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About the Exhibition

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Seeing is Knowing: the Universe considers the powerful role of vision and the visual in exploring celestial realms. Artists and scientists, seeking truth beyond the visible and the tangible, offer fresh perspectives on astronomy, and give new life to poetic celestial metaphors.  The exhibition, inaugurating the Perlman Museum at the Weitz Center for Creativity, presents myriad objects and images ranging from very early astronomy texts, historic star charts, and celestial globes to the most up-to-date digital pictures of the universe, and from representational photographs and drawings, to artists’ books, paintings, sculpture and more conceptual art projects by an international cast of contemporary artists.

Historically, both artists and astronomers sought to know the universe by visual means.  Understanding progressed as telescopes and other optical instruments became more powerful; artistic instruments, from the humble pencil to the camera, have long rendered new information visible to scientists and the public alike.  Today, astronomers reach beyond the boundaries of the visible to map and comprehend extra-visual phenomena, communicating their discoveries through images and high tech visualizations.  Artists, like scientists, seeking truth beyond the visible and the tangible, offer fresh perspectives on the astronomers’ project, and give new life to poetic celestial metaphors.

Seeing is Knowing: the Universe, organized by curator Laurel Bradley in collaboration with astronomer Joel Weisberg, materializes a wide-ranging conversation about scientific and artistic methods, the role of the visual in advancing knowledge, the sometimes hidden political and moral implications of scientific projects and emergent technologies, and the power of metaphor in the quest for understanding.  The exhibition, which draws objects from artists, art galleries, art museums, and distinguished library collections, offers interpretations and commentary from the featured artists, and from multiple members of the Carleton community, including John Weiss and Cindy Blaha from the department of Physics and Astronomy; Dan Bruggeman, Linda Rossi and Fred Hagstrom from Studio Art.

Laurel Bradley, with Viz Associate Aisling Quigley, wrote the labels without attribution. Other authors, indicated with italics, are named.

Seeing is Knowing: the Universe is supported by Visualizing the Liberal Arts (Viz), funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.