The Night Sky and Human Bodies

MoMA Louise Bourgeois The Complete Prints & Books Louise Bourgeois. The Long Night. 2009
Louise Bourgeois, The Long Night, 2009

Traditionally, stars had been described as fixed points of light in the night sky, but with changing technology our ideas about them has expanded. They are now considered active, constantly moving and ebbing areas of plasma and gases. These changing ideas are still founded in human perception, and are always in relation tour own bodies. I am interested in how through physical observation, technical hypotheses, and artistic imagination our relationship to and understanding of stars is always changing.

Polar Star.jpg
Louise Bourgeois, Polar Star, 2008
The Long Night
Louise Bourgeois, The Long Night, 2008


These clock works and other astronomy inspired works by Louise Bourgeois evoke a sense of time passing, though a corporal relation to the universe. This sense of mortality, could relate to human biological cycles, especially that of women, and reproductive ties to the rotation of the earth. Because so much of Bourgeois’ work is autobiographical, it is easy to imagine these are stars she has looked up at, and had some connection with, strong enough for her to reproduce them repeatedly in print.  Of her work she remarks: “Some of us are so obsessed with the past that we die of it. It is the attitude of the poet who never finds the lost heaven and it is really the situation of artists who work for a reason that nobody can quite grasp. They might want to reconstruct something of the past to exorcise it. It is that the past for certain people has such a hold and such a beauty … Everything I do was inspired by my early life.” (Bourgeois, p.133.)

louise bourgeois les étoiles 2009 (2)
Louise Bourgeois, Les étoiles, 2009


Three astonomical globes at the Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia in 2003..jpg
Russell  Crotty, Three astonomical globes, Vancouver Art Gallery, BC  2003
Russell Crotty the milky way.jpg
Russell Crotty, the milky way

Astronomy has been Russell Crotty’s passion from a very young age. He studied the night sky, becoming an accomplished amateur astronomer with observational contributions to astronomy organizations such as NASA and ALPO. He studies the stars through the viewfinder, not through digital imaging devices. His obsessive documentation of celestial phenomenon shows through his work which combine actual scientific theoretical research and his own interpretations. The globes transform the night sky into something physical. Just a globe is used to better understand the geography of the world, his globes lend themselves to helping the viewer understand the way we see the stars.

Véronique La Perrière M., Le Souffle d’Uranie (Urania’s Breath), 2014

Véronique La Perrière M.’s practice raises questions about memory and trace, perception and identity, the invisible and the phantasmagorical. Her research explores, in the context of historical collections, intersections between mythology, imagination and the rise of scientific thinking. The film Le Souffle d’Uranie (Urania’s Breath) the artist retells the story of Urania, the Muse of Astronomy in Geek myth. The video puts cosmic images into motion, that appear and disappear through the movement of an evanescent matter. She writes that the work is “Inspired by the history of astronomy and the influence of celestial bodies on human consciousness, the film is a meditation on the mystery and fragility of existence.”

John Torreano

John Torreano’s work depict gems, jewels and stars. The gems in these often large-scale panels and sculptural columns form galaxy-like constellations. Torreano’s work often refers to actual galaxies in outer space, with combinations of realism and abstraction. His paintings raise questions of scale, and cause the viewer to question whether they are looking at something incomprehensibly large, something small, that they could hold in their hand, or something viewed through a microscope. All reference the natural world, and draw upon the similarities of patterns found in the natural world.

Title - Nocturne, 2006 Copperplate Engraving by Kiki Smith Plate Size in. IDNY.jpg
Kiki Smith, Nocturne, 2006

Kiki Smith’s representations of stars often depict the vastness of space, and the desire to understand and tame, through categorization, scientific analysis or myth. She usually presents the night sky in relation to the figure or animals, as point of reference. The interconnections of nature is a theme which runs through much of Smiths work, questioning the earthly against the celestial, and the macrocosim and microcoism.  These distant constellations harked the wonder so many feel when looking to the night sky, and point to the mystery that compelled the first astronomers to want to record, name and chart them. She continues this desire to understand though sculpture, drawing, print…

Constellation, Kiki Smith, Pino Signoretto, Ross Linda, Ross Arts Studio, New.jpg
Kiki Smith, Constellation (detail)

In these artists work, there is an attempt to relate the cosmos, to the body, either in representation, scale or narrative. I think they all speak to a desire to understand the unknowable through the body, and when possible, touch. The night sky has been so widely represented throughout art history, and I feel that I could go on about other artist’s desire to recreate the night sky.

Continued on November 20:


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