Fumbling Through the Cosmos

I gave a presentation this week at Bushwakker Pub and Brewhouse, along with my colleague Rob Truszkowski, as part of the 2014-2015 Science Pub Series run by the University of Regina Faculties of Science, Engineering and Applied Science, and Art, in partnership with the Dunlop Art Gallery.

My presentation was called Fumbling Through the Cosmos: Amateur Astronomy as a Critical Method of Art Making, and I spoke about wanting to provide some insight into art practice and the various methods that artists employ as a part of art practice, giving a nod to the Critical Making movements in art and technology.

It is sensible that so much attention is given to the most visible aspects of art: art itself. I want to make more visible the processes of making art; all the activities (not strictly technical) that artists engage, and to highlight these as methods in discussions of practice-based research or research-creation.

So, I basically shared my experiences working on the threshold of incompetence in relation to the huge learning curves the project entails (documented quite fully on this blog). Now thinking about this, so much of that incompetence has been technical (learning how to draw, how to understand planetary motions, how to make 3d models, how to use a telescope, how to chart a star map), and I have found it easy to write and speak about those experiences.

I’m working on finding better ways to articulate the more philosophical or existential in the project – where I began, with that sense of wonder and reminder of the incomprehensibly huge scale of the universe and our ability to make sense of it (or not). There’s a certain incompetence wrapped up in the quest for new knowledge (in academic lingo) – we must admit that we do not know about a thing.

I’m working right now on my presentation this coming Friday in Toronto at the UAAC conference (on the topic of the ‘unfinished artist’s project’, with Barbara Balfour, Annie Martin, and Jenn Law), and finding myself stuck in the literalness of the unfinished business of not knowing, and the acquisition of technical skill. Another coffee is needed.


Posted in Making Art, Presentations/Papers, Research/Creation, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog Link: Lumpy Darkness, Blake Nancarrow

I keep meaning to post a link to Blake’s blog, which is chock full of documentation, data, and how-to.


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Some larger, processed, marathon images.

Ring Nebula

Ring Nebula

Trifid Nebula

another Swan Nebula

Another Swan Nebula

Trifid Nebula



Swan Nebula

Swan Nebula

Posted in Carr Astronomical Observatory, Imaging Equipment and Telescopes, Observing | Leave a comment

Turn Left at Orion ‘Summer’ marathon at the CAO, July 5-6 2014

All right. Rob C. came to Winnipeg in May with a lovely early edition book for me: Turn Left At Orion. I hadn’t look at it much until this past weekend at the CAO…

In brief: I spent Thursday at Norm’s mill with Tom Leonhardt (meeting Norm White for the first time – awesome dude), and visiting with Geoffrey and Ilse. Tom spent the night at the CAO and Blake volunteered his time to show off some of the sky for Tom, who thoroughly enjoyed his visit, and also got to see and photograph the sun on Friday before driving east.

Friday was a nice night, with two newbies totally wowed. I stayed up till about 3am (saw the 2:45~ Iridium Flare), having photographed the Whirlpool Galaxy and gathered a bunch of video of Saturn with my 8″ using both Ian’s borrowed ToUCam+netbook and my planetary camera (the seeing sucked, everything was swimming, anyway).

I was super lazy on Saturday and even as I took one final nap at 8:45pm I was unsure I’d be able to pull off my goal for the night: to photograph all the main ‘summer’ entries in Turn Left at Orion using my D7000 and 8″ Edge/CGEM rig. I didn’t aim to shoot fantastic images of all these object: just down and dirty identifiable so that I could have a project for the night, and get to know a bit of the night sky.

I did it! While the book quite wonderfully includes sketches of what each object would look like through a finder scope and low powered eye piece with a 3-4″ scope, all my photographs were shot at prime: so the relative scale of each object is consistent across the images.

Some bits and pieces:

