Artist's Talk (February 26, 2015)

M81, short for Messier 81, is a spiral galaxy, a spiral-shaped system of stars, dust, and gas clouds about 12 million light years away. It is in the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear).

Because it is relatively close to the Earth and has an active galactic nucleus, M81 has been studied extensively by professional astronomers. The galaxy's large size and relatively high brightness also make it a popular target for amateur astronomers. The Hubble Space Telescope's view is so sharp that it can resolve individual stars, along with open star clusters, globular star clusters, and even glowing regions of fluorescent gas.

My current artworks in the M81 series are my personal visual and physical responses to imagery of M81 produced by the Hubble space telescope.

This immediately this raises the question as to why anyone would want to create handmade artworks from such perfect photographs?  The Hubble images are computer-assembled composites of countless photographs and data from ultraviolet, infrared, and visible light sources and are further coded with carefully chosen false colors to help us comprehend them. What more does one need?

With my handmade, taped collage of xeroxed prints with attached orange circular stickers and the accompanying 2400-pin installation I am trying to convey my personal struggle to integrate and understand these images and their implications for our human place in this universe, newly described by Hubble. The scale of my works and the evidence of touch indicate my effort and my thinking process. I use simple means and materials that anyone can use. I use formal simplicity to highlight the more complex conceptual basis of the artworks.

I think my work raises epistemological questions, that is, questions as to what kinds of information or knowledge justify our beliefs.  What do we get from these two ways of looking at M81? What is the difference between viewing Hubble Images versus my work in this gallery?

Because the Hubble images are composites created from light that traveled 12 million years to reach us, they are a portrait of M81 as it was 12 million years ago. Quantum mechanics teaches us that the properties of matter are dependent on the instruments used to determine those properties, for example the wave versus particle duality of electrons.

For more information, see the video “Creating a Hubble Galaxy in Two Minutes.”

My images are also mediated through an instrument — me. My artworks are filtered through my individual, unique understanding, my visual experience, and my body. I believe this allows viewers to have a haptic relationship with my work; by haptic I mean we can engage the sense of touch just by looking at the works and vicariously feel what it’s like to stick 2400 pins into the wall or scotch tape four xeroxed prints together and attach hundreds of orange dots on them.

— Ingrid Lahti