A Body in an Observatory
photo by William Johnston

A Body in an Observatory

During Homecoming Weekend 2015 at Wesleyan University, Eiko gave four performances at the Van Vleck Observatory, commemorating the telescope's 100th anniversary. Since its dedication in June of 1916, the Van Vleck Observatory has been an important site of astronomical research, teaching, and public outreach. The centerpiece of the Observatory is the historic 20" refracting telescope, one of the world's largest still in operation. For more than seventy years, the Van Vleck refractor was used to determine the distances of stars. Under the supervision of restoration expert Fred Orthlieb (Professor Emeritus of Engineering from Swarthmore College), the telescope has now been lovingly restored and its control system modernized. No longer a scientifically practical instrument, the Van Vleck refractor enters its second stage in life as a teaching and outreach instrument, where it will provide unprecedented views of the heavens for generations to come.

This performance will finish off a series of performances throughout Fall 2016 in Middletown and on the Wesleyan campus.

At the Observatory, the main person in charge of dealing with the telescope is Roy Kilgard. Roy is Research Associate Professor of Astronomy at Wesleyan. His training is in high-energy astrophysics, a branch of astronomy reliant entirely on space telescopes; thus his work on the restoration of the Van Vleck refractor has had to rely on his background as a passionate observer of the night sky, along with crash courses in mechanical engineering, electronics, and history. Roy's research interests are in black holes and their environments and in statistical challenges in modern astrophysics. His role was incorporated into Eiko's performance. Footage of 4pm performance on Saturday, Nov. 7

Eiko's program notes on performing at the Observatory:
"I imagine how, 100 years ago, people must have been so excited in seeing this great telescope arrive to the Middletown community in 1916.  How moved people must have been when they saw the stars in a way they had not seen before. Having spent some time in the observatory with the kind and patient Astronomer Ron Kilgard and local star enthusiasts, I wondered how I could have not been more tempted to see so deeply into the night sky. Beautiful, is the seemingly endless cosmos that continues expanding. Time and distance entwine in seeing stars and far into space.  Beautiful, also, is the human curiosity striving for far places. It makes me feel a bit fearful, however, how far humans strive. Our body meanwhile remains  our commonality (yet unknown), a vehicle to other places, a home to rest, and a reminder of our very limits of both the length and space that one person's life occupies.  My body is my measuring stick."