Starting on December 21st, the Jeppson Idea Lab installation “Michael Benson’s Carina Nebula” will be on view in a dedicated gallery space. This 53 x 109″ print of an image created by Michael Benson in 2008 by combining data from the NASA-ESA Hubble Space Telescope and from the European Southern Observatory 2.2 meter telescope in La Silla, Chile, will be presented in a separate gallery space with accompanying audio visual materials.
This photograph of the Carina Nebula is a unique point of contact between contemporary art and science. One of the overriding questions provoked by viewing this image in an art museum is, “When is data art?” It is a question closely tied to the history of photography and the evolving role of technology in image production.
The Carina Nebula, an area of space about 10,000 light years away, is among the brightest parts of the Milky Way visible from Earth. It is an area teeming with new and dying stars—clouds of dust and gas, eroding dust pillars sculpted by radiation from powerful stars, and lobes of interstellar material.
Working with archives primarily used by planetary scientists and astronomers, Benson’s explorations are focused on aesthetic, not scientific discoveries. Taking raw image data acquired for research purposes, Benson edits, combines, composites, and repurposes it for his photography. For example, official image releases from the Hubble Space Telescope are frequently presented in “representative” colors, meaning their colors are quite different from the actual hues exhibited in the visible light spectrum by a given subject. In order to better represent how the human eye might see the nebula—albeit enhanced by the power of the telescope to gather vastly more light than our unassisted senses ever could—Benson has here replaced the false-color information of the original Hubble image with true-color data deriving from lower-resolution Earth-based observations. In this way he retains the incomparable detail of the Hubble mosaic composite while augmenting it with the color accuracy of a series of observations made in visible-light wavelengths using the European Southern Observatory between 1999 and 2003.
Free with Museum admission. Worcester Art Museum | 55 Salisbury Street | Worcester, MA 01609 | 508.799.4406 |