La voûte céleste
Participatory installation with the theme « Why not the sky »
As part of Nuit blanche sur tableau noir, summer 2009

With the playful use of a thoroughly un-scientific spyglass, I wanted to extend our sense of wonder at the immensity of the universe beyond the purely physical dimension. To do so, I created an outdoor installation composed of a large circular netting six meters (20 feet) in diameter and propped up six meters above the ground by three big trees. I had first embroidered the twelve constellations of the Zodiac onto the net and, hanging from this backdrop, a thousand fishing lines of varied length fell vertically (with the help of led weights) to form a vaulting archway under which one could walk about. These “ropes” were meant for the placement of wicker-made stars that passersby were putting together.

Symbolic telescopes—dubbed constelscopes—were constructed of recycled cardboard cylinders by children from two primary schools in the neighbourhood. The same schoolchildren produced some two hundred wicker stars, the first to be hung in this grand participatory effort.

Maps of the Zodiac arranged on the park’s concrete tables informed participants of the constellations associated with their birth. With this data, adapting myself to each, I suggested they take part in the work by creating a star from their constellation. The procedure was made simple enough that passersby of any age could take part. Each star, at once personal and anonymous, was given to me or to a technician to hang in the archway.

One goal of this relational activity was to become aware of the fact that the vault of the heavens, before being turned to the soothsaying instrumentality of horoscopes, was our first blackboard, on which humankind, like children connecting the dots in their gamebook, wrote the first treatise on applied psychology. Participants were then invited to stretch out on their backs, under the dome, in direct tactile contact with the ground, while in visual contact with the stars, and—using the constelscopes—to find their constellation, their personal mirror. By placing his or her individual history in a continuum begun at the dawn of humanity, each participant could paradoxically be brought to their inscription in the here and now: a contemporary universe of astronomical dimension and an urban environment that has shrouded the sky in a nearly permanent veil, “disconnecting” us from its immensity.

Throughout the four days of the event, some 700 participants of all ages had created their stars. In the last hour before taking down the installation, 900 of them were populating the celestial arch.  

Photografic credits: Muriel Ulmer, J-F Leblanc/Agence et Nathalie Levasseur.

Vidéo publication