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Where Observation Meets Imagination

Where Observation Meets Imagination

A diverse group of more than 20 artists, musicians and scientists – many with RISD connections – has joined together to create a “fully immersive art/science/music experience” at Brown University’s Ladd Observatory in Providence. They’ve chosen to perform and exhibit at the 19th-century observatory, home to a 12-foot refracting telescope, in part because the invention of the telescope in 1608 marked an early success in using art and design to gather scientific knowledge about the world. In placing the arts alongside science and technology, these 17th-century innovators foreshadowed RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative by 400 years!

The Observatory Project will open on Thursday, June 20 – as part of Gallery Night Providence – with a live performance of Music for a Summer Evening by American composer George Crumb. The exhibition will also be open on Friday, June 21 (the summer solstice) and Saturday, June 22.

The artists involved in the project want viewers to experience a shift in their visual and auditory perspectives through the diverse range of visual mechanisms, sculptural objects, electronic media art and video presented. For instance, an interactive installation by Illustration faculty member Mikhail Mansion MFA 11 DM will transform the observatory’s rooms into the chambers of a camera, which, combined with mirrors and lenses, will enable participants to explore the notion of the virtual image.

“Each of the artists involved in The Observatory Project shares a love of science and how the universe works,” says Mansion. “But what differentiates us from scientists is the way in which we choose to explore it. When we looked at the observatory and saw how people reacted to the wonder of the cosmos, we wanted to capture some of that and use it to activate public imagination in new ways.”

In fact, Mansion says that one of the goals of the group is to reignite public interest in space exploration and science in general. Other RISD alumni, faculty and staff involved include Illustration Senior Critic Rafael Attias 91 GD, the Illustration Department's Susan Doyle 81 IL/MFA 98 PT/PR, Digital + Media Technician Stephen Cooke, Director of Government Relations Babette Allina, FAV Technician Carissa Abitabilo, ID Metal Shop Technician Will Reeves 07 SC and local artist Lynne McCormack 87 FAV.

After receiving initial grant funding from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Observatory Project has launched a Kickstarter campaign, which closes on May 25, to attempt to raise the $7,000 still needed to bring the project to fruition.

Simone Solondz