Funded! This project was successfully funded on May 25, 2013.

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19th Century Space Observatory taken over by Artists, Musicians and Scientists for an Exhibition Exploring Observation and Imagination

The Observatory Project

The invention of the telescope marked the first time that an instrument was used to observe the known universe.

It also marked one of the first points at which science and art joined together, by using an invention in the production of knowledge about the natural world.

Ladd Observatory 12" Refracting Telescope
Ladd Observatory 12" Refracting Telescope

Introduction

A diverse group of collaborators including Carissa Abitabilo, Babette Allina, Rafael Attias, Stephen Cooke, Lee Kuczewski, Mikhail Mansion, Lynne McCormack, Patrice Newman, Will Reeves, Michael Umbricht, and others, are building a site-specific exhibit at the Ladd Observatory, Providence RI, incorporating visual mechanisms, sculptural objects and musical performance to highlight notions of observation at various degrees of perspective, imagination and apparent magnitude.

Some of the Observatory Project Collaborators
Some of the Observatory Project Collaborators

As disciplines converge, (we see evidence of this in science, engineering and design materials explorations), artists and curators have begun to share their respective spaces. This exhibition assumes a neutral place, blurring the lines between curatorial practice and the practice of “making.” It is one of the dimensions explored in this project.

A strong public imagination is the fabric of scientific inquiry. For example, federal budget approvals for space programs often reflect public attention, and wait for approval. Over the years public observatories have undergone much of the same difficulty, waxing and waning like larger programs such as Apollo and the Shuttle. The value of this project resides in bringing science to the public through the lens of art and activating the imagination in a way that gets people excited about art, space science and what can happen at the intersection of these disciplines.

Clockwise from top left: An image taken from the Observatory of the solar eclipse of June 24th, 1924; Telescope micrometer detail; The library room, circa 1898; Exterior of the Observatory in 1904, printed from a glass plate negative.
Clockwise from top left: An image taken from the Observatory of the solar eclipse of June 24th, 1924; Telescope micrometer detail; The library room, circa 1898; Exterior of the Observatory in 1904, printed from a glass plate negative.

Project Components

Artists on the project are working in conjunction with musicians and scientists to create a diverse range of exhibits, installations and performances at the Ladd Observatory. The artwork will span several categories including electronic media art, sculpture, animation, video and live performance.

Chronograph, Warner & Swasey, Cleveland, Ohio (1890), Photo by Lee Allen
Chronograph, Warner & Swasey, Cleveland, Ohio (1890), Photo by Lee Allen

Media Technology

The observatory offers a venue for investigation as well as observation. Using an array of electrical sensors and actuators in conjunction with prepared speakers, projectors and screens, the observer will enter into a mediated cosmic space, featuring works installed in the main observatory dome. Here audiences will be invited to step in and experience a creative shift of their visual and auditory perspective. The main telescope will also be used to render unseen images of both near and distant worlds.

Interactive Sound Installation, Mikhail Mansion
Interactive Sound Installation, Mikhail Mansion
Solar Performance, Mikhail Mansion + Rafael Attias
Solar Performance, Mikhail Mansion + Rafael Attias

Observation

The second component builds onto the first, using the specific language of the observatory to play with perception and offer alternative views. The group will design and build several telescope objects that look beyond the immediate and into the worlds of chance and alignment. We delve into exploring the significance of the virtual image; as it appears to represent the closest we can perceive and generate when real world objects are not present, or are outside of the physical limitations of human vision. Through mirrors, lenses, chance and time, we explore this alternative world; using the rooms of the Ladd as chambers of a camera.

Observation of Bacterial Sketch, Babette Allina
Observation of Bacterial Sketch, Babette Allina
Streptomyces Sketch, Babette Allina
Streptomyces Sketch, Babette Allina

Music/Sound

Scored for two amplified pianos and two percussionists, the work expands the capacity of the grand piano through amplification, but mainly by magnifying intimate, delicate sound effects or the durations of sounds that would otherwise decay before they can communicate to the human ear. Music for a Summer Evening consists of five movements: Nocturnal Sounds (The Awakening), Wanderer-Fantasie [referencing Schubert’s monumental work of the same title, as well as historic human themes of exploration], The Advent, Myth, and Music of the Starry Night. Each features a mix of ‘absolute’ music and musical references to other cultural works or ‘places.’

Offering another dimension of the Observatory Project’s focus on science viewed through the lens of art is a concert offering of ‘Music for a Summer Evening’ (Part III in the series “Makrokosmos”) by American composer and Pulitzer Prize winner George Crumb. The performance will take place on the opening night.

