Three large wooden tables that feature in-process paintings, resource books and a host of media are installed in the middle of the Lux Art Institute’s main gallery. The impromptu workshop has started to resemble the studio of artist Lia Halloran who began her residency at Lux last month. Halloran continues to make work in the space through Oct. 6, while the current exhibit frames her interest in invisible histories and reimagined possibilities in astronomy. The exhibit runs through Nov. 3.
Art, science and skateboarding were the magic combination of interests that propelled Halloran into her life as an artist. The UCLA and Yale grad grew up in her father’s laboratory at UC San Francisco, which prepared her for her first job at the city’s Exploratorium. This unusual background was balanced with a passion for skateboarding and surfing, talents that led a 14-year-old Halloran to be featured in Thrasher Magazine. Halloran’s is a unique history that leaves her well positioned to address a combination of aesthetic delights mixed with deep and insightful concepts about science and history, especially the historical role of women in science.
There are two distinct series that form the foundation of her exhibit, including “Your Body Is a Space That Sees” and “Deep Sky Companion.” The latter series is older and addresses 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier and his attempt to chart comets, which led him to accidentally observe whole galaxies and interstellar nebulae. These discoveries, referred to as the Messier Catalog, are still used by astronomers in the 21st century and are considered to be the astronomical equivalent to the periodic table.
Halloran plays with the Messier Catalog as she situates her interpretation between two walls on the far side of the gallery. The corner acts as a plumb line, and the pieces on each side mirror one another. The grid format lends itself to cataloging large expanses of space in smaller digestible compositions. Since the work is foundational, its influence appears to expand outward to the larger pieces on display in the shape of an arrow.
Halloran’s scholarship and artmaking in this area led her to the brother/sister team of Caroline and William Herschel. Unearthing Caroline Herschel’s contributions to mathematical astronomy then prompted Halloran to wonder how many other women researchers have been erased from the history of science. It was through this line of inquiry that Halloran learned about a group of women at Harvard University that worked under the direction of Edward Charles Pickering (1877-1919) for 40 years processing astronomical data. The group, known as the Harvard Computers, often published under their own names and was instrumental in contributing to the field of astronomy.
This new research is reflected in the second series, “Your Body Is a Space That Sees,” that features historical imagery and narratives about the contributions of women in astronomy. These large-scale works look like blue maps of the sky and are framed by large circular shapes that resemble the lens of a telescope and could be interpreted as a window into another world. The reference to a telescope is an ironic detail since the women these works honor did not have access to this technology. Instead, they used glass plates to do their science, a process Halloran mimics in her creation of these cyanotype prints to further this female-centric interpretation of comets, galaxies and craters.
Halloran’s curiosity that was sparked as a child still continues today in her role as an artist. Her process-oriented approach is consistent with an innate desire to explore and learn. Through a universal set of visuals, she creates a scientific experience in an art world context, uncovering, reimagining and provoking conversation about scientific theory that enables future innovation and understanding.
When: In studio through Oct. 6. On exhibit through Nov. 3.
Where: Lux Art Institute, 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas
Tickets: $5; free for those 21 and under and bicycle riders
Phone: (760) 436-6611
-- G. James Daichendt is dean of the colleges and professor of art history at Point Loma Nazarene University. This story was originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune.