Bright Skies: looking at the work of Constellations artist Katie Paterson

Bren O’ Callaghan, Cornerhouse’s Visual Arts Programme Manager, takes a look at the out of this world works of Constellations artist Katie Paterson.

The Universe is bang-on-trend this season, with dark matter stealing column inches as the new black, while paparazzi jostle for bikini snaps of the Large Hadron Collider reclining in her sub-surface soil resort. Here at Cornerhouse, ever on-pulse, our new exhibition Constellations features artist Katie Paterson who joined the Astrophysics Group within University College London’s Physics & Astronomy Department as their first Artist in Residence, thanks to a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

 Having previously sought out the expertise of UCL for an earlier work, All the Dead Stars, the artist created a laser etched map on black anodized aluminium of all the demised stars recorded since records began, some 27,000 different kinds. As a result of this most recent residency, which allowed her to expand upon her research and interest in Ancient Darkness and Early Light, Cornerhouse is delighted to host the UK premier of 100 Billion Suns – a confetti cannon that mimics the dizzying spectrum of a universal phenomenon.

 “There are 3, 216 pieces of paper that each correspond to an explosion called a gamma ray burst,” explains Katie about the work. “When it burns, it burns as brightly as 100 billion suns. It outshines the whole galaxy, the brightest explosion to happen in the universe. So I collected and sourced all 3,216 images [of documented gamma ray bursts] and colour-matched them. It’s a bit like a tiny explosion of all these universal explosions that have happened, but making it a one second moment here on Earth.”

Over time, with each daily release, the confetti pile will grow to become a brilliantly coloured swathe of simulated stardust, massing in the gallery like a bank of rainbow snow. The wider exhibition, also featuring work from Kitty Kraus, Takahiro Iwasaki and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, has been curated by Karen Gaskill and Michelle Kasprzak with the presiding intention that it express a sense of flux and shift over the course of display, much like the churning skies.

 Also appearing alongside 100 Billion Suns is Katie Paterson’s Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), an automated piano which plays a fragmented version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The sheet music was transcribed into morse code and beamed to the moon, where it was reflected back to source. However, given the pitted, cratered nature of the Moon’s surface, not all the notes made it back home. Some were deflected into space and it is this scarred and lonely lament that will play as you ascend the central stairwell.

100 Billion Suns will fire daily during the period of exhibition, Tue – Fri at 19:00, Sat & Sun at 14:00.