  • after confirming my polar alignment was still good, doing a 2+4 alignment/calibration, and shooting some dSLR video of Saturn (much more still last night), someone must have wiggled the power supply because the mount reset itself and lost its alignment. I was annoyed, but took the opportunity to re-do it as accurately as I could since most of the ‘summer’ objects would not be visible outside of exposures
  • I used my 12.5mm cross hairs eyepiece and left the objects unfocussed. I found the big target of the shadow of the secondary mirror to be very helpful in centering in the cross hairs. This was good, since in the end, everything slewed in frame (though I did wing some minor slow slew tweaking to better position some objects).
  • I first slewed to Arcturus and used it to focus. By object 6, M6, the mount flipped over the meridian, and I lost my focus. Blake helped me find a star on the same side to re-focus on (Nunci), and by the time I’d focuseed, M6 had crossed the meridian again, so another flip. At around this first flip, Blake suggested I used my focus lock on the SCT – and my focus was really great for the rest of the session.
  • All in all, the scope flipped 10 times. 10 times. The final 8 or so objects were up high, so I was sitting on the concrete pad to see the lcd. Ian had loaned me a table and stool, which were very helpful for the other objects.
  • It was windy.
  • Below I’ve included a few details about each object (I did not take many notes) – and each object is as-shot .jpg, in the recommended order of viewing in the book. The RAW files are on hand, and I shot dark frames for some longer exposures of the fabulous nebulas, which are LINKED HERE.
  • This could become 8 total projects: each season by go-to; and each season by push-to, when/if I begin to actually learn to star hop.

Here they are! Click on any for a larger version.

1. Graffias (Beta Scorpii) – double star

14-07-05 11:16pm ISO 6400, 10s

14-07-05 11:16pm, ISO 6400, 10s


14-07-05, 11:24pm ISO12800, 1/250th separated

14-07-05, 11:24pm ISO12800, 1/250th



2. M4 – globular cluster

14-07-05, 11:24pm ISO10000, 6s Open. Nice.

14-07-05, 11:24pm ISO10000, 6s
Open. Nice.


3. M80 – globular cluster

14-07-05, 11:33pm ISO6400, 8s. Pretty!

14-07-05, 11:33pm ISO6400, 8s.


4. M19 – globular cluster

14-07-05, 11:47pm ISO6400, 6s.

14-07-05, 11:47pm ISO6400, 6s.


5. M62 – open cluster

14-07-05, 11:52pm, ISO6400, 6s. Pretty. Golden!

14-07-05, 11:52pm, ISO6400, 6s.
Pretty. Golden!


6. M6 – open cluster

14-07-06, 12:07am. ISO6400, 8s. yes: open!

14-07-06, 12:07am. ISO6400, 8s.
yes: open!


7. M7 – open cluster

14-07-06, 12:12am. ISO6400, 8s.

14-07-06, 12:12am. ISO6400, 8s.


8. M22 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 12:16am. ISO6400, 8s. Very nice, many clear bright stars.

14-07-06, 12:16am. ISO6400, 8s.
Very nice, many clear bright stars.


9. M28 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 12:42am. ISO6400, 8s. Very Windy! Hot chocolate break.

14-07-06, 12:42am. ISO6400, 8s.
Very Windy! Hot chocolate break.


10. M8 (Lagoon Nebula) – open cluster

14-07-06, 12:49am. ISO6400, 30s. wow! gorgeous pink with long dark lanes.  See bottom for stack with dark frame from RAW.

14-07-06, 12:49am. ISO6400, 30s.
wow! gorgeous pink with long dark lanes.
See bottom for stack with dark frame from RAW.


11. M20 (Trifid Nebula) – open cluster

14-07-06, 12:53am. ISO6400, 30s. beautiful! See below for stack+dark frame.

14-07-06, 12:53am. ISO6400, 30s.
beautiful! See below for stack+dark frame.


12. M21 – open cluster

14-07-06, 1:03am. ISO6400, 10s. Looks like an octopus.

14-07-06, 1:03am. ISO6400, 10s.
Looks like an octopus.


13. M23 – open cluster

14-07-06, 1:05am. ISO6400, 10s. Wide open.

14-07-06, 1:05am. ISO6400, 10s.
Wide open.


14. M25- open cluster

14-07-06, 11:07am. ISO6400, 10s. Still in focus.

14-07-06, 1:07am. ISO6400, 10s.
Still in focus.


14b. M24 – open cluster – (in the neighbourhood)

14-07-06, 11:08am. ISO6400, 10s.

14-07-06, 1:08am. ISO6400, 10s.


14c. M18 – open cluster – (in the neighbourhood)

14-07-06, 11:10am. ISO6400, 10s.

14-07-06, 1:10am. ISO6400, 10s.


14d. M17 (Omega/Swan Nebula) – diffuse nebula – (in the neighbourhood, also a main item on the list, see below (Ian: yeah, I did it twice))

14-07-06, 11:17am. ISO6400, 30s. First of two that I included here, can't recall why.

14-07-06, 1:17am. ISO6400, 30s.
First of two that I included here, can’t recall why.


14-07-06, 11:18am. ISO6400, 30s.

14-07-06, 1:18am. ISO6400, 30s.


