Cosmic Art Installations Inspired by Space


Science has become “mainstream,” according to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — the host of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, a newly resurrected version of Carl Sagan’s 1980’s PBS series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. “It’s with us and around us,” he stated in a January interview, citing the popularity of space thriller Gravity. He’s right, of course. Our fascination with the cosmos has grown exponentially, and artists are exploring concepts of space that are bringing us closer to the solar system more than ever. Inspired by Jeff Talman’s new installation, Rhythms of Stars, at St. Paul’s Chapel of Columbia University, which continues the artist’s fascinating work with the sounds of stars (Talman is also set to release a CD that presents the sounds of the sun), we searched for other installations that use the galaxy as their guide.

A cosmic meditation on life and death, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room series continues to hypnotize viewers. In Filled with the Brilliance of Life, the artist hung hundreds of flashing LED lights from the ceiling of a darkened, mirrored room. The floor contained a shallow pool of water, but visitors traversed it over a mirrored walkway. The reflections created a dizzying sense of endless space. This was the artist’s largest Mirror Room to date.

Photo credit: Carla Warrilow

Heart of Stars was an interactive play space for Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum that allowed visitors to map constellations with their bodies — thanks to a screen onto which a Microsoft Kinect projected a set of infrared dots that moved with them.

Jon Morris’ Reflecting the Stars , a solar-powered light installation set on the Hudson River, took advantage of the decaying posts located along Pier 49. The artist attached LEDs to them, recreating a starry New York City night sky — a statement on the pollution that obscures our view of the real one. Visitors were able to press buttons to create their own constellations.

Photo credit: Studio Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno on his cosmic installation In Orbit:

When I look at the multilayered levels of diaphanous lines and spheres, I am reminded of models of the universe that depict the forces of gravity and planetary bodies. For me, the work visualizes the space-time continuum, the three-dimensional web of a spider, the ramifications of tissue in the brain, dark matter, or the structure of the universe. With In Orbit, proportions enter into new relationships; human bodies become planets, molecules, or social black holes.

Polish-born artists Joanna Malinowska and Christian Tomaszewski created a massive replica of a space suit — specifically, the first garment worn by a woman (Valentina Tereshkova) in space. The installation Mother Earth Sister Moon was part of a fashion and design show that referenced Soviet sci-fi visions of the future.

What would it be like to play in zero gravity? Gabin Ito’s interactive installation gave viewers a taste of an astronaut’s life with this sports-inspired setup.

Photo credit: Stephanie Berger

Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija recreated avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 69-minute electronic opera, Oktophonie, at the Park Avenue Armory last year. Set in the 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall, audiences had to enter the dimly lit space barefoot, wear white cloaks, and form a circle. Tiravanija honored Stockhausen’s request that the installation resemble a lunar landscape.

Recent Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the University of Leicester’s Space Centre Andrew Williams collected data from an European Space Agency satellite, attempting to give the vastness of space a voice (and the sun). From the artist:

By transposing sounds recorded by satellites into the audible range, I have been able to present the data as audio, providing a glimpse of what space would sound like if we were there and if the sounds generated were in our audible range.

Listen to a brief talk about the work over here.

California artist Mungo Thomson’s installation boasted stunning, large-scale images of photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope that resemble massive abstract paintings. Thompson said the work “came out of reflecting on the color of nothing; in outer space the void is black, and in the art context the void — the empty gallery — is always white.”

Chinese performance artist Li Wei suited up as an astronaut for last month’s Art Paris Art Fair in the Grand Palais. The artist, who normally places himself in death-defying situations for his work, mimicked a flight in zero gravity above a watchful crowd. “As soon as his feet landed back on Earth, he was descended upon by journalists, but raised his fingers in a ‘V’ sign for victory. The performance managed to recreate several images inscribed in our memory, like Neil Armstrong returning to Earth, and scenes from Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.”