug…it's designed to be invisible, because people don't want to be electrocuted… and maybe they don't really want to see the rays from space that travel through our bodies because it's frightening…" says Fryer. "But danger aside, the actual exploration of things, and the wonder of discovery…that's what really excites me."
To this end, Fryer frequently collaborates with engineer/physicist Colin Dancer, making natural phenomena come to life at the flick of a switch. Starlight, cosmic rays, electromagnetic forces, soundwaves: all appear to order. It's a subjective reality, but a very convincing one. Key to the impact is beauty: these moments of scientific wonder are both beautiful and frightening and all the more compelling for that.
In a separate room stands Revelation, a delicate architectural construction of glass and aluminium, which actually shows the paths ofcosmic rays in real time as they descend from outer space. These light-speed travelers, from celestial origins 200,000 years away, appear as flashes of lightning, crackling through a series of plates in a Helium-Neon atmosphere. We see them for a just a moment before they continue on their endless journey, caught as we are in our own instant and coordinate in time and space.
Back in the main hall two 5m high, fully-functioning, aluminum Tuning Forks loom over the visitor, evoking a reverence for a faith not yet discovered, uncanny icons of a strange future religion.
Their deep resonance vibrates through the visitor's body at a reassuring (or disconcerting) 72 Hertz.
Nearby at Dickinson, the partner venue for this exhibition, a star, captured and imprisoned in a bell jar, glows forlornly. A miniature Aurora Borealis shimmers, tantalizingly close, in a box. Next door the three-movement work Demon (for Laplace) sees waxwork devils squatting atop the ultimate architectural achievement, the cantilevered staircase. Each is depicted as a carpenter, developing his own idiosyncratic stairway to heaven. None of them seem to have got very far. But it doesn't seem to have stopped them from trying