15. M54 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:20am. ISO6400, 8s. Very bright core.

14-07-06, 1:20am. ISO6400, 8s.
Very bright core.


16. M55 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:25am. ISO6400, 8s. Nice and Open

14-07-06, 1:25am. ISO6400, 8s.
Nice and Open


17. M5  – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:29am. ISO6400, 10s. In Libra. Nice.

14-07-06, 1:29am. ISO6400, 10s.
In Libra. Nice.


18. M10 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:32am. ISO6400, 10s.

14-07-06, 1:32am. ISO6400, 10s.


19. M12 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:34am. ISO6400, 10s.

14-07-06, 1:34am. ISO6400, 10s.


20. M13 (Great Cluster) – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:36am. ISO6400, 10s.

14-07-06, 1:36am. ISO6400, 10s.


21. M92 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 1:37am. ISO6400, 10s. Bright, with blue tinges.

14-07-06, 1:37am. ISO6400, 10s.
Bright, with blue tinges.


22. Epsilon 1/2 Lyrae (Double Double) – double star pair

14-07-06, 1:45am. ISO6400, 10s. Not separated.

14-07-06, 1:45am. ISO6400, 10s.
Not separated.


14-07-06, 1:46am. ISO6400, 1/3s.  Still not separated, but zoomed in, tiny blips of the secondaries are apparent. I was getting tired, and suppose all I needed to do was expose at 1/60 or 1/125.

14-07-06, 1:46am. ISO6400, 1/3s.
Still not separated, but zoomed in, tiny blips of the secondaries are apparent. I was getting tired, and suppose all I needed to do was expose at 1/60 or 1/125.


23. M57 (Ring Nebula) – planetary nebula

14-07-06, 1:56am. ISO6400, 30s. Version 2. So fabulous.

14-07-06, 1:56am. ISO6400, 30s.
So fabulous.


24. Alberio – double star

14-07-06, 2:01am. ISO6400, 1s.

14-07-06, 2:01am. ISO6400, 1s. Separated.



14-07-06, 2:00am. ISO6400, 30s.

14-07-06, 2:00am. ISO6400, 30s. Not separated


25. M56 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 2:03am. ISO6400, 15s.

14-07-06, 2:03am. ISO6400, 15s.

26. 62 Cygni – double star

14-07-06, 2:06am. ISO6400, 1/3s. Too tired to separate, maybe a blip.

14-07-06, 2:06am. ISO6400, 1/3s. Too tired to separate, maybe a blip.

27. NGC6826 (Blinking Planetary Nebula) – planetary nebula

14-07-06, 2:10am. ISO6400, 10s. What a fantastic object.

14-07-06, 2:10am. ISO6400, 10s.
What a fantastic object.

28. M27 (Dumbbell) – planetary nebula

14-07-06, 2:16am. ISO6400, 46s. Love.

14-07-06, 2:16am. ISO6400, 46s. Love.

29. M71 – globular cluster

14-07-06, 2:18am. ISO6400, 10s.

14-07-06, 2:18am. ISO6400, 10s.

30. Gamma Delphini – double star

14-07-06, 2:27am. ISO6400, 10s. Don't think I could separate this one.

14-07-06, 2:27am. ISO6400, 10s. Don’t think I could separate this one. Also not in the Nexstar database, had to enter RA and DEC.

31. M17 (Swan Nebula) – diffuse nebula

14-07-06, 2:32am. ISO6400, 30s. Another version.

14-07-06, 2:32am. ISO6400, 30s.
Another version.

32. M11 (Wild Ducks) – open cluster

14-07-06, 2:36am. ISO6400, 20s. Done!

14-07-06, 2:36am. ISO6400, 20s.

Posted in Carr Astronomical Observatory, Observing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

CAO, Solstice: June 21/22 2014

Fantastic first visit to the CAO for me in 2014.

The observing pad was full, and thanks to Blake, who basically has been carrying and setting up all my heavy gear because my back is out, I was able to use both my cgem and try my sky tracker on the night sky for the 2nd time (the first was my minor test on the balcony in regina, where I had to set it up 3 feet off the ground to sight polaris). I used the ac adaptor to power the scope, for the first time, and it worked perfectly (and had no heat when I unplugged it at 3am after 5 hours, v.good).

My plan was to look at a bunch of NGC and Messier objects in Virgo (just because: pick a part of the sky, explore it), while also trying to get a wide field shot of the teapot, the galaxy, and saturn. Turns out, all that business in Virgo isn’t that exciting (using Rob’s 15mm (which I will return!)), and (my lens’s field of view was not wide enough for the latter) (UPDATE: looking more closely at the image below, I did indeed get the teapot and saturn in the field of view. Working on the labelled image….)

