December 2, 2012

Stars align for Bates, Space shows

By Daniel Kany

We are carbon-based life forms. All life on Earth is carbon-based. Carbon is small, light and abundant, and it happens to have a practical atomic structure for making complex molecules.

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“Photopic Sky Survey” by Nick Risinger

Images courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art

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“Neptune and Triton” by Michael Benson

Additional Photos Below


WHAT: "Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography," curated by Anthony Shostak WHERE: Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston

WHEN: Through Dec. 15 HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; until 7 p.m. Wednesday INFO: 786-6158;

WHAT: "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer,"curated by Liz Sheehan

WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through Dec. 20

HOURS: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and by chance or appointment

INFO: 828-5600;;

But where does that carbon come from?

The carbon atoms in your body come from long-dead exploded stars -- probably even from thousands of different stars.

Every bit of oxygen you breathe and everything you touch was made possible by star death.

There is a section of "Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography" at Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston that is all about "star death" -- the step-by-step process by which incomparably powerful processes of destruction and creation give birth to each other.

If you don't know -- or care -- what's going on with the cosmos, "Starstruck" is still extraordinarily beautiful. Whether you go for photography, art, science or spirituality, "Starstruck" is one of the most moving and intriguing exhibitions to alight here in, well eons.

If you don't know about astrophysics, you have all the more reason to go. All you have to do is look.

(If the subject intrigues you, get the excellent catalog; I couldn't put it down until I had read it cover to cover.)

I also had the great fortune of visiting "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" at Space Gallery in Portland before visiting "Starstruck." If you can visit them in that order -- do it.

Curated by Liz Sheehan (formerly of Bates), the Space show is about the visual translation of data into conventions guided by our aesthetic sensibilities.

Nathalie Miebach, for example, translates meteorological and oceanic information into two giant, complex molecule-like buoy forms that illustrate data sets. They are simple substitution ciphers, but they reveal how intricately vast these systems are.

I most enjoyed the works of Bartow+Metzgar's "non-human drawings" in part for their wide-eyed naivete -- as though they were the first people to let nature do the drawing. The drawings resulting from attaching drawing platforms to tree limbs for a particular amount of time are particularly interesting as a group, because together, they start to feel legible.

They wander onto the turf of seismographs and sundials, but in a way, that reveals the human instinct for conjectural knowledge -- which is more akin to tracking or detective work than scientific method.

Bartow+Metzgar are trying to create languages to decipher, but they are starting with the indexes rather than any natural phenomena to explain.

One striking similarity is how Bartow+Metzgar's labels at Space resemble Hans-Christian Schink's exhibition labels at Bates: They are lists with data points relating to grids of works on paper.

Schink's extraordinary photographs are created by pointing a camera at the sun to expose film for one hour from various points around the globe. Alone, any image looks like a darkroom accident with the thick black line near its center. But together, they reveal what is going on: The black line is the path of the sun (weirdly -- but predictably -- the hyper exposure goes black).

The direction of the line depends on several variables, including where in the world you are; and Schink shows the landscape for context.

Deep in the spiritual and technological wonders of "Starstruck," I was momentarily horror-struck when I first saw the black nuclear-sun streak over Japan. But I doubt that Schink, from Germany, ever felt what I did right then.

In fact, the works are from around the world, and it's a great combination of invited artists and juried inclusions. Jury-found Frenchman Jean-Paul Roux's "Blue Moon Eclipse," for example, is the most artistically beautiful photo of the moon I have ever seen.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“Blue Moon Eclipse” by Jean-Paul Roux

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“Cassini 17” by Thomas Ruff

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A piece from the Nathalie Miebach series “Changing Waters"

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