NASA's Orbit Pavilion Sound Experience Will Lands at Huntington Library

Published : Saturday, July 9, 2016 | 4:25 AM

Orbit Pavilion pictured from above at the May 2015 World Science Festival at New York University. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Orbit Pavilion sound experience is scheduled to land at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens for a four-month stay, inaugurating a new initiative at The Huntington focused on creative collaborations with other organizations.

The exhibition of Orbit Pavilion runs from Oct. 29, 2016 to Feb. 27, 2017 on the Celebration Lawn, adjacent to the Café and Celebration Garden.

The new project, called “Five,” pairs The Huntington with five different organizations over five years, bringing in a range of contemporary artists who will respond to collections and themes drawn from some aspect of The Huntington’s rich library, art, or botanical collections. The first collaboration is with NASA and visual strategists from its Jet Propulsion Laboratory who conceived of the sound installation, representing the movement of the International Space Station and 19 earth satellites through artistically created sounds. The idea for an installation to convey the “sounds of satellites” is the brainchild of Dan Goods and David Delgado, visual strategists at JPL who commission and create experiences that illustrate, explain, or otherwise demonstrate scientific and technological phenomena.

“We wanted a way to showcase these NASA satellites—to bring them down to Earth, if you will,” said Goods. “Orbit is the conduit for that experience, bringing people into contact with the satellites as they move above us in space.” The nautilus-shell-shaped sculpture is about 28 feet in diameter and clad in shiny aluminum. It was conceived of and designed by Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang of the New York design firm StudioKCA and premiered last summer at the World Science Festival in New York City. The installation at The Huntington marks its debut on the West Coast.

Inside the structure is where things get really interesting: as each satellite flies overhead through space, a corresponding sound is emitted from each of the 28 speakers mounted on the structure’s interior wall. Visitors walking into the structure hear a new kind of symphony, with a sound interpreting each of the satellites’ various missions: among them a human voice, the crashing of a wave, a tree branch moving, a frog croaking. The “soundscape” was composed by Oakland-based sound artist Shane Myrbeck.

“We are delighted to have Orbit essentially launch this new project focused on artistic collaboration,” said Huntington president Laura Trombley. “The Huntington holds important collections on the history of astronomy and aerospace, and certainly JPL figures prominently in both of those narratives. The exhibition marks quite brilliantly the intersection between both institutions and our areas of common interest and endeavor.”

The “Five” project is supported by Pasadena philanthropist Jennifer Cheng and is led by Jennifer Watts, curator of photography at The Huntington, and Catherine Hess, chief curator of European Art. “We see this as an opportunity to create some interesting synergies between The Huntington, its collections, and those organizations that are nurturing the growing community of artists across Los Angeles,” said Watts. “We bring to this partnership a rich array of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, art, and botanical materials—The Huntington’s holdings. And contemporary artists can offer insight and new connections to our holdings in ways that reach beyond—and certainly enhance—more traditional academic conversations. We are excited by the prospect of allowing artists to create work that interprets our collections in unforeseen ways, whether visual or through performance.”

Watts said she and a small team of Huntington staff assembled to oversee this initiative have been particularly impressed by the recent collaboration between The Huntington and Clockshop, an LA-based arts organization, working together to make the oeuvre of science fiction writer Octavia Butler more visible. Through that effort, The Huntington is making available its Octavia Butler literary archives to a group of 10 artists and writers chosen by Clockshop. Over the last year, these individuals have been immersed in Butler’s archive and are in the process of creating new visual, textual and performance works that take Octavia Butler and her work as points of departure. “The beauty of The Huntington is that there are endless stories to be told from the holdings here, endless art to be made in response,” says Hess.

The curators have not yet selected the organizations with whom to partner for the remainder of the “Five” project. Those selections will be made on an annual basis and announced sequentially.

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