Image of one of Lia Halloran's paintings, swirls of blue and black ink
Lia Halloran - Deep Space Companion

Cosmic beauty: Lia Halloran’s “Deep Sky Companion” exhibition is at Caltech through December 18

Lia Halloran and Kip Thorne lecture in her May 12 "Up" class at Chapman University.

Lia Halloran and Kip Thorne lecture in her May 12 “Up” class at Chapman University.

Chapman assistant professor of art Lia Halloran’s exhibition
Deep Sky Companion
is currently on display at the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology, through December 18, 2016 — and it’s definitely worth the trip to Pasadena to view it.

Halloran and Kip Thorne, Ph.D. — professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Caltech and co-creator and executive producer of the hit movie
— walked viewers through the exhibition during its opening reception on June 5.  Fresh from their
sold-out appearance at Chapman University’s Musco Center for the Arts
on May 12, Halloran and Thorne are collaborating on an upcoming book.
The Warped Side of the Universe
will feature paintings by Halloran and poems and prose by Thorne, illustrating the entanglement of science and art — particularly in theoretical discussions which may be difficult for non-physicists to wrap their minds around.

Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech, Pasadena

Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech, Pasadena

Halloran’s art tests the boundaries between seeing, classifying, and reproducing deep-sky objects against those catalogued by French astronomer Charles Messier (1730-1817).  A site-specific work,
Deep Sky Companion
is both an adaptation and variation on the visual data comprising Messier’s 110 deep-sky objects that he observed in his attempt to chart comets (when, in fact, he had “accidentally” observed whole galaxies and interstellar nebulae).

Halloran’s exhibition site is architect Thom Mayne’s building for the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech. Slanted ceilings, extreme planes, and every possible expression of asymmetry are ideal settings for Halloran’s iterations of Messier’s amorphous cosmic bodies. The works climb upwards through three stories at varying distances from the viewer; the installation directly mimics the inherent difficulty a person would experience in looking at objects in deep space. Halloran collaborated with architect David Ross, of the Frederick and Fisher Partners Architects and past student of Thom Mayne, on the physical and structural layout of the exhibition.

The works themselves are divided into two formats: self-animating blue ink on drafting film (just as light and matter travel gracefully through deep space, so does this deep-blue ink across a print) and camera-less prints on photosensitive paper which appear in a similar way to specks of light appearing against the vacuum of deep space. There are one or more “coincidences” in her process

Deep Sky Companion exhibition card.

Deep Sky Companion exhibition card.

relating to that of Messier’s sequential cataloguing of celestial bodies; shapes, densities, shades, and compositions are mostly matters of chance when dealing with her inks and prints, but Halloran’s methods are entirely premeditated. She has selected a subject in Messier himself that communicates both his frustration and wonder in equal parts. While he was searching out comets, his actual results proved to be ever greater in scope, far greater than he could see or quantify.

Humans’ observations transform and fluctuate, based on what technology makes available, but both the artist and the astronomer will push further into interpreting what sorts of phenomena our universe holds. Halloran’s work echoes Messier’s own discoveries as those which are open-ended and unresolvable. In other words, what appears on Halloran’s films are progressive, changeable things rather than permanent markers.

Kip Thorne and Lia Halloran at Chapman University, May 12, 2016.

Kip Thorne and Lia Halloran at Chapman University, May 12, 2016.

Lia Halloran received her BA in Art from UCLA in 1999 and studied astronomy while pursuing her MFA (Painting and Printmaking) at Yale in 2001. Halloran’s work often uses science as a conceptual bounding point; to explore how perception, time and scale inform a constant desire to understand our physical and psychological relationship to the world we inhabit. Halloran has participated in several interdisciplinary projects and collaborations to curate exhibitions, produce critical dialogues on contemporary art, and create work that explores connections in science and art, including an upcoming book with Professor Kip Thorne about the ‘warped side of the universe’. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at venues in New York, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Vienna and Florence. Her work is held in the public collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), The Speyer Family Collection (New York), The Progressive Art Collection (Cleveland), and the Art Museum of South Texas. Halloran has been profiled in publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, ArtNews, and New York Magazine. Halloran was awarded an Art Works for Visual Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for her project, ‘Your Body is A Space That Sees’, highlighting the historical contribution of women in astronomy. It is accompanied by her solo project,
Deep Sky Companion
at Caltech. Halloran lives and works in Los Angeles and serves as Assistant Professor of Art and Director of Painting and Drawing at Chapman University where she also teaches courses that look at how creativity and problem solving can be the point of intersection for art and science.

This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of Dr. and Mrs. David Groce, the Caltech Department of Astronomy and by Chapman University and the Office of the Chancellor’s Scholarly and Creative Activity Grant.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog designed by Claudine Jaenichen, co-chair of the Department of Art at Chapman University, containing contributions from Lia Halloran, Kip Thorne, Shana Beth Mason, and many Caltech scientists.

See more works by Lia Halloran at the website of
Martha Otero Gallery
, which represents her.

Opening Reception: June 5th, 2016 3:00pm-5:30pm.
Exhibition walk-through with Dr. Kip Thorne and Lia Halloran, 4:00pm.
**Parking is available behind Cahill in Structure 3, or on California Street.

June 5th- December 18th, 2016
Hours: 9am-5pm and by appointment

Mary Platt

Mary Platt is director of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University

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