Michael Zebrowski has spent much of his career finding an equilibrium between art and science. Using architecture as the backbone, he’s created a body of work that explores nature, light, and astronomy. Needless to say, Zebrowski and the upcoming solar eclipse are a perfect coupling, as he’ll prove in his Eclipse SURVEY installation at the Gibbes Museum’s pun-believably titled event, Total Eclipse of the Art.
For this eclipse exhibition, Zebrowski will put “devices” on display in place of typical sculptures or art pieces. “These are essentially odd instruments that are recording and sharing what they record,” says Zebrowski. Each device will highlight a specific aspect of the moon’s journey past the sun. There will be the tried and true must-haves like a live video feed of the eclipse projected in the museum, so folks can stare at the sun without igniting their corneas, while another camera will be fixed on the Gibbes’ signature second floor glass dome to emphasize the change in light. “They’re all based on ‘How can I, as an artist, try and present some of this phenomena in a heightened way?'” says Zebrowski.
Just like an actual eclipse, Zebrowski’s installation will impact more senses than just sight, with one device accentuating the sudden lack of sound that comes along with this medieval sign of the end-times. Dubbed “Fountain,” the artist has rigged a water pump with a solar panel that creates a trickling white noise while the sun is still shining. When the lunar shade hits the art piece, the flow of the water and the background sound of the pump will stop. “One of the things I’ve read about is that the day goes to night, so the birds all take it like it’s the end of the day.”
Registering solar sound waves has an essence of Eclipse SURVEY‘s end goal in it. “For me, the whole point of this series that I’ve been working on as a ‘Survey Series’ is really about creating installations and work that aren’t about themselves,” says Zebrowski. “They’re about trying to get us to look at the environment around us in a new way.”
But, the best way to change how you see an eclipse is by actually seeing an eclipse in person, and Zebrowski’s been hard at work one-upping classic eclipse glasses. “I’ve always thought of my work as this mediator between somebody and their experience of something. I really thought of the glasses as holding that gateway,” he says. Zebrowski’s design studio UP END THIS has shipped out specially made eclipse glasses (called Observers and Surveyors) that, in addition to being much sturdier than the paper eclipse glasses everyone’s moms ordered in bulk, come in a handful of different styles. Eclipse chasers take note because the glasses are reusable, and the installation at the Gibbes will provide Surveyors for attendees.
Originally, the exhibition was spread out across four installations in four states and had a planned live feed that would track the totality of the eclipse over the continental U.S., but the plan was dropped in favor of a wider cross-country campaign. Now, everyone who has ordered a pair of Surveyors is asked to take a selfie with the glasses at the time of the totality. The pictures will all be compiled across various social media at #eclipsesurvey and will be used in a later public exhibition. The glasses will come with a survey and, just like the glasses-selfie, are a chance for people to share their eclipse viewing experience. “There’s something intrinsically human and social about that pursuit of knowledge and truth,” says Zebrowski.
While Zebrowski lives in Vermont, where he works as a 3D art professor at Johnson State College, he’s had his eyes set on the Gibbes Museum as the key installation spot for a while now, thanks to its East Coast real estate in the middle of the eclipse’s totality. His prior projects have included Light Box, an architecture project that saw a shipping container and recyclable materials turned into an office space, and “Observatory,” his sculpture for a 2015 exhibit.
Eclipse SURVEY will touch on many similar themes of the artist’s past works. “I think the biggest [theme] for me, and this is always present in my work, is the idea of looking for some kind of truth. Truth in experience, truth in knowledge.”