Our director Frank Rose spent months on a national search for artists who explore personal or cultural visions of outer space in their work. The resulting exhibition, Inner Orbit, presents the cosmos not as a dark void, but as a densely layered cultural landscape. We asked Frank to discuss two of the artists who appear in the show for a new video series called Curator’s Selection. First up is St. Paul-based artist Eric William Carroll, who contributed several works from his Standard Stars series to Inner Orbit. Watch the video above for Frank’s take, and read Eric’s thoughts on the body of work below.
My project Standard Stars draws from three years of research at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI), located an hour outside of Asheville, North Carolina in the small town of Rosman, and surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest.
One of PARI’s missions is to collect and digitize the largest archive of astronomical glass-plate photographs, known as the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive, commonly referred to as APDA. Currently, APDA is a collection of over 200,000 public-domain glass plate negatives that have been acquired from institutions and individuals all over the world. The visual wealth of APDA is unparalleled, as it documents the history of photographing the sky from the late 1800’s until the end of the 20th century on a now obsolete medium. There is an undeniable physical beauty to these photographic objects, which explains why I have made many trips over the years to immerse myself in the collection.
With just over 1% of the archive scanned, most of the photographic plates sit in boxes and on shelves, slowly deteriorating. The emulsion peels off of the glass plate in a variety of patterns, as if nature is trying to creep back into these scientific studies. In these images I have carefully composed the flakes of emulsion and photographed them on a light table and then inverted the image. In some cases, such as NA8302, the astronomer accidentally spilled oil on the plate. In NA8075, the exposed plate wasn’t processed in enough developer solution. These errors bridge the gap between galaxy and astronomer.
All in all, I have made high-resolution scans and photographs of over 500 plates from APDA. Visually and metaphorically, APDA represents the human attempt to study, represent, and organize the Universe. The fact that this collection is in danger of disintegrating and being forgotten is sadly and beautifully poetic.
Click here to browse the complete Inner Orbit exhibition on our website. The show appears in conjunction with Santa Fe Futurition, the Currents New Media Festival, and the Santa Fe Institute’s Interplanetary Festival.