BRB Navigating by Shifting Stars
28 September – 28 October
There are over eight thousand satellites floating around our orbit. Only half of them are functioning anymore and most are there to provide networks for communication. Only a hundred and change are used for navigation, which maybe suggests that we are a habitual species who don’t roam far from our known paths, or that we have already discovered most of the discoverable paths and we generally stick to them. Or that maybe we’re still using maps or asking someone at a train station which stop to get off or scribbling out a quick map on the back of a coaster.
They used to make maps from sticks and shells to navigate between islands and treacherous currents. They used to carve star charts on the tusks of mammoths. Paint them on the walls of caves, emboss them into metal. Scratch symbols on the side of a fencepost for those who follow. The nice thing about holding a map is being able to consider the space you have to cross on the way to the thing you’re looking for. Being able to trace a rarely-straight line between points in nature, wondering about inclines, obstacles, having to consider recent weather, the inhabitants of the area. Tracing a line on a map is the first time you take the journey. The second you do with your feet.
Holding a star chart is both only a suggestion, and an exercise in higher dimensional imagining. You cannot navigate through it in the same way as an undulating plane. Each landmark is only a gateway into an unknowable part of the journey. Turn here and then go out. Stop here, and then travel to an unknowable interior. You’ll figure out when to stop. You’ll have to use time instead of space, to some degree. Also, your internal map will shift dramatically. You’ll probably hold yourself as the centre, just to try and keep anchored to something. This is how we got it wrong in the first place. Kept thinking we were the thing that created the orbit that shifted the skies.
I read something recently about how much we focus our attention on our relationship to the earth and neglect our relationship to the stars, which gave me pause for a minute, thinking about how we possibly might ignore that limitless ceiling punctured with light which descends each evening. I guess they were talking in a responsibility sense, but then the internet is full of stories about billionaires building rockets to go to mars, and wanting to wrangle asteroids like cowboys so they can keep drilling and digging into something, if not our diminishing earth.
So maybe it’s a loss of perspective, about how incredible it is that out of all those almost-infinite amount of celestial bodies which inhabit this ever-expanding space, that only one (that we know of) exists exactly far enough from a sun to not be burned to a crisp, and exactly close enough to allow life to develop. Just the one. Perhaps we forget the wonder of that rarity. Take it a bit for granted, maybe that’s how we can consider life in a plastic bag in an endless desert as a viable alternative to this almost-paradise we could have had.
I like stars. I’d say I love them, but we’ve never gotten that close, so we’ll have to settle for a mild obsession, a distant crush. A sort of idealised thing I carry around in my head. I guess there have been a lot of us who carry the same torch – some with more fervour than others. Most of all those early people who sat beneath them and tried to develop an entire cosmology from their particular arrangements. As if it might explain life down here, under the galactic blanket, so to speak. There is incredible comfort in their predictability. We’ve developed systems and languages, embedded them with mystical insights, aligned planets with qualities and aspirations we do and don’t have. Look for meaning whenever and wherever we can. Making maps of things we might have been, or for what we might become.
These paintings are some of that. There are charts that are meant to suggest a person’s journey. There are some dedications to that vast darkness we have always used to find home. Some architectural suggestions for looking up into the void. Some other bits because the world is fundamentally about interconnections between disparate things.