Aleksandra Mir

The Seduction of Galileo Galilei

By Carter Foster
Press Release, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 2011


20 October 2011 - 19 February 2012
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Engaging in a dialogue with the seventeenth-century Italian “father of modern science,” the London-based artist Aleksandra Mir will present The Seduction of Galileo Galilei (2011) at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Mir’s new video work documents a Galileo-inspired gravitational experiment along with a selection of collages from Mir’s series The Dream and the Promise (2008–09), combining religious iconography with that of space travel. The exhibition is curated by Whitney curator Carter Foster. It will be on view in the Lobby Gallery from October 20, 2011 through February 19, 2012.

Mir’s projects are typically interactive and draw on her interests in technology, religion, media, and concepts of distance and place. Her work on projects, performances, and publications takes her into communities and art spaces around the world; a dual citizen of the United States and Sweden, Mir has lived in New York City, Palermo, and London. In their ample scale, affinity for spectacle, and engagement with landscape, Mir’s works often recall the site-specific land art of such artists as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer.

In The Seduction of Galileo Galilei (2011), Mir conducts a dialogue with the seventeenth-century Italian scientist, mathematician, and philosopher. The documentary video on view, set to a Baroque soundtrack, takes the narrative of Galileo’s achievement and historical authority as its starting point—complicating and extending the cultural myth with which Mir’s playful, participatory experiment engages. The artist performs a gravitational experiment inspired by Galileo’s apocryphal test of the law of falling bodies. Rather than dropping objects from the top of the Leaning Tower in Pisa, as Galileo is said to have done in his observations of gravity’s effect on objects of differing masses, Mir and her team attempted to build their own tower. In the
gravel pit of a go-kart track in Stouffville, Ontario, Mir worked with crane operators and volunteers to stack tires as high as possible in a precarious, lilting spire.

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was a devout Catholic; however, his investigations into astronomy and cosmology, particularly his advocacy of Copernicus’s theory that the Earth orbits the sun, set him at odds with the Church and its doctrines, leading to a charge of heresy in 1633. As Sarah Robayo Sheridan, the curator who commissioned this work for Mercer Union, Toronto, described the artist’s role: “A corrupting femme fatale, [Mir] solicits an intellectual affair with a man almost four centuries her senior, in order to explore, exploit, and liberate the void in the telling of the myth.”

Also on view are collages from Mir’s 2008–09 series The Dream and the Promise. Interweaving and juxtaposing depictions of religious figures and iconography with images of space and space travel, these works relate to the artist’s question, “If angels and astronauts share the same sky, isn’t it time they were introduced?” Her seamless melding of the parallel visual vocabularies of science and faith alludes to the complicated relationship between the two traditions, and their different ways of understanding our world.