Katie Paterson’s interests extend far beyond earthly boundaries. Using both the universe and innovative cutting-edge science, she produces poetic works that explore the cosmos as well as the very fabric of life. Her complex and technically challenging projects are born from intense periods of research and draw on scientific and technical expertise from around the globe. Previous works have involved collaboration with specialists in the fields of geology, cosmology, ecology, astronomy and, more recently, genetics.
The artist’s finished works distil and communicate complex ideas about the universe and human existence, transforming scientific information into objects of both beauty and simplicity. Whether through photography, installation, sculpture or sound, the minimalist and often low-key appearance of much of Paterson’s work disguises the depth of research and logistics that underpin her art.
Paterson has a long-running interest in forms of communication, and this is particularly evident in her 2007 installation, Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), where a version of Beethoven’s melancholic 1802 work, Moonlight Sonata, was sent to the moon and back. Translated into Morse code, the original score was then transmitted using Earth–Moon–Earth (EME) – a form of radio communication through which messages are sent from Earth, reflected from the surface of the moon, and then received back on Earth. After travelling around 480,000 miles, the returned code was transferred back into musical notation. As a result of its contact with the uneven surface of the moon, some of the original notes were lost.
When exhibited, the reflected sonata is played through a digital grand piano, the ghostly keys seeming to move of their own accord. Hearing the moon-altered music, with its pauses and missing notes, we are reminded of the immense journey that it has undertaken. This journey also serves to highlight many of the interests which run through Paterson’s practice – making visible the intangible, action and reaction, as well as seeming insignificance of humanity within the huge expanse of the universe.