In his 1644 Principles of Philosophy, René Descartes described the earth as surrounded on all sides by “a very liquid heaven.” Although later discoveries discredited this idea, in a sense Descartes was on target. Modern astronomy reveals stars not as hard, fixed objects, but as pulsing plasma, and interstellar space to be diffuse clouds of atoms and molecules. This exhibition explored the essence of permanence versus that of mutability by posing questions regarding the nature of time, the constancy of experience, and the human perception of change. Traditionally, celestial bodies have been characterized as immutable points of light, but in the last century scientists have redefined these seemingly timeless stars as very active bodies. Does this new notion make the stars more comprehensible, more real? Through physical observation, technical postulation, and artistic imagination, A Very Liquid Heaven examined such questions about the changing human perception of stars.
The exhibition featured historical artifacts, star charts, maps, globes, and photographs of astronomical bodies, as well as recent art by Kiki Smith, Russell Crotty, John Torreano, Bill Viola, Karen Arm, Charles and Ray Eames, Slater Bradley, Billy Renkl, Margo Mensing, David Malin, Duane Michals, and Sebastian Romo. A Very Liquid Heaven opened with MAK3, a performance combining contemporary composer George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening: Makrokosmos III with dance choreographed by Debra Fernandez, Associate Professor of Dance at Skidmore College.