I started with Vindematrix and confirmed I could make out the constellation naked eye (ditto with Sagittarius and Leo), then pointed at NGC 4698, but could not see anything. I also looked at M61 and M58, which was very small. Of course I got distracted. I figured out how to enter RA and Dec to goto an object, and to store an object in my HC database. I mounted the slr to my 8″, then focused on Dubhe (I thought Blake said Deneb, so the scope took a wee tour) and returned to my saved object (Panstarrs 2012 K1), and took some shots of the comet. Since the pad was so busy there was a lot of vibration, but I did manage to get at least this shot (nevermind that I forgot to record raw files, this is a native .jpg).



I shot some video of Saturn while I had the camera mounted ( I am collecting a lot of video for future processing), then returned to Virgo to look at some other objects before giving up on that business, getting a big 13mm ethos loaned from Steve along with Blake’s 2″ Williams Optics dialectric diagonal with adaptor for my 1.25″ mount. M101 was a smudge; M108 was a smudge; M97 was a nice soft schmear; M64, the Black Eye Galaxy, was a tiny schmear.

I did, with Steve’s help, confirm that my scope has developed backlash issues (Blake admonished me for storing the mount locked). I don’t know how to fix this. But I will have to find out eventually (maybe today, says Blake). (UPDATE: yes, we fixed this. Blake found this website, describing this as ‘slop’ or ‘binding’, and Steve’s description of backlash also applies. For record keeping, I tightened the Dec grubs (both) 1/4 turn, and loosened only one side of the RA 1 full rotation. 2mm and 5mm Allan keys. We physically felt a tighter grip in both directions, and slewed back and forth in both directions to listen, which lead to a modification of RA, which I’d tightened 1/4 turn at first. Now, no give/slop, everything sounds lovely. Steve time lapsed it all, maybe I’ll link up to that at some point.).

Finally, I confirmed that M13 is very pretty (and could be the next cross stitch piece, the first being Omega Centauri, which is not visible from Canada except, Blake imagines, from Pelee Island), and that M92, Hercules, is ok.

I hemmed and hawed with the sky tracker, then pushed myself and set it up. I took 5 wide field frames at ISO 800, for 5 minutes each, pointing south, but forgot a dark frame. Then I shot the summer triangle, and learned that when pointing straight up my camera lens will not hold its focus.

Below are two versions of the same image of the summer triangle (30s, iso 6400, because I forgot to reduce the iso after focusing): with one, I let the pshop raw processor automatically ‘correct’, and with the other, I manually adjusted various settings (click for larger versions).

_DSC4486-manual-nef-summer-triangle _DSC4486-nef-auto-summer-triangle


Below is a manual stack of 4 images, using photoshop and various layer opacity levels, some levels manipulation after flattening, along with some black point adjustments:


I’ll update this post with a labelled version of this image, which I need help with (I know that sagittarius, the teapot, scorpius etc. are all in there, I just can’t make them out because a) there are so many stars and b) I don’t know the sky well yet).

Finally, I was in the midst of deleting some accidental short exposure files (darned camera, if I go to live view it kicks me out of bulb and defaults to 30s, then I forget to reset), and remembered how much detail I was able to get out of those seemingly empty images of saturn a couple of years ago. Below is a really fascinating image, I think. ISO 1000, .6s, processed using the pshop raw editor to modify the exposure settings alone: and there is a no-noise very crisp image of sagittarius and scorpius which is the same composition/framing as the image above. Wild.



We are staying another night, and I think I would like to do a time lapse of Saturn over the course of time for part of the evening, while visually observing some other part of the sky. That’s it. May go for a wee hike around the Margaret Paul trail before going to town to find something to grill for dinner and some cola to go along with the rum Nicole left behind 🙂

UPDATE: this is as far as I got, with help from Tom, in labeling this image. So much more in there.


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End of Video Pool Residency

Well, I wrapped up very quickly in Winnipeg and didn’t manage to write a blog post while everything was still fresh in my mind.

My final two weeks were preoccupied with finishing preparing the ecliptic file so that when Geremy arrived, we’d be ready to do some laser cutting. We had an incredibly productive four days at Assentworks, preparing various versions of the ecliptic files (layout and colour mapping) for laser cutting on to baltic birch. We began with some controlled testing of power, frequency, and speed to determine what would be ideal for each component of the cut pieces: stars, the ecliptic, the lines of the constellations, and cutting through the wood. I was pretty thrilled with the results as tests. I ended up outputting a pair of 28″ full ecliptics, with and without the lines of the constellations, along with two sets of 11″ wide pieces depicting each individual constellation with and without their boundaries. I am happily gifting the 28″ pair to the Carr Astronomical Observatory (where I am for all intents and purposes a resident artist 🙂 ). Both Geremy and I also managed to output some other items as well: he, a Settlers of Catan game board, and me, some of the Trees of Canada.


virgo, as per H.A. Rey depictions, without lines.


Aquarius laser cut - Horowitz

aquarius, as per H.A. Rey depictions, without lines.

During that time I was also interviewed by Derek Bruekner and co-host Aleem on Eat your Arts and Vegetables radio show (I am in the last 15 minutes of the first link on the May 22 mp3 file and the first 5 minutes or so on this second link on the May 22 mp3 file.), and prepared for and delivered my lecture on May 28th at Video Pool. Finally, I prepared and delivered my poster files for the Subtle Technologies Open Access exhibition and poster session curated by Farah Yusuf.

I was happy to receive positive feedback from the poster session (Farah emailed: “I just wanted to let you know that your project has sparked a very animated conversation about astronomy btwn about 6 people (I think architecture students). They’ve been huddled in front of your posters for the last hour and the opening reception hasn’t even started yet!  It’s a thoroughly engaging project.”). I have never done a poster session before, and the invitation was not for a single poster, but a set of posters that could fill the presentation frame. I treated it as a sort of pamphlet about the project, which worked out well. Here is a link to the .pdf: Horowitz-poster-SubtleTech_01

And that wrapped up my month in Winnipeg. If I haven’t mentioned it enough, I am so thankful to the folks at Video Pool, Assentworks, and the Canada Council. I am managing to make technical, material, and conceptual progress with the Modelling Views project, and feel confident now that I will have a very productive year, with big production taking place next summer in preparation for the first exhibition.


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Week Two, VP Residency

This week has been wonderfully productive and engaging. I spent a good deal of time slowly working through plotting the constellation boundaries and zodiacal stars/lines in Illustrator. This document will be the basis of all the contextual imagery that I use for the models, and once I sorted out just how to plot the map projection the rest has been typically repetitive. With Geremy’s assistance we gathered all the RA and DEC data for the boundaries and stars, converted those all to decimal degrees (this is a handy website) so that in my 360cm document I could simply punch in the numbers, and then…punched in the numbers. Below is a quick screen capture of all the data plotted.

my ecliptic, screen grab, from Illustrator

my ecliptic, screen grab, from Illustrator

I really love how this looks, though prefer the stars without the lines. The H.A. Rey drawings do indeed look more like what the constellations are thought to depict – but they are too representational. I have ideas for a range of outputs using a combination of lines and stars and boundaries. I like how abstract the imagery becomes when presented in isolation or in part: that one may not recognize these as zodiacal constellations, or that one might. I have a fear that the project might make me the crazy space lady in the art world, or that, as sometimes happens, people will confuse astronomy with astrology. Let me say now, then to any new-age types: I do not care about the ‘coming’ or the ‘return’ of Saturn.

I am sure that I will use the laser cutters as Assentworks to out put to wood, or aluminum, or plastic, or plexi – I did one test the other day and I am completely smitten by the output, though I can’t get a great image. Here is one anyway, and a LINK to video of laser cutting on aluminum scraps. I must mention here that the people at Assentworks are awesome. Jason is incredibly friendly and helpful,  Andrew gave me many tips on file prep and also helped me cut some plexi (I really need to learn how to use basic shop tools), Greg was willing to let Saturn take over the Solid Works workshop,  Randy just sat down and made the files for me while I watched and provided specs, and Erika has been available to guide and assist: thank you!

laser cut ecliptic test on plexiglass

laser cut ecliptic test on plexiglass

What has been most exciting this week has been the 3d modelling. On Thursday I took a workshop in Solid Works at Assentworks, and one of the CAD files we sketched up was Saturn, of course. Randy, a regular there, had also offered to help me out for an hour, and he created some files in another CAD program. Then, Erika and I fumbled a bit with Solid Works before deciding to just try to out put the file that Randy helped prepare already. We were able to simply scale the 3″ model to output at that size, at 1.5″, and a .75″ (planet diameter), in addition to applying some colour and attempting an image ‘wrap.

This Zcorp machine is fantastic. One can do full colour 3d scans of existing objects and the machine will output it – in full colour plaster. Here are some samples that are sitting around Assentworks:


And here is a video of us starting the vacuum to remove extra powder from the chamber. I felt like a bit of an archaeologist digging out the planets – we were able to print six files in the one chamber. The total setup took longer than it could have, simply because I had no clue what I was doing. We had some challenges replacing a print head and some colour cartridges, and there was a moment when I thought I might have spent a thousand dollars on powder but did not (the machine prepares the bed with a base of powder, then lays down the models and more powder as support, and that gets recycled in the machine). Here are a bunch of pictures of the process, and another video of the fine powder removal process.:

digging out first 3d planet tests.

digging out first 3d planet tests (photo: Erika Lincoln).


big grey planet.

big grey planet (photo: Erika Lincoln).


small white planet.

small white planet (photo: Erika Lincoln).


de-powder chamber.

de-powder chamber (photo: Erika Lincoln).


all de-powdered.

all de-powdered.

There are a few ways to finish the surface of the plaster models, including wax dipping and using some weird proprietary solvent, both of which seal and bring out the colours. I tried both, and think that the solvent would be better for the image wrapped piece (I used the wax on that one). We didn’t have any amazing amount of control over the colour/image wrapping process (you can see that only part of the planet got the image, and that the atmosphere is not in the correct equatorial orientation), but all in all, for about 4 hours of help prepping 3-d files, probably 4 hours trying to send to print, an hour digging out and cleaning, then waiting for the wax to heat up: all in all a fantastic first set of tests! Below, some slightly better images of the models, with some quarters for scale.

11_-small-3d-saturns 12_image-wrap-3dsaturn 13-largegrey-3dsaturns



























There is no way I could produce such models by hand, I just do not have the skill. But that such a machine is so easily accessible and not too difficult to use – too bad there is no Assentworks in every city in Canada. As with code and electronics, I’m not sure I have the time or energy or capacity to learn how to use CAD applications, but Erika has offered her experience with Rhino for hire, and I can get that for mac and pc and slowly try to learn along.

Geremy will arrive in town on Saturday for the final stretch and I have to work out if we will spend that time preparing files for and doing some laser cutting, or, Erika’s time permitting, trying to gain some better skill with mechanical connections and what not.

Upcoming public events:
I will be on the radio show Eat Your Arts & Vegetables CKUW 95.9 FM Winnipeg, along with Erika Lincoln, talking about our respective art projects with co-hosts Aleem Khan and Derek Brueckner this coming Thursday, 5:30pm local time.

And I will be giving an artist lecture on Wednesday, May 28th, 7pm, in the 3rd floor studio of Video Pool.

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Week One, VP Residency

Good week, though because I am so burned out I am not thinking as clearly as I could be (my usual limitations aside). But I am learning, and feel the project has progressed.

Before arrival we played with stepper and servos at a really basic level, and I was happy to adapt a lampshade for a basic spinning uncontrolled ecliptic.

spinning stepper with flat vinyl saturn as per Lague

spinning stepper with flat vinyl saturn as per Lague

spinning flat projection on lampshade, with metal caster standing in for planet

spinning flat projection on lampshade, with metal caster standing in for planet













Rob arrived on Monday and after some close-working lessons in Arduino code and cosmic motions we basically set to separate tasks. He worked on a prototype using a stepper with the Pololu motor driver A4988 (the one I soldered pins to and used for the lampshade spinner) to control the rotation of an adapted flat planisphere, and a stepper rigged to copper tube/piano wire to control the linear motion of the ‘planet’.

back of model

back of model


hall sensor and wee magnet

hall sensor and wee magnet















I am grappling with several layers of not knowing with this project. The programming language and application does not come easily, or at all, to me (Rob spent a good deal of time helping me to understand elements of the code, from prototypes to functions and definitions etc.). The way the electronics components work together sometimes clicks for me, most times not. I am mostly frustrated that I find it so difficult to visualize various cosmic motions as they are, as they are apparent from earth, and as I could possibly depict them in various ways through models and 2d renderings. I wasted several hours confusing the way RA and ecliptic longitude are variously named, meausured, converted from one set of units to another etc. Some of this is, admittedly, because I’m just burned out and not thinking clearly. The rest is part ditziness and part inadequacy, plain and simply.

Early in the week we saw the documentary Particle Fever, about several experimental and theoretical physicists getting CERN up and running. My week has been a combination of feeling incapable and knowing, re: CERN etc., that there is nothing I may/can/could discover about the basic laws of nature. Zero. Rien. The notion that most people are inadequate compared with mathematical geniuses has been a bit of a consolation…

On a sort of similar note, Barbara Balfour’s call for her 2014 UAAC panel session, Almost, But Not Quite: The Incomplete Artists’s Project, sounds fantastic and I will prepare a proposal to include my experience with this project. I would like to share my experience with this notion of the incomplete on a few levels: duration, importantly, but also with respect to practice, the practice of the artist, as distinct from the objects of an artist’s practice (process vs. finished works). Sometimes I feel my identity as an artist has less and less to do with finished works and more and more with processes of exploration and making.

So, this object Rob rigged up for me. We set up a table that has information for each year of my project, namely, the position of the planet at its nearest on the date of opposition. I am aware that Rob did some trigonometry with respect to the servo positioning itself in relation to the ecliptic (which is offset within the circle of the planisphere), but the servo does not yet consider the position of the planet. This will be dealt with as we begin to scale up. Eventually we will get the servo attached to an actuator of threaded rod to both control the motion more finely, and to translate the linear motion. The wheel is also having trouble with crossing zero – rather than going to a position using the nearest angular path, it goes the long way around. Again, can/will be dealt with moving forward.

Our visit to AssentWorks was pretty fantastic. The place has just about everything. Wood shop with various equipment and CNC machines. Metal working. Plasma cutter. Laser cutters for metal and non-metal. Several 3d printers for working with various plastics, combining materials, and the colour 3d printer that uses plaster. I signed up for the upcoming SolidWorks workshop to learn about CAD and whatnot. This past week I had a nice orientation with Marty, who has offered to prep a simple saturn 3d file (that zprinter is f’n fantastic) and took Jason’s workshop on the Epilog laser system. I am busy preparing files for cutting and burning into both wood and aluminum, which I think will be just gorgeous choices for my ecliptic/constellation renderings.

Speaking of the map projections. What a confusing experience this has been for me. It would help if I had a better grasp of the various ways that celestial coordinates are notated, and in this sense having a fully goto telescope has not helped me to understand how and where to find things in the sky. Without going in to too much embarrassing detail over how confused I was about plotting the position of the zodiacal stars and boundaries, and an appropriately curved ecliptic line (think, a plane cutting through a cylinder flattened out), and without re-living my basic introduction to map making (see http://xkcd.com/977/)…. I sorted it out. Chris V (thank you) sent me a table with the coordinates of the ecliptic, along with the formula for converting units; I sorted out, for real, that there are 15 degrees in an hour, I figured out how to read the constellation boundary coordinates provided by the IAU and plot the to my Illustrator file; and I put a cease and desist on Geremy who at my pleasure was fumbling through his attempts at same under my poor guidance. Geremy: graphs, coordinates, positions, plotting of. Getting closer….

libra, ecliptic, using H.A. Rey forms.

libra, ecliptic, using H.A. Rey forms.


Finally, Ken Gregory invited us for a backyard bbq on Friday and it was the only potentially clear night this entire week of Saturn opposition. I set up the CGEM and it was quite fabulous to participate in showing off the moon, mars, jupiter, and saturn to the various house guests, teenagers etc. Perfect backyard observing session, on the eve of both opposition and astronomy day. It took us a moment to realize that the heat from the fire pit was ruining the view of jupiter, so we covered the pit for a while and could easily make out two equatorial bands, plus three beautiful moons all lined up in a row. Saturn was lovely, so lovely, and I could also see some atmosphere, the ring shadow etc. Shooting video at prime makes for a very tiny planet, so this summer I will try to better use my barlows. In any event, one of the overexposed stills showed off some moons.


All in all this has been a fabulous week. I hope I can produce some wooden and aluminum planisphere pieces and ecliptic/zodiac pieces. I’d like to test shoot an aluminum wheel on the stepper/servo model, and maybe see how much the geared motor can move. I hope I can also explore ways of rigging for both rotation and linear motion – I sure wish I’d played with lego or models as a kid…

Thanks to everyone who has helped me out so far!

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Start of Video Pool residency, month of May, 2014

After a very busy semester I drove out to Winnipeg yesterday and having effectively walked Maisie (picture forthcoming) twice without trouble, I have set myself up at Video Pool. The studio is mine for the month and I am very happy to have carved out this time to keep learning, to move my project forward, and to connect with Winnipeg and my friends here again. Rob is flying out on Tuesday for a week (I have ordered as much as I could in advance so that I’m actually ready to work) and until then my time will be devoted to reviewing and finishing the starter kit so that I can get my head back in to the code and refresh my memory of the basics. So…. I have now made the Arduino blink at different brightnesses and speeds a cumulative total of six times. Maybe I can move on…..

Goals for the month include furthering my knowledge of motors and gears (if necessary), controlling and identifying the position of steppers, trying to better wrap my mind around astro math geekery so that I can make decisions about the kinetic objects, start thinking about scaling up, figuring out some camera options, working on the realspacetime projection (more on that later) and more. Geremy will come out in a few weeks and he and I will keep working on the visuals for the constellations and their boundaries, and Erika is taking Rob and I on a tour of Assentworks – where I hope to learn a bit of CAD and how to fabricate, or have fabricated, a version of the ecliptic and the model saturns.

I haven’t managed to post a great deal about artists and thinkers who I have been looking in to and hope to have time this summer to both keep looking and add some thoughts here. But first…multiple LED fun.

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arduino; motors; goodies; ideas

It’s been some time since I added a post to the blog, but I have been busy.

Working with Geremy and Rob lately has been great. Rob has been preparing wee motor workshops that Geremy and I have been sorting through, with Rob’s help (love Skype). Aside from learning to solder, we got a DC motor running in both directions, having troubleshooted the crappy connection of the motor driver on my solarbotics board (thanks Charlotte: didn’t have to add jump wires to the driver; just shove it in a good might). We also rigged up the pancake stepper, sorted out its kinkiness (loose wire), and I was able to easily read Rob’s schematic to set up a simple +/10kohm/photosensor/- to allow the stepper to read a ‘home’ position.

I also had great luck at Value Village finding a couple of lampshades inside of which I will get an ecliptic with constellations, and a goodie box came from adafruit with heavier duty motors and hardware for rigging up the first spinning prototype. Nevermind the modelling clay fun that G. and I had on Monday confirming that it will be very exciting to CAD up and have fabricated some beautiful wee models of the planet. I still need to sort out camera options and field of view…but it feels, finally, that I’m getting close to having this first prototype done. I am in a constant state of unknowing, feeling out of scope, working beyond my ability. Which is both scary and wonderful.

When I gave a lecture at Pace U. last month I was prompted to speak more about what, exactly, was so mind blowing about my first experience of seeing Saturn through a telescope. In that moment, and against my own preferences, I went to ‘affect’. Affect theory is something I’ve avoided, it feels so…well…emotional. And I feel so strongly that art is about so much more than just the emotional (though not to its exclusion). To give credibility, though, means acknowledging that what happened when I saw Saturn through a telescope for the first time that I had an experience, an overwhelming experience, and this experience was both emotional and intellectual.

This reminds me of Mark Durden’s preface to Fifty Key Writers on Photography. Durden traces the uptake of serious writing on photography to the 70s and notes that in 1980, Alan Trachtenberg said photography lacked a ‘critical tradition’. With the work sof Benjamin, Barthes, and Sontag, is was felt that the future of photographic criticism required critics take into account the communicative power of the photographic image, its language, its meaning, and the relevance of that meaning to our world. Durden also points out that Sabine Kriebel, in 2007, notes that there has been a great deal of focus in photo theory on social, political, cultural, and psychological resonsances, but that there is a new path for photographic writing: The old path is defined by Postmodernism, and Susie Linfield poses a harsh critique of the general feeling of most postmodern critical writing on photography “Why do photographic critics hate photography?” For her, Sontag’s On photography set the tone for photo criticism, followed by Sekula, Solomon-Godeau, Rosler, Tagg, and Burgin, united by the way it seemed to have no empathy for photography or how it viewed emotional response not “as something to be experienced and understood, but, rather, as a n enemy to be vigilantly guarded against.” This new turn in photographic writing, which includes Carol Mavor, Elizabeth Edwards, Geoffrey Batchen, Kobena Mercer, and more, offer a much more emotionally engaged response to photographs, and allow us to think about the interrelation between aesthetics and politics.


I am planning my artist residency with Video Pool this May/June, where I hope to make a good deal of progress that will allow me to move from the research and prototyping phase toward the proper planning and fabrication for the finished works. I am certain now that I will make several kinetic models, and several animations (using both the models, and not, to capture/display the imagery). I am looking forward to capturing my images for 2014 (CAO here I come), and I am about to purchase the iOptron Sky Tracker for both image collection and projection (!). Slowly my ideas for the body of work are coming together. Now all I need is the time to see it through.

Some fun from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, February 14, 2015:

IMG_7320 IMG_7355IMG_7360

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