A Sign in Space

Some Stars Wobble is on show at Sawtooth ARI Gallery in Launceston until 24 June.

In astronomy, a wobbling star indicates an orbiting object – the gravity of each object affecting the orbital path of the other.

For this body of work I decided to imagine what it would look like if I could trace my path through space, creating a line the followed me round and round; as the globe spins on its axis, as the Earth orbits the sun, as the solar system revolves, slowly, around the centre of the galaxy. I quickly discovered that this is a more complicated mental exercise than I had anticipated.

You can see all the artworks on my website at www.clairependrigh.com.

I also thought that I might do a couple of posts about individual works in the show, here on my blog – starting with this series of tiny paintings, A Sign in Space.

Claire Pendrigh, A Sign in Space (series), 2017, oil on board

This series of paintings takes its title from a story by Italo Calvino, from his volume of “Cosmicomics”. Each story in this collection begins with some kind of scientific hypothesis, followed by a first person narrative recounted by the unpronounceable but irrepressible protagonist, Qfwfq.

In “A Sign in Space”, Qfwfq explains how he once decided to time how long it takes the Earth to complete one revolution of the Milky Way, by creating a sign in space. He leans out over the edge of the galaxy and finds a spot that is undisturbed by the whirling orbit of worlds within, and places his sign. Then he waits.

“So as the planets continued their revolutions, and the solar system went on in its own, I soon left the sign far behind me, separated from it by the endless fields of space. And I couldn’t help thinking about when I would come back and encounter it again, and how I would know it, and how happy it would make me, in that anonymous expanse, after I had spent a hundred thousand light-years without meeting anything familiar, nothing for hundreds of centuries, for thousands of millennia; I’d come back and there it would be in its place, just as I had left it, simple and bare, but with that unmistakable imprint, so to speak, that I had given it.” – Italo Calvino, “The Complete Cosmcomics; A Sign In Space”

In case you are wondering, it takes about 250 million years.

As our protagonist searches the outer reaches of the galaxy for his sign, he starts to worry. What if, after all this time, he can’t remember what his sign looks like? What if he passes it and doesn’t recognise it at all! I imagine his inner voice saying “Is it here? No, over here? I’m sure I passed by here before. It must be just around this corner.”

The need to place himself in the universe, with an identifying mark, becomes an obsession; one that I, and I’m sure many artists, can relate to. It’s the need to create a thing, that exists beyond yourself, that acts as a reference point, that you, and others, can look back on as proof of your existence in that space and that time. I was here.

The clusters of stars in this little series of paintings are based on real “globular clusters”. Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars, tightly bound together by gravity, found in the halos of galaxies (right near the edge). The stars in these clusters are extremely old, perhaps some of the first to have formed in the galaxy.

I like to imagine that these clusters could act as useful landmarks if you were searching the boundary of the galaxy for a sign you had left there. Unfortunately for Qfwfq, it is very hard to measure anything in a universe in which nothing stays still.

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