Aleksandra Mir

Artist as Astronaut

Nature - A View From the Bridge
20 July 2017

3Q: Aleksandra Mir

In 2014, Aleksandra Mir began a journey into the unknown. The London-based artist started talking with scientists and engineers about space — a realm in which she was a complete novice. The result of Mir’s dive into the cosmos is Space Tapestry, a vast wall hanging 3 by 200 metres, hand-drawn — in collaboration with 25 young artists — with fibre-tipped pens on synthetic canvas. Inspired in part by the eleventh-century depiction of Halley’s Comet on the Bayeux Tapestry, the work unfolds like a giant graphic novel to explore the unfathomable distances of space, the quest for extra-terrestrial life, and the impact of space technology on humans – from observing Earth to the politics of space. As the piece goes on show at Tate Liverpool, UK, Mir talks about her quest to get under the skin of science.

Why did you choose this format for Space Tapestry?

I wanted to create an immersive environment, almost like a stage set. And I wanted to introduce a new aesthetic. Whenever you see a science illustration you get what I call the “sleazy aesthetic”: supposed to convey fact but made to seduce with their slickness, intense colours and airbrushed surfaces. There are other ways of picturing phenomena that can be as realistic. And some phenomena beyond our technologies or perception can also be portrayed poetically. This is where art becomes relevant to science. My original inspiration for the project was the 1066 Bayeux Tapestry. It features a very early portrayal of Halley’s Comet: you have this little group of characters staring out in horror and fascination, and there’s this simple line drawing of the comet. What was interesting to me is that it doesn’t look anything like an actual comet, but conveys a tremendous amount of scientific information – it has a direction, a velocity and luminosity – which makes it valuable for contemporary scientists. So this became the key to my ‘tapestry’: images with validity for the science community, but also treated in a very poetic, freestyle, emotive and personal way.