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A Beach (for Carl Sagan)           2016

Installed as part of Chicago Works: Andrew Yang at the MCA Chicago, curated by Joey Orr.

MCA documentation page (tour audio, video, "4 Things" entry, etc)

exhibition brochure (pdf)

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we've learned most of what we know. Recently, we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle -­ deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”


                                                                                                                     - Carl Sagan (Episode 1: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean, Cosmos, 1980)

The Milky Way Galaxy is our home. As a band spanning the sky it seems like some distant river, but in fact we and our solar system are cradled quite deeply within its arms.  We are from the inside looking outward and inward at once, a part gazing at the whole, partially but not impartially. Because of nighttime light pollution, the Milky Way is simply not visible in urban areas. As 2014 over 50% of the world’s population live in cities, by 2050 it is projected to be 70%. This means the majority of humans have no basic visual access to their own galaxy in an immediate, astronomical sense.

“The total of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of planet earth.” So claimed Carl Sagan in 1980.  In fact, an estimate by astronomers in 2003 put the numbers of stars in the universe as likely being 10 times greater than all the grains of sand on the beaches and deserts of the planet

Taking Carl Sagan’s analog to heart, this installation creates a scale model of the Milky Way in which one grain of sand represents one star. Taking the low estimate of 100 billion stars ~ 14,000 pounds, or seven tons, of sand. Such an indoor scale model is downtown Chicago is a stand-­in for the Milky Way Chicagoans can’t see in the sky above.

Radios hanging from the ceiling are tuned between stations in the FM play static, white noise that roil acoustically like ocean waves on a beach, but which also contain an audible fraction (1-3%) of the Cosmic Microwave Background, the first trace of the Big Bang from which our universe originated. 

On the wall loops a shape that seems to dissolve and grow in succession, breathing or flowering, perhaps astronomically vast or maybe infinitesimallly small. In fact - a small chunk of dry ice sublimating in water, making shaping and taking shape, sublimation among the somewhat sublime.

A light box hangs off the wall, upon which are 1500 grains of sand. The bright, inverse sky, is also a visual primer of numerical scale, offering a visually and conceptuallygraspable magnitude with which to calibrate one's viewing of the Beach and the multitudes that it contains.   Pictured here is a photograph that corresponds to the box, 1500 grains (for Richard A Proctor) (2016), titled and deriving from Proctor's 1866 book A Handbook of the Stars, which contain 1500 of the brightest in the northern sky at that time. 

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