5 May 2012

100 Billion Suns

Katie Peterson
Glogaverstr 26
Berlin 1099

Wednesday 18th January 2012

Dear Mrs Urquhart

I'm sorry to inform you of the death of the star 6RB 120118B.

Yours sincerely

Katie Paterson

There were dozens of these letters, bearing different dates and different star-codes, all set out neatly and chronologically in a display case along one wall of a tiny white gallery. The artist Katie Paterson had written to The Haunch of Venison informing the gallery of the deaths of stars over the past year. Astronomical institutes notified her each time a star exploded. So she wrote a letter for each dead star. Most were typed, some hand-written, some on thick luxurious card, some on fine leaves of paper, some bordered, some with bright envelopes. All had the same jolly stamps and bore the same simple lines of death. In the final display case, the letters were no longer set out separately, but were piled up and overlapping. I glimpsed a date: 22nd April 2012. Only a week before I visited the exhibition.

Tiny multi-coloured perfect circles lay on the glass covering the letters. At first there were very few, only dotted here and there, but then they seemed to multiply and cluster as the number of star-deaths grew. I thought they symbolised the dead stars. It turned out they had been blown from a confetti canon behind me. 3126 pieces of paper had been placed in the canon, with each piece matching the colours of the brightest explosions of the universe - Gamma Ray bursts are the brightest, burning with a luminosity 100 billion times that of our sun. The canon was set to go off at 1pm for the duration of the exhibition, creating a miniature explosion of all the vast explosions in the greater universe in just under a second. Cool.

At the Venice Biennale 2011, one hundred of these canons were exploded around the city at anonymous locations at times, set off night and day, over major piazzas and narrow backstreets. Each explosion was captured in a photograph, some of which were displayed. Colours mid-air in the night sky, spots of paper mingling with leaves on the ground, smoke lingering from the canons. It looked like sequins had invaded the city.

A television was set up in the middle of the gallery space. It showed footage of ancient darkness. Darkness broadcast from the edge of the universe, from the furthest point of the observed universe, nearly 13.2 billion years ago, long before the Earth existed, when the first light began to form. I watched one minute of this darkness, the dark minute shown on a continual loop.

I visited this exhibition on its final day. Before the lights went out and all went dark. Apparently, during the hours of darkness, the gallery lights flickered in time with lightning storms happening across the world. There has been many London thunderstorms of late, so much lightning this past fortnight. The perfect time to celebrate stars. I wish it rained coloured-paper confetti instead of damp grey mists. I'm sick of being soggy. I'd rather be sequined.


Chris said...

This is a bit of a surprise! I was expecting something about Damien Hirst, which is the exhibition I thought you were visiting......so much culture for one small person to absorb. Impressive. (its possible that I have some spelling errors)

anna said...

The Damien post is pending...