The Observatory Project… Revealing a Hidden Universe
Date: 22 May 2020
Location: LASER Virtual via Zoom
Presenters: Dr Ziggy Lever, Eamon Edmundson-Wells (artists and collaborators) and Dr Tim Natusch (astrophysicist and the Deputy Director of the Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR)
Chaired by: Dr Andrew Denton and Dr Janine Randerson
The collaborative Observatory Project engages with the ways that scientists and artists operate through discussions, site visits, and making. Operating across sound, installation, and dialogue, the project explores and expands the frameworks of the observatory and the art gallery as traditional sites of experimentation in which knowledge is produced and tested. Of particular interest to the project are the physical structures, equipment, and spaces in which observations and experiences occur. How might the site of an observatory be installed to affect the kinds of observations made there?
Radio Astronomers study a diverse range of astrophysical phenomena by collecting and analysing the electromagnetic emissions produced by celestial objects at radio wavelengths. In common with all branches of astronomy our understanding of fundamental physics and the universe at scales from the smallest subatomic to the largest cosmological scale is the driving force behind this work.
Radio emissions occur at wavelengths beyond the range of detection of unaided human senses. Specialised telescopes, data gathering and complex processing techniques utilising powerful computers are required to render images and other artefacts suitable for scientific analysis. A particular problem, indeed a perpetual struggle for radio astronomers lies in communicating their research to the wider public. The objects studied and the techniques used to generate and present results appear at best foreign, at worst impenetrable.
The Observatory Project associates with a number of observatories that already exist, and/or are created specifically for the project. In this way, scientific and artistic paradigms are reframed under the banner of an expanded model; including optical, conversational, temporary, non-physical/web-based, radio, site-specific, field research, subjective, and social. This collaboration between art and science is an important chance to explore alternative modes of representation, to seek a means of conveying a more direct, even visceral connection to the work of radio astronomers.
Ziggy Lever and Eamon Edmundson-Wells are artists based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, and are founding members of The Observatory Project, established in 2018. Dr Tim Natusch is an astrophysicist and the Deputy Director of the Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR). He has collaborated with The Observatory Project during the development of Observatory for the Measuring Or Not Measuring Of Sites of Observation (OMONMOSO), which was installed at The Audio Foundation in 2019. Their work together involves experimental sonification, creative interferometry, and an exploration of the history of Radio Astronomy in New Zealand.