The last thing you’d expect to find in the lower level art gallery at Bristol’s Hotpoint Emporium is a planetarium. Yet, in a dark nook nestled in the corner, you are invited to sit among the stars.
“I have always been fascinated by astrophotography,” explains artist and planetarium creator Jen Charleson. When NASA opened its media library to the public last year, she spent several days poring over the images of exploding stars, orbits, and constellations, until she decided to pair them with her own ink creations to form “imagined spacescapes where art and astrophysics coexist in perfect fusion.” The result is what you see in the planetarium: luminous, whimsical geometric shapes printed on aluminum plates that shimmer in the strategically lit space. A curtain you can draw shut and NASA audio recordings taken in outer space complete the multisensory experience.
“I chose aluminum because the reflective quality of metal creates a fantastic effect where the pieces change in appearance depending on the light source,” says Charleson. “In fact, just like looking up at the night sky, the longer you look at them, the more stars come into view. But also like the night sky, this magical effect only happens in the dark. I needed a way to show this to people.” So, the planetarium idea was born, and after six weeks of experimentation, construction, and installation, Charleson and her husband finished the project to house her body of galactic works.
The planetarium is Hotpoint’s hidden gem. Other members of the artist co-op encourage visitors to check out the Underground Gallery and, they’ll add with a knowing smile, “the world’s smallest planetarium.”
“I like to believe that when people come inside, they forget where they are for a moment or two,” Charleson says. “Mostly, my hope is that people come away realizing that the stars are closer than we think.”