Blog: MCA DNA

4 Things: Magic in Everyday Objects

By Sarah and Joseph Belknap

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A “real-time data translator” machine converted a Mariner 4 digital image data into numbers printed on strips of paper. Too anxious to wait for the official processed image, employees from the Voyager Telecommunications Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attached these strips side by side to a display panel and hand colored the numbers like a paint-by-numbers picture. The completed image was framed and presented to JPL director, William H. Pickering. Mariner 4 was launched on November 28, 1964, and journeyed for 228 days to the Red Planet, providing the first close-range images of Mars Photo: NASA/JPL/Dan Goods

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With work currently on view in BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: Sarah and Joseph Belknap, we asked the artists to tell us about four things that they find inspiration in.

About

We find magic in these things.

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Two left hands gently interlock, little finger to thumb, their palms facing up. The smaller hand has a black misshapen stone in the center of the palm, while the other has a course stone laying in between the ring and middle finger. Both hands have silver bands on the ring finger.
Sarah and Joseph Belknap. The thing that came back home, 2013. Digital archival print; 6 x 4 in. (15.2 x 10.2 cm) Courtesy of the artists

Meteorites

They are so old. Most of them about 4.55 billion years old. You can hold something that is as old as or older than our Earth. Something from the beginning of our making. Hands tremble. The feeling is intense. Every day about 100 tons of meteoroids—fragments of dust and gravel and sometimes even big rocks—enter the Earth’s atmosphere.* They are glass on the floor you missed when sweeping up the glass you dropped, it is only until you step on a rogue chard that you are reminded that, at some point, something happened to create it. They are lost. They never had a chance to collide into a larger body and take part as a family (a planet, a moon). It is not until by chance they do fall to earth that we get to welcome them home.

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Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebula (M16): Pillars of Creation in a Star-Forming Region Photo: NASA, ESA, STScl, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

LIGHT/OUR EYES

Our organism evolved with two cameras that work in parallel, save when a fly lands on your nose, then not so parallel. These cameras are amazing feats of biological engineering but they do have limits (technically 380 nm to 750 nm of the electromagnetic spectrum). This is where it gets very interesting. Many other species see different ranges of this spectrum. Some see a much broader range, for instance, the mantis shrimp has 12 color photoreceptors compared to our 3. This has not stopped human’s technological ability to understand and create new eyes that can visualize the spectrum in other ways. In 1965, JPL scientists hand drew and colorized the first images of Mars from data while impatiently waiting for all of the photographs. Pillars of Creation (1995), an image that opened our imagination, is a perfect example of this. Comprised of 32 images, including X-rays, wavelengths in near infrared and far infrared, it far surpasses our own spectrum. Scientists use this data and function as artists to re-create that which is imperceivable to the human eye. Can you imagine what your eye could see if we had evolved like the mantis shrimp?

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This sepia image of a boot print in moon dust is covered by a four-by-five grid of faint plus marks.
Apollo 11 bootprint, 1969 Photo: Buzz Aldrin, © NASA

TOUCH

Have you ever fallen asleep in an awkward position only to awake to an arm that has “fallen asleep?” It is an experience that can be a bit shocking. It is upon touching your body in this affected area that you can truly feel your own body. The nerve receptors do not register and your body is a new object.

Touch is an essential quality in the way that we approach art. As we look beyond what is perceivable, imagine time on scales almost unregistrable, touch provides an account of true absolute presence. The materials we work with, such as silicone, become waypoints of our own existence. While we carve, nestled up in steamy, full-face respirators, foam spraying in the air, preserved from the unnerving loud noises of air compressors and grinders, we imagine foreign landscapes and our bodies navigating these spaces. We imagine what the moon feels like, how the body changes weight in different gravities. We imagine we are explorers lost and finding our way through touch.

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Jacopo Tintoretto. The Origin of the Milky Way, c. 1575–80. Oil on canvas. 58 × 65 in. (148 × 165 cm). The National Gallery, London

ATMOSPHERE

We call it the sky. We call it looking up. A Chicago winter can seem claustrophobic because of it. As we write this, we sit in anticipation of a glimpse of the sun. It is our window into the past, present, and future. Humans have always looked up. We have hung upside down on monkey bars and imagined falling into the sky. It is our source of understanding and mythologizing. The Milky Way as strewn breast milk across the sky; comets as signs of war and famine; the moon as cheese. When it rises we see colors and a veil of blue, but all the stars, all the vastness, still remain just beyond that thin blanket allowing life.

*Credit: [email protected]