“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.“
When Jane Taylor wrote the lullaby “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star“ in 1806 she probably didn’t expect it to become one the best-known songs of all time. I imagine her sitting on the porch of her house in Colchester enjoying the fresh breeze of a summer night. It’s quiet outside. There is no distraction except for one she is searching for. Jane Tayler looks at the deep blue sky. She looks at the stars which sparkle above her and she feels something that we all feel when we gaze towards the firmament: Fascination and fear.
We are fascinated by those tiny little dots which we tend to simplify in form of a polygon with five corner vertices. We believe that a shooting star can make our wishes come true. We no longer call people like Kanye West and Meryl Streep celebrities but rather identity them with astronomical objects. It seems as if the view into the sky has become redundant. In the end, we brought these little sparkling dots to earth. We stopped looking up – now we look down. We look down on the ground of Hollywood Boulevard and started to walk on stars.1 Ten years later we were walking on the moon.
On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong put his feet on the moon: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.“ He said this after he had finally won the race, arrived at the finish line, being out of breath but satisfied. It was a long and exhausting race that lasted from the late 1950s to the 1960s: The Space Race began on August 2, 1955, when the Soviet Union responded to the US announcement four days earlier of intent to launch artificial satellites. The Soviet Union beat the US by orbiting Sputnik 1. Don’t wanna be a boy, you wanna be a man. You wanna stay alive, better do what you can. So beat it, just beat it. Even though Armstrong was the first man on the moon, it was the Soviets who sent the first human into space: Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave us such a marketable quote to remember. Both the USA and the USSR were afraid when they looked up at the sky – afraid of losing this race during the Cold War. But what are we afraid of when we look up into the sky? I assume it is a very specific fear that we can hardly overcome. Every time we admire the moon, worship the sun or be enchanted by the stars, we are reminded of how small we are in comparison. We are afraid that we don’t matter.
Rasmus Søndergaard Johannsen, Sophie Kitching and Anselm Schenkluhn are neither astronauts nor astrologers and yet they share a common interest in space. They did not meet in a NASA high-security headquarter, but in the project space fffriedrich in Frankfurt. Their mission is called -46,08°:
There are people who believe that their behavior and mood depends on the position of the moon. They buy lunar calendars so that they can better adapt to their everyday life. The Danish artist Rasmus Søndergaard Johannsen has also observed the influence of the moon. His subject of investigation, however, was not human behavior, but specially woven nettle fibers which he stretched on a wooden frame. For his work Lineated Luminary (2017-2018), he sprayed the fibers with a light-sensitive iron salt solution and had them illuminated by the moon. The UV rays of the moon dyed the fibers into a strong cyan blue. Only a few white freckles on the canvas mark the spots where leaves of branches may have fallen on the surface. Therefore the work mirrors the impossibility of an accurate reproduction of the night sky. By using almost alchemical techniques, the artist shows us the limits of our own technology which wants to display and capture more and more of the cosmic. Lineated Luminary seems like an invitation to go back to the power of imagination which seems to become irrelevant for those who gain the power of knowledge. The specific dark cyan blue of the canvas supports this thought as the color can be seen as a reference to the night itself – as if the moon painted a portrait of the sky that it was surrounded by.
When you imagine the moon you probably think of different shapes and colors: Oval, circle, white, gold. While the shape of the moon (how we perceive it) depends on the distance between earth and moon, it is the sun that takes care of the color since the moon cannot glow by itself. The moon shines because its surface reflects light from the sun. The wall piece Ausblick (2018) by Sophie Kitching deals with the particular relationship between these two planets. High above all others works presented in the exhibition, you can find a golden spot in a corner. It shimmers and draws attention with its shiny surface. Kitching applied gold leaf to the wall. But like the moon the gold cannot shine by itself and needs light to reflect in order to glow. Gold has been the metal of the gods, emperors, and kings since the earliest times because of its so-called „sunshine“. Thus it was the constant effort of artists, craftsmen and alchemists to upgrade the yellow metal with cheaper and less noble materials and to replace the expensive, rare gold with like-looking ones. All that glitters is not gold. The material of the work, as well as the title Ausblick (Engl. view) thus seem to reflect our reception of the moon – in that we as observers ascribe to it shining qualities, whose source, however, is the sun. Our view is obstructed.
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie – that’s amore. When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool – that’s amore.
In the end, the sun, moon and the other planets of our solar system are only stars and bring us back to the lullaby of Jane Taylor: Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are. The same question has to be asked by everyone who sees the constellation the Big Dipper which appears almost daily in the firmament. You know it from Hollywood movies and maybe from your own childhood: The Big Dipper is the first constellation which is shown to every kid. Twinkle twinkle little star, I’m connecting your dots and still wonder what you are. Anselm Schenkluhn also connected these dots. In his work fast and furious (2016), small LED lights break through a black canvas. Even though the lights are not directly connected, the eye adds them together to the shape of the Big Dipper. Or is the Great Bear or Great Wagon? Schenklohn’s work deals with the different interpretations of the constellation Ursa Major whose form was perceived by various cultures as either a wagon or a bear – depending on which part of the stars you pay attention to. Therefore fast and furious refers to the diversity of perspectives on the universe itself. But we tend to forget that the galaxy we know is just one of millions in the universe. For decades we have tried to acquire something that cannot be acquired.
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding in all of the directions it can whiz. As fast as it can go, the speed of light you know. That means bad business for the Lunar Embassy which sells acres of lunar property on their website. So perhaps now and then we need to be reminded that all our attempts to appropriate space must fail, for we ourselves are made up of stardust.
Text by Carina Bukuts
1 The Hollywood Walk of Fame was founded in 1958. The stars places there are permanent public monuments to achievement in the entertainment industry.
All Photos by Robert Schittko
Rasmus Søndergaard Johannsen
Curated by Sophie Buscher, Dierk Höhne and Alice Guston
Alte Mainzer Gasse 4-6
60311 Frankfurt / Main