BY DANIELA DE PAULIS
One of my major interests is the physics of a picture. This is not a new concept – the arts have always asked for the nature of pictures or the exploration of the phenomenon of colours.
Optics – the geometry of light – and geometry played an important role for instance in the works of Leonardo da Vinci or Albrecht Dürer. Interestingly the novel concepts of imaging and colour analysis developed in the sciences in the last two centuries haven’t really been reflected that much in the visual arts. Imagine that in 2014 we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Fraunhofer’s discovery of hundreds of spectral lines in the solar spectrum.
But who knows in the arts that a colour spectrum in most cases is not a continuous phenomenon and can’t be simply put on the level of a rainbow? This is why I am interested to have a closer look to discoveries as spectroscopy or X-rays which not only changed fundamentally the sciences but implicitly everybody’s perception of the world.
It is finally the image and colour analysis which changed astronomy into modern astrophysics in the second half of the 19th century. Finally the sophisticated concepts of image and colour developed in that rather new discipline drew my attention.
Around 10 years ago I realized my first astronomy or better to say astrophysics related project. On a public light façade in Munich consisting of a raster of 10 by 10 light panels I showed pixelated pictures of the most distant objects in the universe recorded with the most advanced telescopes – this was a kind of pixel walk on the borderline of contemporary visibility.
In “From the Distant Past” I have chosen a similar conceptual approach, but focussing not pictures but the colours of distant objects in the universe. Here I used the light information of these faint objects recorded as spectrographs by the Hubble Space Telescope. The resulting colour intensity plots were projected with a high power laser as animations to prominent facades in Venice, Baltimore and New York (www.imachination.net/distantpast).
My most recent project deals with the expansion of the Universe which can be observed as a change of colour of celestial objects due to the Doppler Effect. Here I am translating light physics into acoustics creating the “Heaven’s Carousel” with 36 loudspeakers rotating with a speed up to 50km/h creating an oscillating microtonal sound tapestry.
Which astronomical topics are most relevant in your work?
Not only topics, but also the related technical methods to approach certain phenomena in astronomy are relevant for my work. For instance I am interested in the fact that the introduction of the telescope four hundred years ago not only brought celestial objects closer, but it made the sky also more colourful. As a telescope amplifies the light impression on the spectators retina, more and more of the low sensitive colour receptors are excited the bigger a telescope is.
Conceptually I am especially interested how the night sky which for our eyes is simply a flat phenomenon is turned by continuous observations into an expanded space. It was for instance the observed motion of some “fixed” stars which inspired yet in the middle of the 18th century Immanuel Kant and Heinrich Lambert to the geometrical experiment imagining the Milky Way as a disk. They even speculated that nebulae like the Andromeda Nebula might be similar star systems. Edwin Hubble finally could prove this in the 1920’s and discovered that the Universe is even expanding. In the 1990’s there were discovered strong hints that the Universe might even expand faster and faster.
Last but not least it is not only astrophysics as a discipline but also the persons behind which are of importance for my work. My projects are always collaborations for instance with astrophysicists from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) or the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). This personal exchange is a fundamental source of inspiration.