I began experimenting with recordings of the sky in Berlin, where I captured the color of the sky every second over the course of a day. Unique forms of atmospheric information were layered into a single landscape carrying a diversity of readings: light pollution at a fixed position presented spatially, weather conditions across a hemisphere outside linear time, or a snapshot of the state of Earth’s rotation in reference to the Sun.
Evidence suggests that structured observation may be fundamental to human perception. As early as the Middle Paleolithic (c. 100ka), coastal populations surviving on shellfish, would have required some method of recording and interpreting patterns in the lunar cycle1.
Techniques for celestial observation were refined in the Middle Ages by monastic cultures seeking precise schedules for prayer. Methodical observation became correlated with the search for spiritual insight, and was itself co-opted into ritual behavior. In some cases, ritual architecture even became a device for sample measurement. The monastic process fed into scientific methods of empirical observation in the early modern era, and spiritual inquiry still underlies contemporary astronomy. Since the 1970s, James Turrell’s “naked eye observatories” have used architecture to guide focused, communal observation of changes in the appearance of the sky, a context that implies spiritual seeking.2
Scientific collaboration has led to the sharing and aggregation of observations. As early as the seventeenth century meteorological observing networks began to create global data sets, leading to a mode of collective perception that has been called the “communality of data”.3 Meanwhile, sensor technology has enabled automatic observation, which alienates the human observer. Samples from remote sensing devices allow unprecedented access, yet the images are trapped in a technical domain, sharply dislocated from both subject and viewer.
Observation satellites combine these two modern effects of communality and alienation in a single act of sampling. A Landsat device captures a thin band of land color as it orbits the planet, and these threads are stitched together to form a wider view, a quilt depicting many strands of spacetime. These photomontages represent no tangible reality that a person might ever experience. Like an image of deep space warped by its dependence on lightspeed, the means of sensing distorts the representation away from human perspective. Tied as we are to a specific framework of time and space, this image implies a view of the world that is outside direct human experience.
However, our gaze is overly diluted in these images, they feel like the mechanical results of formulas for spatial capture. The culture of science values the objectivity that comes from the averaging and arranging of sensation.
In Wells' The Time Machine, it is the physical presence of the time traveller in a warped view of spacetime that brings insight to the reader: "The whole surface of the earth seemed changed—melting and flowing under my eyes. The little hands upon the dials that registered my speed raced round faster and faster. Presently I noted that the sun belt swayed up and down, from solstice to solstice, in a minute or less, and that consequently my pace was over a year a minute; and minute by minute the white snow flashed across the world, and vanished, and was followed by the bright, brief green of spring."
His interaction with the environment gives meaning to this other experience of Earth. The artist often takes this role. For Cézanne, “in order to make progress, there is only nature, and the eye is trained through contact with her...we must render the image of what we see, forgetting everything that existed before us.”4
This need to “forget” motivates the adoption (and adaptation) of image capture techniques from science, as they are necessarily indifferent to the rigid cultures around traditional media. It also motivates a return to simple questions about our surroundings. Wells implements a machine as a vehicle for expanding his description of time.
My intention is to create new, expansive views of my atmosphere in spacetime, using rigorous, experimental sampling techniques while maintaining physical presence in the act of observation.