The Moon in a Box

Katie Paterson, “Second Moon” (all images courtesy the artist)

BRIGHTON, U.K. — Not one but two Moons are currently in orbit ’round this planet of ours. There’s the homely satellite we landed on, over Mexico at the time of this writing. But there’s another which has been sped on its way by British artist Katie Paterson, hers a piece of meteoric Moon rock in air freight transit, then over the English town of Bath in Somerset.

It is not the first time that hot property Paterson has captured the imagination with a lunar artwork. In 2008 she beamed a morse code rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata to and from the (real) Moon, and etched the result onto vinyl. She has also primed lightbulbs with a lifetime’s supply of ‘moonlight.’

Paterson’s other work is equally cosmic. She once took a grain of sand, nano-engineered it to 0.00005mm in diameter and then buried it in the Sahara, where it is now lost forever. She has televised dark footage from the edge of the universe, and written letters of condolence for dying stars. Despite leaving college just six short years ago, she knows what she’s about.

Hayward Gallery, Tate Britain, and Kunsthalle Wien have all shown her projects since then. She has work in the collection of the Guggenheim in New York. “Second Moon,” her current project, comes from the Newcastle Science Festival in the North East of England. Her ghostly cargo will orbit Earth 30 times and touch down in Edinburgh next year. You can follow it via an iPhone app.

Paterson spoke to Hyperallergic via email, and her answers are reproduced here as a Q&A.

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MS: How does an artist go about acquiring moon rock?

KP: I have a number of trusted meteorite dealers I work with, built up through another project, “Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky,” where I cast, melted and recast a large 120 kilo iron meteorite. “Second Moon”’s lunar name is NWA 6721. I purchased it from a meteorite dealer in Arizona. It’s a fairly simple process to find out if a lunar meteorite is authentic or not, the majority have gone through a spectral analysis and are logged on the The Meteoritical Society’s database (the International Society for Meteorites and Planetary Science).

Katie Paterson, “Second Moon”

MS: Why have you doubled the speed of this second moon?

KP: “Second Moon” is posted using an ‘express’ courier service, as I want it to stay airborne, in ‘orbit’, for as long as possible, with less stop offs and delays on the ground. The route, from London, Shanghai, Adelaide to San Francisco, follows the path and direction of our Moon, and takes around 12 days to circle the earth. The other day, we saw an ‘eclipse’ of the two moons as our moon passed over the “Second Moon” fragment.

MS: How challenging were the logistics? 

KP: There was a lot of research in the months running up to the launch, which courier company to use, where the stops off were going to be, insurance, customs issues, material codes and so on. So far so good — “Second Moon” has only been held up in bad weather once. It’s been through quarantine already. 

App screenshot (click to enlarge)
App screenshot

MS: How involved have you been in the development of the app?

KP: I’ve been involved every step of the way. I worked with Supermono, along with Fraser Muggeridge design studios. It’s taken a good few months with lots of attention to details. I’m really pleased with everyone’s work — it’s been an entirely new process for me.

The App shows the view down to earth from “Second Moon,” the Moon, and your own location on the planet, wherever that might be. The moons drift slowly over mountain ranges, cities, oceans. You can zoom out and zoom into the wider solar system, and watch the orbits of all the planets live, and a small blinking “Second Moon.” Visually, the App is deceptively simple, but creating it involved complex coding systems using the courier tracking data, and the mathematics of orbits, distances, speed and locations.

MS: What happens to the rock at the end of its final journey?

KP: In September 2014, when “Second Moon” touches down to earth after its final journey, it will be exhibited in my solo show at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh. At that point, I hope to have a full collection of all the various tracking slips and documents of the moon’s journey. 

MS: Does your interest in science predate your current practice?

KP: I have no scientific background whatsoever. It took living in Iceland for a short period to give me a sense of being on a moving, evolving planet that is bursting with energy and life. Watching the midnight sun, the changing light and weather patterns. For the first time I began to really look to the sky and get a sense of the billions of other planets and life forms that likely exist. From there I immersed myself in astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, as well as geology, life sciences, and recently genomics and genetic evolution.

App screenshot

MS: Do your ideas come from the study of science or creative reverie?

KP: It is hard to pinpoint where my ideas come from. I try to dedicate time to fish for ideas. It’s the core of my practice. I’m currently working on a book of ideas, which will contain around 200 short texts of works to exist in the imagination. These ideas tend to arise through a process of writing, where unusual connections form, some of which might relate to research from that day, or from years ago. With “Second Moon,” I was on a small island, looking up to the airplane contrail marks in the sky and thinking about the vast number of people, things, phenomena that are constantly circling above the earth – almost like man made orbits.

MS: Do you ever come across skeptics who doubt the veracity of your work?

KP: In Vatnajökull (the sound of) I submerged a microphone in Iceland’s Jökulsárlón lagoon, full of drifting melting icebergs. People could call a phone number and listen to the sound of it melting, live. In this case I was camping next to the glacier with a tent full of equipment for the duration of the piece. The install was difficult and very cold, I can’t drive so I hitchhiked with a huge amount of batteries and equipment. I go to extreme lengths to make these works happen, yet still a lot of people thought it was just me splashing around in my bath tub.

MS: If art disturbs, and science reassures (Georges Braque), what do you hope your work does?

KP: The imagination is key in everything I do – for myself and for the viewers and users of the artwork. In “Second Moon,” the Moon rock itself is not remarkable – it is the size of a small pebble – but it has fallen all the way to earth, it once belonged to the Moon which affects our planet and all of us. This small stone travels around our planet and in our minds becomes a new planet. It will ‘orbit’ the earth in a very ordinary way, nevertheless, where our imagination takes us can be totally out of the ordinary. For me, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” – Thomas Merton.

Katie Paterson’s Second Moon can be followed via iOS app.

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