Elianna Renner: Astrolabium (2012)

Fifteen light boxes, seemingly depicting telescopic photographs of far-away galaxies, are accompanied by an audio track recalling the sounds of a summer night: young lovers whispering poems in Yiddish to one another, the singing of crickets, and a klezmerized version of the “Imperial March,” the famous title track from the movie Star Wars, can be heard drifting in and out from a distance.

Upon closer examination, the images of galaxies turn out to be peculiar pointillist drawings: they are in fact holes in the backlit, yellowed papers, that have been gnawed into the frail material by the common house borer, also known as Anobium punctatum or woodworm. This insect has painstakingly perforated the pages of a similarly meticulously compiled archive of newspaper columns that an unknown person collected from various Yiddish newspapers in the 1950s. Over the decades, the pages of the archive were retained and handed down, traveling from Canada to Tel Aviv, until they reached Bremen in a roundabout way, and became the core for this installation, entitled Astrolabium.

An astrolabium originally is a gauge that was used in the past to measure the distance between the stars and the horizon. At the heart of this work, we find not a mensuration but a transgression: instead of showing the material product of human creativity embodied in the printed texts of an author, the holes that have been produced by insects are being foregrounded. They can be thought to illustrate the blank spaces in history that emerge from either the decay or a willful destruction of archives. Archives are usually created to register facts and figures, but as a natural consequence of capturing only data, the essence of life and its histories are omitted. In order to genuinely recapture the past, it is up to us to fill these gaps with stories. In a metaphorical sense, the archive experiences a metamorphosis by way of its destruction. One could also claim that by rendering these holes visible, astronomical constellations are being fabricated, that can help us scale the distance between generations and the accompanying loss of detail in the transfer of historical narratives.

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To listen to the “Astrolabium” audiotrack please click here