March 19 – July 19, 2020
Notes on an Exhibition Interrupted by a Pandemic
The exhibition Constellatio : Planeta : Stella was installed at Porch Gallery Ojai on a rainy Thursday in March; the following day, California became the first state to issue a mandatory stay-at-home order in response to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. Thus, for nearly the entirety of the show’s originally scheduled two-month run, the gallery has been closed to the public—and in that time, it feels as if the entire world has been turned upside down.
The disappointment I felt when the opening reception was canceled and the gallery shut down was in inverse proportion to the excitement and anticipation I’d experienced seven months before when the show was first scheduled. Of course it can feel small to talk about one’s own personal disappointments in the face of a crisis as big as a global pandemic. Still, it’s undeniable that there has been a particular kind of heartbreak in thinking about the exhibition as it has sat in stillness and silence for eight weeks, devoid of people.
A lot of the pieces in the show are related to a larger and more recent body of work centering on the concept of space. In 2018 I was selected to be the first artist to fly aboard a mission of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which uses a 2.7-meter telescope mounted in a customized 747 flying to a maximum altitude of 45,000 feet to study such astronomical phenomena as black holes and star formation. Thus, it’s probably no surprise that in work that came after that amazing experience I explore our relationship to the cosmos. But I found myself turning over the word space in my mind and thinking about its countless meanings, so much so that I asked a number of diverse professionals with whose paths I’ve crossed during the past twenty years—from astronauts to filmmakers, scientists to a professional rock keyboardist—to contribute their own reflections on the word, which I then assembled into a collection of texts and artworks. Never would I have imagined that by March 21, 2020, the weekend of the opening reception, a new notion of space would have swept the planet—space as in social distance, now almost universally prescribed as no less than six feet, or almost two meters, between one human being and the next. Space in relation to epidemiology. Who knew?
Astrophysical space inspires many emotions, chief among them wonder and amazement, and some degree of fear. The space of our social distancing has until now primarily been marked by the latter, and also sadness, like a kind of innocence lost. It has also been a disorienting space in which to live. As schedules dissolved and both the personal and professional appointments that give our time structure disappeared, I found myself floating through this undifferentiated space lost and unable to focus, not knowing which way was up or down.
The tragedy continues to unfold, and it must not be minimized. But space-time cannot be denied; it pushes us ineluctably forward, into this new and forever changed world. What does this exhibition that was conceived in the old world have to contribute to this new one? Is there any relevance to it anymore? As I’ve thought about this shuttered exhibition sitting in silence in a state of suspended animation as it were, I’ve thought of the work I made in response to my flight aboard SOFIA, the contemplation of space so vast as to seem infinite and to swallow at once anything even remotely close to human-scale. There’s fear in that—terror, even—but also a kind of freedom, the sort of freedom epitomized by the audacity of art-making, the creative act, which takes on new resonance now. The act of viewing art in this new era of face masks and social distancing likewise assumes new meaning. There’s likely to be a new profundity to ordinary things we did before, like popping into a gallery on a Saturday afternoon. A new spirit of wanting to connect, to build and nourish community, to bridge the vastness of space that we’ve felt these past two months yawning so wide between us.
I look forward to sharing this work with the community and am finding within myself a sense of optimism that we will be better, stronger, more resilient and thoughtful as time moves forward, leaning into new lives with new realities but also new possibilities.
Resources for Artists in the COVID-19 Crisis:
Resources for Artists in the COVID-19 Crisis – Emergency grants, freelance resources, legal aid, and more.
List of Arts Resources During the COVID-19 Outbreak
Material and Financial Resources for Artists
Arts and Culture Leaders of Color Emergency Fund
COVID-19 Resources for the Artist Organization Field
Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture:
Emergency funding programs for artists and creative professionals
Porch Gallery Ojai presents Constellatio : Planeta : Stella – New Works by Shana Mabari. Mabari was the first artist invited to fly aboard a mission of NASA’s stratospheric observatory for infrared astronomy (SOFIA) in December 2018. In 2020, she introduced new works inspired by space exploration, including the sculpture series “Meteors,” and three interrelated series of prints, “Constellatio,” “Planeta,” and “Stella,”
Throughout her professional practice, Los Angeles-based artist Shana Mabari directly represents the intersections of art and science, as evidenced by her exhibitions over the last decade. She explores the dynamics of visual perception, and investigates the ways in which we experience physical space through her use of color, light, reflection, and geometric form. Mabari’s sculptures, two dimensional works, and installations exist on a continuum with the Light and Space movement that originated in California in the 1960s. Her newest work is inspired by astronomical observations and space exploration.
Mabari also has a studio practice on Ibiza, Spain, where she spent the summers of 2018 and 2019, delving into three series of interrelated prints that originated in astronomical observations taken under the nighttime Mediterranean skies – “Constellatio,” “Planeta,” and “Stella.” During this time, she also began developing her latest acrylic sculpture series, “Meteors.”
In between the two summers, Mabari was selected to be the first artist to fly aboard a mission of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – SOFIA – which uses a 2.7-meter telescope mounted in a customized Boeing 747 aircraft. SOFIA flies to a maximum altitude of 45,000 feet to study such astronomical phenomena as black holes, magnetic fields at cosmic scales, and star formation. She took the flight in December 2018, and says, “It was an extraordinary opportunity to witness firsthand some of the astounding ways in which astronomers continue to radically expand our collective field of vision into the universe.”
Each drawing that forms the basis of the prints shows two overlapping views of the same object: a “positive view,” of the object looking up from the earth, and a “negative view,” of the object looking down on the earth. Many of them also incorporate astronomical-specific mathematical information, lending a deceptive simplicity to the elegance of the work. Mabari’s choice to infuse the original drawings onto aluminum reflects not only the metal’s historical significance to aerospace engineering, but also the fact that aluminum, often associated with technological advancement and heavy industry, is a naturally occurring element across the universe.
In coordination with the new body of work, Mabari has also curated the essays for Space, the companion book to The Light of Space, which comprises a thoughtful collection of 15 original written works from a diverse range of writers from varied practices. Each author’s work is paired with images from multiple artists selected by Andi Campognone, Museum Director and Senior Curator for Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH). Books are available through Amazon.
Mabari was born in Los Angeles, California. She has traveled extensively, and lived in Paris, Northern India, and Tel Aviv. Her education includes studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris and Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. She holds a patent for the design of “Dynamic Spatial Illusions,” a portable version of a visual and sensory experimental environment. She is a recipient of the Center for Cultural Innovation ARC grant.