Karen Hanmer

Artists' Books & Installation

Gallery: Science & Technology

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Title: Celestial Navigation

Celestial Navigation

Celestial Navigation

Celestial Navigation | 2008 | out of print

Pigment inkjet prints

6.75x5.75x.5" closed, 17.5x 30" open

Edition of 30

At once vast and minimal, sparse and rich, the night sky has always been a canvas upon which people project their myths and dreams. In Celestial Navigation a photograph of the Milky Way provides the background for an illustrated catalog of instruments used across the ages to navigate by the stars, and a 19th-century astronomical chart. This historical content is complemented by a brief poem in which the artist looks to the night sky to recapture the memory of a long lost beloved. Celestial Navigation is constructed of ink-jet printed, hinged triangles that can be held in the hand and read page by page like a traditional book. Unfolded flat, it references historical star charts or contemporary NASA composite photographs. The book can also be folded into myriad sculptural shapes.


For our entire existence as a species, we have looked to the heavens. In the night sky we see possibilities, a map to our future, a document of our past. The panorama of deep space comprises a powerful metaphor, and in two books ... the metaphor is used to ample effect both conceptually and structurally. Celestial Navigation and Star Poems share the same structure and compositional background: a series of hinged triangle with start fields printed on deep blue. Each may be read as a traditional accordion fold, formed into myriad sculptural configurations, or unfolded flat as a kind of map referencing historical and contemporary astronomical charts.

In Celestial Navigation, the narrative evokes a deep sense of loss and longing; reaching to the stars as a way of recapturing the memory of the long-departed: 'Like ancient navigators, I look to the sky to find my way back to you.' . The diamond-shaped page-spread offers text printed against a star field on the left, mirrored by a 19th-century star chart on the right. The one-point rhythm of each page spread progresses steadily, and is resolved by a final spread of uniform space in which one can almost discern the presence of the beloved. The book has three possible spaceways: the textual narrative occupying one path, and the other two taken up with lists of astronomical instruments - particularly instruments of navigation - juxtaposed against 17th-century images of astrolabes, sextants, telescopes, and the like.

— Max Yela, Head, Special Collections, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee