Our latest exhibition in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery takes art into outer space, and asks: what do you see when looking at the stars? 

Seeing Stars, which is on display until Saturday 30 July 2022, shines a light on contemporary artists who use and challenge the newest technologies for space imaging in their art practice. 

The exhibition has been guest curated by Hondartza Fraga, a Leeds-based visual artist and Practice-led PhD student at the School of Design, whose own work also features in the show. For her, the exhibition “ponders about what might be lost or overlooked in our zeal to see everything. It proposes that wandering among the stars, whether it is done via the poetic value of outmoded theories or entirely new speculative imaginings, is very much worth doing.”  

Four framed drawings and text on a wall
‘Seeing Stars’ on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. Image credit: Leeds University Library.

We have had a long lasting fascination with outer space: from ancient civilisations who saw stories in the stars, to modern day technology bringing us closer than ever to the cosmos. Modern science has given us spectacular astronomical images, but have these eclipsed the human imagination, which in the past led to tales of gods, monsters and more? 

Exhibition curator Hondartza Fraga says:  

“The advances in imaging technology mean that we are getting used to seeing ‘perfect’ images of space, to seeing farther and farther away. But those seamless images are usually careful constructions, composed out of many pictures. We are getting better and better at smoothing over the limits, errors, noise of our technologies. Art, I believe, is always ready to consider those imperfections, to embrace them even – this is a core theme in the exhibition. ” 

Through a plethora of mediums and processes, the artists in this exhibition bring the human sense of wonder back into sharp focus – blurring the line between fact and fiction. 

Symmetrical grey and black abstract drawing
Hondartza Fraga, Saturn and Melancholy, 2022. © The Artist.

Hondartza Fraga’s ‘Saturn and Melancholy’ is on display for the first time in this exhibition.  Her work references Rorschach inkblots, historical traces of Saturn as ‘the planet of melancholy’ and explores ideas around perfectionism in expectations of scientific images.   

The left side is a graphite powder and glue drawing, while the right is a photomosaic of images from NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. As such, the left is a carefully constructed artist rendering, while the right deconstructs the idea of ‘perfect’ technology. The juxtaposition between the two mediums conjures a spectrum of objective-subjective ways of seeing.   

Blue circle with a light blue spiral in the centre
Lia Halloran, Spiral, 2017 © Lia Halloran. Courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

Lia Halloran’s work draws attention to what is unseen or overlooked, specifically the scientific contributions of women, and makes these visible through a female-centric astronomical catalogue of craters, comets, galaxies and nebula.  

‘Your Body is a Space That Sees’ is a series of cyanotype prints that source historical imagery to trace contributions of women in astronomy from antiquity to modern day. Halloran’s work draws from narratives such as the historical accounts of Hypatia of Alexandria, and the work of a group of women at Harvard in the late 1800’s known as Pickering’s Harem or the Harvard Computers. The cyanotypes are printed from painted negatives in a process that mimics early astronomical glass plates and produces photographs without the use of a camera. 

Starry sky with tree silhouettes
Melanie King, Ancient Light, 2018. © The Artist.

The photographic process is also central to the work of Melanie King. King’s ‘Ancient Light’ series considers how light travels thousands, if not millions of years, before reaching photosensitive film or a digital sensor.   

To create the ‘Ancient Light’ photographs, King travelled to dark sky locations away from light pollution. Using analogue photography, as well as a series of images created using telescopes and observatories around the world, King’s atmospheric photos depict dramatic star-scapes. The starlit landscapes in this series were captured in rural areas of Italy, Iceland, Spain and Ireland. 

Video and book works on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Left: The Highrise Project, Beyond the Naked Eye, 2022. Right: Mishka Henner, Astronomical, 2011. © The Artist.

As part of this exhibition, the University commissioned a series of creative engagements with local refugees and migrants, facilitated by The Highrise Project. The Highrise Project, run by visual artists Louise Atkinson and Victoria Kortekaas, uses ethnographic and creative research to co-produce artworks with participants – teaching new skills whilst enabling participants to tell their own stories.  

Participants explored the themes of Seeing Stars widely, considering art, science, philosophy, fantasy, and history through the lens of experimental photography. A series of workshops focused on aspects of photomontage, ‘fake’ photography, portraiture, light, movement, cyanotype, and projection.   

Together, participants collaborated to edit and curate a selection of their artworks into a digital presentation for the exhibition and a publication, offering alternative interpretations for visitors.  

So what do you see when looking at the stars? 

‘Seeing Stars’ is on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery until Saturday 30 July 2022. Full information about how to visit the exhibition can be found on the Leeds University Library Galleries website.   

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