Making the Universe Physical (updated)

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.

November 20 2017 Additions:

As I have been thinking about how my work for the Frame, Form, Fracture assignment has been developing, my research has been drifting back and forth between scientific sources, and other artists’ work. I have been thinking about how the cosmos is related to the body, both as markers of time and movement, but also just about how we represent the night sky. How do we understand something so infinitely large, and why do we seek to understand it? I have been trying to record these ideas through drawing, for its immediacy, and historical connection to astronomical observations, but I have also been curious about the means other artists use.

caroline bartlet
Caroline Bartlett, Full Circle, 2012

When I first saw Caroline Bartlett’s Full Circle works, I immediate thought of the cyanometer I wrote about in an earlier entry. These works made of pleated, stitched linen and porcelain, evoke constellations against a changing sky, on materials that seem intrinsically connected to touch. Bartlett talk about her folding work as collecting everything together, from across time and space, into a physical object.

Stanislava Pinchuk, Dreaming Through Mapping, 2013

Stanislava Pinchuk, also known as Miso, documents the night sky through pokes, through paper or into skin through her repetitiously punctured drawings and homemade tattoos. Through her paperworks, personal journeys are depicted as constellations, and scientifically inspired diagrams. Translating the world around her from personal to astronomical in proportion. “A walk between her home and her friend’s place becomes a trajectory of inter-planetary orbits and speaks volumes about our own navigation of the complex environment we inhabit.” The imagery we see is made up of the absence of material, questioning the nature of space between things, and what those are made of, playing with the idea of what is the void, and how it relates to our lives.


Her tattoos similarly place a personal value on the astronomical. Each is traded for a meal, and bouquet, a place to sleep. Altering the value of a star, or moon to something physical, and understandable in our world.

Stanislava Pinchuk Home-made tattoos... A map of 4 cities between Melbourne (Constellation): traded for a drawing
miso: home-made tattoos for katie / map between 4 important places in relation to melbourne / traded for installation help

Since 2011, upon hearing the news stars have died, Katie Paterson has been writing and mailing a letter announcing each ones death, or offering her condolences to the person who discovered that star. Between three and 150 letters have been written every week. This work and All the Dead Stars document the locations of just under 27,000 dead stars – all that have been recorded and observed by humankind. The map and letters combine the galactic with the mundane, reaching for further connections to space, over the course of time.

Katie Paterson, All the Dead Stars, 2011
Katie Paterson, The Dying Star Letters, 2012

Hajra Waheed’s series Still Against the Sky 1-3, mimic a pleated maps of the galaxy, making the infinite space seem intimate in scale. This deep sky meditation, could be folded and fit into your pocket. The surface is embossed, giving an additional tactile quality to the cosmos. Waheed also describes it as able to reflect the sun, to mislead any drone’s cameras and making you untraceable. In her ongoing exploration of surveillance, this map acts as a tool to disrupt their work. This idea also, fits within her larger questions about the notion that stories and events exist only if they are registered, recorded and recounted, questioning what is the truth.

Hajra Waheed, Still Against the Sky 2/3, 2016

Through these different methods of working, conceptual approaches and materials, the universe is make into a physical representation. Each made at a human scale, while not explicitly depicting the body, makes reference to our connections to the cosmos by way of trying to understand ourselves.



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