Celestial Mechanics (2007)

“Celestial Mechanics” is a planetarium artwork that reveals many of the aerial technologies hovering, flying, and drifting above us. The project mixes science, statistical display, and contemporary art by interpreting the mechanical patterns and behaviors of these systems.

With help from government agencies and the science community, the artists worked with accurate tracking data on what can be as many as 30,000 manmade objects in the sky—planes, helicopters, satellites, weather balloons, debris, etc. They then led a team of animators to envision the data in a style that reflects the chaos, force, and influence of these technologies.

We hope to show how our lives are closely tied to invisible networks in the sky—our media, communications, navigation, military, science, and safety—but that few people consider the actual machines. The huge number of manmade systems above us are creating a new artificial universe that is filled with social and political importance. These forces are shaping our world, it’s important to visualize them.

Full Description

At any given moment, there can be 30,000 manmade objects in the sky above us—planes, helicopters, satellites, weather balloons, space debris, and other diverse technologies. They watch, they guide, they protect, they communicate, they transport, they predict, they look out into the stars. In less than 100 years, the deep blue has become a complex web of machinery.

Our lives are closely tied to these networks in the sky, but a disjunction has occurred between us and the aerial technologies we use every day. We rarely consider the hulking, physical machines that have now become core to our lifestyle. By not being aware of the hardware we use, we may also not be aware of the social, economic, cultural, and political importance of these technologies. By visualizing them, it may lead to a better understanding of the forces that are shaping our future.

However, our understanding of this mechanical chaos is so closely tied to the scale of it all—beyond global—that visualization proves limiting. Computers can now collect massive amounts of data, but our display systems are struggling to keep up. Scale is part of information, yet we continue to reduce and enlarge everything in our increasingly well-documented world to 720x540 pixels. Our glowing screens cannot present any of the phenomenology of the data…that awe that scale inspires. Planetariums give us a way to visualize a complex system without losing the emotion of the data. Scale creates wonder, and we should not separate our feelings from the statistics…they help us understand them.

“Celestial Mechanics” is a planetarium artwork being created by Scott Hessels and Gabriel Dunne. Instead of stars and planets, the ‘night sky’ program reveals many of the aerial technologies hovering, flying, and drifting above us. The project mixes science, statistical display, and contemporary art by interpreting the mechanical patterns and behaviors of these systems as culturally significant poetics. With help from government agencies and the science community, the artists worked with accurate tracking and protocol statistics to create 3-D models of the airborne systems. They then led a team of top animators to visualize those models in a style that reflects the chaos, force, and influence of these technologies.

This short presentation offers a rare opportunity to see this complex design project as a work-in-progress. When completed, “Celestial Mechanics” will be a collage of over 40 different aerial technologies that is intended to tour planetariums internationally. For more information, visit www.cmlab.com

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