24-hour party people

The IAC Observatory sits nearly two-and-a-half kilometres up a remote mountainside on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, perched on a rim of volcanic rock, high above the clouds, tracking the stars.

starry night
starry night

Installed in 1984, the observatory may have been superceded technologically but every evening the giant optics in the now-empty building open and begin tracking the skies as the observatory’s remote operators scan hazy nebulas and distant galaxies.

telescope
telescope

Photographer John Hooper and film-maker Mike Moloney recently spent 24 hours in this remote, other-worldly environment, photographing barren landscapes, sun-bleached tarmac and quietly humming control rooms.

parched
parched

As part of their ongoing 24 Hours, Here series, in which the pair visit a location for 24 hours to create a film and photographic response, Hooper and Moloney were commissioned by arts organisation Super Collider to visit the site, along with Super Collider’s Chris Hatherill, who collected objects and journals from the observatory.

The results are going on show at the Island/Universe exhibition at London’s So Far, The Future Gallery, which opens this week and features stills, film footage and found objects.

lizards
lizards

Moloney says, ‘The idea of 24 Hours, Here is that we take ourselves to one particular area for 24 hours and create something that demonstrates our experiences there. For our previous work at Pavey Ark [a mountain in Cumbria], we created a time-lapse film.

‘For the La Palma work we wanted to shoot a film of the observatory from one site – but the best view was from the edge of the precipice and we had underestimated the power of the wind – we were on our hands and knees for a lot of the time being buffeted by the weather.’

Moloney says, ‘Although the telescope was cutting-edge in the 1980s, now it’s like this weird, archaic place.’

the forest
the forest

Hooper and Moloney are now developing ideas for the third installment in the 24 Hours, Here series, and are scoping out potential locations in the New Forest.

Island/Universe is at So Far the Future, London WC1, from 29 July-13 August

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  • Sheila Crosby November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The first telescopes at the Roque de los Muchachos opened in 1984, but the instruments on them are very much newer. the world’s newest and biggest optical telescope, GranTeCan, opened there in 2009, and there’s another small one due to open. So I’m puzzled that you say the place “may have been superceded technologically”, unless you mean that one of the fifteen telescopes there has been superceded.

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