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Katie Paterson Brings You the Universe

Scottish artist Katie Paterson's "Lightbulb to Simulate Moonlight," which was on view at the recent Frieze New York art fair, is a phone number: you're meant to dial it and hear the sounds coming from an underwater microphone in a glacial lagoon in...

Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s Vatnajokull, which was on view at the recent Frieze New York art fair, is a phone number: you’re meant to dial it and hear the sounds coming from an underwater microphone in a glacial lagoon in Iceland, where the Vatnajökull glacier is melting. The number has since been disconnected, but you can still listen to the glacier.

Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull (left) and Vatnajökull (right) at Frieze New York, 2012

The melting of glaciers is also the focus of Paterson’s work Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull, a work comprised of three records, made of ice, etched with the sounds of three different glaciers melting, played until the records themselves melted away. I bet you’ve never heard the sound of ice melting on melting ice before.

These two early works were just the beginning of a body of work inspired by the elements. As Paterson explains,


Something that was quite important to me was being in Iceland. I spent a long time in Iceland and suddenly there I got this sense of being on this planet and that we are a planet. Which hadn't really hit home before. It was the first time where I felt that we really are part of this enormous universe. So I started finding out more and more about it. I was interested in art first. I've always been working in the arts and studying for a BA to begin with and then an MA. […] It's not like I just work with ideas about space, I tend to work across a huge array of subjects. I suppose nature is at the core of it.

The majority of her later works have been about space, though, and of those, stars have played a particularly prominent role. As part of this exploration of nature and the cosmos, Paterson became the first Artist in Residency in the UCL Astrophysics department. Working with scientists has allowed her to create some very unique space-art, such as “Ancient Darkness TV” – a one minute video of dark areas 13.2 billion light years away from Earth – the furthest point of the observed universe. These images from just after the Big Bang were aired on NY tv station MNN.

Screen shot of Ancient Darkness TV

Paterson’s other star-art includes a map of 27,000 stars whose deaths have been recorded by humans, and an ongoing project called “The Dying Star Letters” for which she writes a letter sending her condolences when she hears about a star dying. Her most recent star-related project is “100 Billion Suns”, in which hand-held confetti cannons shoot 3,216 pieces of paper which represent all the Gamma Ray Bursts humans have recorded in a manner that is deliberately unimpressive.

Patersons’ “100 Billion Suns” at the Venice Biennale

Next up for her is a project for Exhibition Road in London during the Olympics this summer. Paterson is going to take a small-ish meteorite (the irony kind not the stony kind), make a cast of it, melt it down, and then recast it as itself. Why? "It is this incredible object that has been floating through space and time for billions of years, and then it crashes in on Earth. Normally, they remain as static objects here but I am going to almost reform its layers of cosmic history."

Profile of Katie Paterson courtesy of the Tate Museum in Britain

You can find more of Paterson’s works at her website.