Earth is only a speck against the sun’s boiling surface on the screen, and humans mere microcosms.
But the relationship is different when confronting the ever-changing solar orb in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s upstairs gallery. Visitors are on equal footing with the sun, their silhouettes becoming a part of the overall picture to form an odd yet natural relationship.
That’s the idea museum curator Elizabeth Weinstein sought to explore while putting together “Sun Light/Star Light: Contemplations on the Solar Orb,” which runs through Jan. 3 in the museum’s main galleries.
Weinstein organized the show in honor of the International Year of Light, including work by artists from throughout the world, each with a different perspective of humans’ relationship to the sun. NASA is among them, sharing its 2014 digital video loop, “Solarium.”
NASA made the video through its Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft based at Goddard Air Force Base in Greenbelt, Maryland. Its mission is to understand the influence of the Sun on the Earth and near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere.
The video is made up of the spacecraft’s actual footage of the sun’s surface, backed by a humming soundtrack of the atmosphere. NASA spent four years compiling it, and the museum has stretched the image across three walls in its gallery.
“Solarium” isn’t a traveling piece but a permanent display at the air base in Greenbelt.
“We’re very grateful that they shared it with us,” Weinstein says. “And it’s actually bigger in our gallery. They project it only on one wall, but our visitors will see it on a much bigger scale.”
“Solarium” is found near the end of this sunlit journey, filled with a few interactive stops along the way.
The piece that will capture immediate attention is the 2013 work, “Solar Flare,” originally created by Canadian artists Caitlind R.C. Brown and Wayne Garrett to provide a little bit of sunshine in Calgary during the city’s dark winter months.
The 400-pound piece features 146 acrylic rods that project light activated by motion sensors. It hangs by a cable from the museum’s ceiling, projecting curlicues on the gallery’s floor and walls.
A photograph on the label for the piece shows it suspended by nine cables on Stephen Avenue in Calgary in December of 2013.
“I don’t know if this is the first time it’s been on display since it was shown in Calgary, but you can see where it was and where it is now in our gallery,” Weinstein says. “It’s perfect for the message of this show. There are so many facets to our relationship to the sun.”
She pointed out how nearly every human civilization has expressed a fascination with the sun.
“Our sun is a star,” Weinstein says. “We don’t usually think of it that way, but that’s what it is. And it’s thought to be about 4.5 billion years old, so it’s considered to be relatively young. It is but one of more than a billion stars that comprise the Milky Way, and though it appears to be roughly the same size as our planet when viewed from Earth, it’s the most massive object in our solar system.”
Humans not only look at the sun through a scientific scope, but also have placed religious, emotional, psychological and natural attachments to it.
“Creating a magical aura, the sun casts a soft, golden glow over the earth just prior to rising and again before setting,” Weinstein says. “This daily light show has been dubbed ‘The Golden Hour,’ and rewards those of us who take the time to notice. Since the ascent of humankind, we have recognized that our survival, in large part, depends upon an understanding of the sun and its effects upon earth,” Weinstein says. “Consumed by our busy, contemporary lives, we often take the magnificence of the sun for granted.”