Pickering's Harem

Harlan Levey Projects
Dec 5, 2018 2:21PM

Art, Science and Abstraction collide in artistic research that deals with the stars and a group of women who help us see them burning bright.

Amélie Bouvier, Pickering's Harem #17, Indian ink on paper 32,5 x 24cm, 2018

We're happy to announce the release of a limited edition book featuring Amelie Bouvier's work "Pickering's Harem" with a text by Allyson Unzicker.

Amélie Bouvier’s series titled Pickering’s Harem ( 2017 – present ) is a suite of forty- five ink drawings on paper to represent the groundbreaking number of women who worked for Pickering at the Harvard Observatory. Embodying the Harvard Computer’s method of observing the stars, Bouvier researches astronomical archives based on their discoveries to create her drawings. In this empathetic process, Bouvier often uses similar tools and materials such as a magnifying glass to intuitively source images and texts to formulate her compositions. The result is a series of abstract line drawings consisting of various geometric shapes.

Amélie Bouvier, Pickering’s Harem, 96 pages, 200 copies, 2018 published by Harlan Levey Projects

Amélie Bouvier, Pickering's Harem #4, Indian ink on paper, 32,5 x 24 cm, 2017

When looking up into the night sky, the stars above appear as a static image. Our limited vision distorts their real distance making it difficult to differentiate which stars are closer or further. Astronomy relies on precise calculations and theories to measure the perplexities that lie beyond the human eye. Before the invention of photography, astronomers depended on mere eyesight and drawing to capture the sky. In the 1850s, photographic plates were invented by using light-sensitive emulsion on the surface of a glass plate, a material reliable and durable for transferring photo negatives. The invention was pivotal to the effectiveness of astronomer’s research as it allowed them the ability to inspect an accurate depiction of that what they could see through their telescopes. Astronomer Edward C. Pickering used this technique while director of the Harvard Observatory from 1877 to 1919. In order to meet the growing collection of plates he developed, Pickering was the first to hire a large number of female staff at the Harvard Observatory. They collectively computed and processed the astrological data within these photographic plates to chart and map the stars. As a result, they became known as the “Harvard Computers” or more derisively as “Pickering’s Harem.”

Amélie Bouvier, Pickering's Harem #27, Indian ink on paper, 32,5 x 24 cm, 2018

Amélie Bouvier, Pickering's Harem #34, Indian ink on paper, 32,5 x 24 cm, 2018

*From O-B-A-F-G-K-M by Allyson Unzicker, read the full text in Amélie Bouvier's Pickering's Harem (2018), published by Harlan Levey Projects

Harlan Levey Projects