Cotton, UV reactive yarn
106 x 41 inches
Glass beads, cotton, UV reactive yarn
53 x 41 inches
Cotton, paper, UV reactive yarn
75 x 42 inches
A6990, A3393, D11362
Cotton, UV reactive yarn
56.5 x 41 inches
photo © Museum Associates/LACMA
photo credit: Ian Byers-Gamber
Exhibition Text for Standard Candle by Kayleigh Perkov
You are standing in a spot of origins. Here at the Mount Wilson Observatory, in 1923, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered the first Cepheid variable star in the Andromeda galaxy. Cepheid variables are a type of “standard candle,” or a celestial body whose light can be used to determine their distance from Earth and generate a map of outer space. Hubble’s discovery was formative in the realization that our Milky Way is just one of many galaxies that make up the universe. Yet this is only one to know the universe. The Mount Wilson Observatory is also the site of unceded Tongva land, reflective of the larger pattern of observatories being placed on tribal land due to colonization, ignoring indigenous views of the universe and humanity’s place within it. Artist Sarah Rosalena’s Standard Candle expands these realities to form objects of multi-cosmology, blending together a diverse array of science, process, and materials relating to knowledge rendered within darkness.
Standard Candle reanimates the photographic glass plates that astronomers used to capture and study starlight. These plates acted as a critical source of information in the mapping of the universe. Yet datasets are never neutral, simply plucked from the cosmos. Instead, they are produced through the marshaling of resources and interpreted within prevailing discourses from a coordinated grid structure. Through painstaking archival research, Rosalena found critical female labor obscured by history. Like many laboratories, Mount Wilson Observatory hired women to interpret the glass plates. These female “computers”—named for their role in computing data long before the task (and name) was transferred to machines—were integral to discovery, yet their labor received scant recognition. The glass plates Rosalena examines therefore act as indexical markers, capturing not only starlight from that exact moment in time, but also the labor of unnamed female computers and the embodied nature of their knowledge.
Rosalena’s works are not one-to-one reproductions, simple substitutions of glass and graph paper for beads and fiber. Rather, through translation into responsive materials, the datasets yield new insights and resolution. Textiles “S343H”, “VAR!”, and “Ri 0” were handwoven on a mechanized Jacquard Loom, while the glass beaded pieces in “Expanding Axis” were made on Rosalena’s mother’s handloom from techniques passed from her matrilineal bloodline of Wixárika weavers. These clusters of cultural processes—handwoven textiles, beaded weavings, and celestial glass plates—utilize the structure of the grid to generate changing patterns. It’s the grid that gives woven forms their structure and allowed (female) computers to find and analyze celestial bodies. Rosalena’s works materialize a simple truth: information yields different knowledge depending on the form it takes. In pieces such as “A6990, A3393, D11362 ” Rosalena stretches the materiality of data to its highest degree. Here Rosalena zoomed in on images of the glass plates until the pixels blur, breaking the neutrality of the grid while drawing attention to it. In similar pieces, such as “Exit VAR!” the grid breaks into an unrecognizable glass mirage with fraying edges. These pieces do not deny the power of empirical observation and the data it collects as much as demand an objectivity grounded in context, robbed of its universalism, to provide sharper and more varied accounts of our universe.