George Crumb, Musical Score, "Music for a Summer's Evening", Photo by Babette Allina
George Crumb, Musical Score, "Music for a Summer's Evening", Photo by Babette Allina

Artifact

The rooms of the Observatory contain display cases filled with historical objects related to the practice of astronomy (measuring devices, photographs, clocks, etc.). The installation will complement and play off of the existing display objects, referencing historical innovations, the notion of exploration, measurements and scales of magnitude.

Morning Star, Will Reeves
Morning Star, Will Reeves
Telescope, Photo by Lee Allen
Telescope, Photo by Lee Allen

Project Budget

  • Staffing Observatory: $750
  • Musicians/Rental Costs:   $2,500
  • Artists’ Materials for central projects: $5,250
  • Documentation: $500
  • Total Project Cost: $9,000
  • Grant awarded by Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (funds in hand):  $2,000   
  • Funds Needed through KICKSTARTER: $7,000  
Moon Image, Ladd Observatory Archive, Photo by Lee Allen
Moon Image, Ladd Observatory Archive, Photo by Lee Allen

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

[1] Time, Effort and Coordination. The Observatory Project group, consisting of over 20 artists, musicians and scientists working on eight + project components is committed to the time and effort required to pull off a fully immersive art/science/music experience at the Ladd Observatory over a 3 day period in June, 2013.

Working collaboratively with a large group of people from various disciplines is both a risk and a challenge. Communication, planning, and the time commitment this project requires of the participants, who also maintain professional practices have been a central focus of our efforts. We have been developing this project for over a year, and feel confident that this exhibition is an achievable goal within the set timeframe.

[2] Technical expertise. There are technical challenges in completing this work as well, such as performing the highly complex work of composer George Crumb. Involving so many people from diverse fields enriches the project as a whole, but requires that individual collaborators meet their creative goals.

This group of collaborators has extensive experience working on multi-faceted projects and site-specific installations.

[3] Raising the required funding. Securing resources to complete a project is always a challenge.

If this Kickstarter campaign is successful, we will have the remaining support needed to fully fund the project (staffing needs and production of the work). In addition to addressing factors of time, effort and cost, we believe we have resolved any potential risks and challenges to completing this project.

[4] The Unknown. The Observatory Project is timed to coincide with the summer solstice and full moon, but none of the components is dependent on any particular celestial occurrence.

If a catastrophic event should occur, we will reschedule the exhibition for a later date.

FAQ

  • The Observatory Project will open on Thursday, June 20th, at 6pm, with a live musical performance at the nearby Music Mansion, featuring selected works by George Crumb. The exhibit will also be open on Friday, June 21st and Saturday, June 22nd from 6-9pm. The event will coincide with both the Providence Gallery Night (June 20th) and the Summer Solstice (June 21st).

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    13 backers

    To thank you we are sending you an official Observatory Project sticker, featuring a telescope design by one of the artists! You will also be acknowledged on the project website.

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    4 backers

    To thank you we are sending a recording of Jupiter from the observatory's radio telescope! You will also be acknowledged on the Observatory Project website.

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    14 backers

    To thank you we are designing and sending you an official Observatory Project patch. You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope and acknowledgement on the project website.

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    To thank you we are designing and sending you a limited edition Observatory Project poster. You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope and acknowledgement on the project website.

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    14 backers Limited (6 left of 20)

    To thank you we are creating a very special, limited edition "Tiny Universe" artwork, an LED illuminated filmcell featuring imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope. You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope and acknowledgement on the project website.

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    To thank you for your generous donation one of our very talented musicians will provide a Music Consulation. With this gift you can share or start your musical journey, explore musical questions, revive dormant musical impulses, or discuss sounds and how to make them at the piano with pianist Patrice Newman (20 minute consultation). You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope, along with an Observatory Project patch and special acknowledgement on the website.

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    10 backers All gone!

    To thank you for your generous donation, and as an alternative to the music consultation, we are offering reserved first row seating for our live musical performance of "Music for a Summer Evening", by George Crumb, on the evening of the opening. You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope, along with an Observatory Project patch and special acknowledgement on the website.

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    4 backers

    To thank you for your very generous donation we are sending you a miniature 3D printed telescope, designed by one of the artists. You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope, along with an Observatory Project patch and special acknowledgement on the website.

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    3 backers

    To thank you for your extremely generous donation we are hosting an exclusive reception at the Ladd Observatory prior to the closing of the exhibition with all the project's creators. You will also receive a Jupiter recording from our radio telescope, a miniature 3D printed telescope, an Observatory Project patch and very special acknowledgement on the website.

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Funding period

- (29 days)