Space, Time, and the Infinite Universe: Artist Katie Paterson’s Big Ideas

Karen Kedmey
Jul 17, 2014 11:57PM

Like the scientists she has been collaborating with on her elegant works, Katie Paterson looks deeply into space and time to engage with some of the most monumental questions of cosmology, ecology, and geology—and to invite viewers to do the same. Fittingly, she once took up residence in the astrophysics department at University College London, where she studied the stuff of our universe, while inspiring her newfound colleagues. “[As] scientists we’re very much used to framing what we understand about the universe … in very specific ways,” said Dr. Steve Fossey, one of the astrophysicists with whom she worked. “So perhaps suddenly to have the opportunity to think a bit more freely about our own subject, I think Katie’s been able to encourage us to have the courage to do that a little bit more.” Visitors to this intrepid artist’s first solo exhibition in Scotland, titled “Katie Paterson: Ideas,” and on view at Ingleby Gallery, will also be inspired to think freely and poetically about the vast expanse of space and time in which we reside, momentarily.

The exhibition features a selection of key projects alongside a number of new works, demonstrating that no topic is too big for Paterson to grapple with. And as her Fossil Necklace (2013) makes apparent, no timeframe is either. Deceptively spare and almost unnervingly simple (like all of her pieces), this suspended, oversized necklace, with its lovely, earth-toned beads, is comprised of 170 rounded fossils spanning the entirety of geological time. In a necessarily ongoing work displayed nearby, she catalogues the history of darkness in a beguiling archive of thousands (so far) of individual slides, each one a picture taken of darkness at different times and places in the universe. Another endless project, The Dying Star Letters (begun 2012), brings viewers closer to the firmament. Upon learning that a star has died, the artist sends a perfunctory letter of condolence, a copy of which she keeps in this ever-expanding record. 

In a series of new, text-based works, Paterson manages to conjure images of fathomlessness and containment in a single idea. One reads: “An ice rink of frozen water from every glacier.” Another: “Gravity released one unit at a time.” These musings support how Dr. Ofer Lahav, another astrophysicist at UCL, characterizes this big-thinking artist: “She is looking, essentially, at the same universe, but from a different point of view.” 

Karen Kedmey

Katie Paterson: Ideas” is on view at Ingleby Gallery June 25th–Sept. 27th, 2014.

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