When artist and amateur astronomer Bettina Forget discovered barely two per cent of moon craters are named after women, she was dismayed. So, she harnessed her anger for a creative pursuit.
The lack of representation sparked Forget’s Women with Impact project, starting with drawings of the lunar craters. She studied the features and ridges through NASA images, using graphite to illustrate each crater named after a woman. Later, those drawings were turned into paintings.
She called it a “protest by celebration.”
“I’m not an optimist, but I expected it to be more than two per cent,” Forget said of craters named after notable women.
For the most recent iteration of her project, she painted in fluorescent pink, capturing the beauty and texture of the craters she saw through NASA probes.
“I wanted to translate the grayscale into the kind of paint that smacks you over the head. Pink is also a really political colour, super magnetic and attractive for many girls, but radioactive for boys,” Forget said.
Three of those pink paintings are now on display in Western’s McIntosh Gallery, part of an exhibition called The Life Cycle of Celestial Objects, Pts. 1 & 2, which runs until Dec. 9. Forget is featured alongside other contemporary Canadian artists, as well as York University students, all probing space exploration – and its ramifications.
Tackling tough topics
“Art makes difficult subjects approachable and accessible. It’s equally as critical and research-based as other disciplines, but because artwork can be so interesting to look at, it has the power to draw someone into a difficult conversation,” McIntosh curator Helen Gregory said.
Indeed, visitors across campus are drawn in by the eye-catching work installed outside the gallery: Alouette, by Brandon Vickerd, showcases a car smashed by a satellite. The display is a big talking point on Western’s Kent Drive.
Vickerd worked with engineering students, who took sledgehammers to the car under his careful guidance.
“Everyone who sees it out there just loves it,” Gregory said.
It’s also a piece with deep meaning, shining a light on the increasing use and dependence on technology, with Vickerd using the satellite to represent a “modern-day Icarus,” she added.
Iqaluit artist Jesse Tungilik’s space suit, crafted from seal skin, is another popular fixture in the exhibition. He was inspired by the caribou hunting clothes his mother made for him as a child, an outfit he used to pretend was a space suit. The seal skin suit includes intricate bead patches, one depicting the Nunavut flag, made by artist Glenn Gear.
Gregory hopes the exhibition will spark questions and dialogue.
“I want people to think critically about why we explore space and how that fits into the Earth’s history of exploration,” she said.
“Historically there was a colonial mentality that extended beyond our terrestrial boundaries. Take the moon, for example. Bettina explores that in her work, critiquing the distinctly Eurocentric male legacy of naming and claiming celestial objects.”
The intersection of art and science
Forget will host a free, interactive workshop Saturday, Oct. 21, at Western’s Cronyn Observatory to mark International Observe the Moon Day. (Re)naming the Moon will invite guests of all ages to learn from Forget about drawing craters – no experience required – and rename their creations after women scientists or other role models. Registration is open.
“You can learn a lot of science by making art, specifically by drawing. If you take a pencil and sketch something, it’s etched into your brain,” Forget said. “You have to understand what it is you’re looking at, to draw it. That really helps people to understand what a moon crater is, and how different they all are.”
Forget described her work as a career at the intersection of art and science. It’s the same combination Gregory captures in The Life Cycle of Celestial Objects.
Western engineering students helped Vickers to install Alouette, and York University graduate students, under the instruction of computational arts professor and artist Joel Ong, developed the work shown in McIntosh’s East Gallery. (The full exhibition fills both the East and West Galleries, the “parts one and two” referenced in the name.)
“I gave Joel and his team free rein. This was very experimental,” Gregory said of the York team’s contribution.
“I’m really happy with the exhibition and the project team. The response has been really positive,” she said. The opening reception was full and a steady stream of visitors have since come to the gallery to take in the artwork.
McIntosh’s location in the centre of campus helps to facilitate the blending of art and science that Gregory is seeking.
“There is access to people doing research on practically every subject you can imagine,” she said.
“It’s an incredible resource of intellectual activity.”