“As an artist, I think you have to go with what you’re passionate about and Berlin just happened to be the perfect opportunity to say, I’m going to go and do this work and see what happens…”
What happened, you ask? Artist Amada Miller spent months in Berlin as part of the Blue Star Contemporary (BSC) Berlin residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. While the three-month-long residency is very open-ended for the artists (no required daily programming, schedule, etc.) Miller spent her time wisely as she dove into an interest that she was initially trepidatious to merge with her artistic practice. Miller had thoughts like, “how are people going to see the connection…is it too big of a jump?” Casting those doubts aside, Miller decided to embrace her passions and ended up spending a lot of time picking through the archives at the Natural History Museum to delve into her interest in space, and more specifically, meteorites.
The gallery where Amada’s exhibition is held at BSC is centered around winding pedestals containing fifty-five glass bells, titled Hollow Moon Rings Like a Bell. Each bell varies in size, shape, and meteor rock. Yes, that’s right, in the middle of each bell is a meteor fragment, collected from a meteor impact that hit South America in the mid-1800s known as Campo de Cielo or Field of Heaven. Now, this is a really cool, but a little complicated part so pay attention. Leading up to leaving for the Berlin residency, Amada was digging through the archives of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), and came across an interesting experiment that occurred during the Apollo mission:
“During the Apollo missions the astronauts, wherever they landed, would place seismometers on the ground and then they would record data like when a meteor struck the surface of the moon. All of this data was being sent to NASA to decode…One of the scientists looking at this data coined this term…since the moon is a very aired, dry place, unlike earth, that if something hits it or a moonquake occurs…it just keeps vibrating in a wave pattern…he basically described it like the moon ringing like a bell. The first experiment that they did with this, with a lunar module crash landing on the surface, it rang like a bell for 55 minutes and that’s why there are 55 bells.”
Did you get that? Yeah, space is pretty interesting. In a nutshell, NASA’s experiments with the seismometers gathered information about the moon’s internal structure. In 1969 a lunar module was sent back to the moon where it impacted about 40 miles away from the Apollo 12 landing site and the resulting shockwave took about an hour to dissipate. These vibrations lasted longer than anticipated and was almost as if the moon was ringing like a bell, hence the 55 bells in Miller’s installation.
Working in collaboration with Adam Smolinski to create the glass bells, the presentation reflects the history of space through the wave-like pedestal, glass bells (mirroring the surface of the moon which is practically powdered glass), and interior meteor fragments. The bell tones range from deep to airy and high tones. Visitors are welcome to play the bells by asking the front desk for a pair of gloves to safely enjoy the interactive display.
Displayed directly in front of the bells as a floor piece, and then to the right of the bells on a shelf mounted on the wall, are replicas of two significant meteorites that Amada encountered while at the Berlin Natural History Museum. During World War II, the museum was bombed, causing the destruction of lives, artifacts, and documentation. There were two meteorites, however, that survived the destruction due to the iron they are composed of. While the meteorites survived, their documentation did not. Miller was so intrigued by these two meteorites that she asked to cast them, and to her surprise, Dr. Greshake agreed. The museum set her up with a small studio in the museum where she was able to cast these two mysterious yet enduring meteorites. The results that you see in FÜNF are made using materials such as solid glass, beer cans, bronze (with different patinas), plastic and acrylic.
Amada’s interest in science began much earlier than her time in Berlin. While she has had that interest from a young age, Miller also started becoming more hands-on through the development and use of natural dyes that she utilizes in her practice. “ I like the unpredictability of dye,” Miller told Unfiltered SA, “and having the knowledge to work with other chemicals that will shift the dye…you always get a different result.” Working with fiber and choosing to create her own natural dyes, Miller was really able to approach her practice as a chemist, once again merging her interest in science with her artistic approach. While there are none of her fiber paintings in the exhibition at BSC, there are multiple works on canvas that are beautiful and have an interesting backstory.
The charcoal rub drawings that you see surrounding the sculptural pieces in Miller’s exhibition are reminiscent of the surface of the moon. They are grainy with imprecise craters and rough corners that float on top of the cream-colored canvas. They are delicate but imperfect and add a finishing touch to a very clean and precise group of artwork. Believe it or not these pieces are rubbings of the floor surrounding her exhibition at BSC. Yes, these beautiful moon-like works on canvas are parts of the floor that Miller couldn’t stop thinking about during her time in the gallery. “I became infatuated with this section of the floor…it’s basically these tiny craters that make up this little area. I started stringing up the bells and I just kept looking at it and thinking of how cool it was and what could have made that…it’s a very strange pattern. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went home and grabbed a canvas and some graphite and came back and made a rubbing of it. It just happened to look really cool, almost like moon-scape.”
Today, July 20th, marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11th moon landing. Of course, Miller wasn’t going to let the day go by unnoticed. In collaboration with composer Nathan Felix, Amada Miller will activate her bell installation with a special performance at BSC, from 6pm-8pm. It will be a great time to see the exhibition if you haven’t already, play some of the bells, and encounter a very unique performance. Amada has a busy schedule ahead with a residency in Trinidad, upcoming exhibitions at GrayDuck gallery, the Galveston Arts Center and a show in Berlin. To learn more about Amada Miller, visit her website at http://www.amadamiller.com. FÜNF will be on view until September 8, 2019, at Blue Star Contemporary.