Children of the Light - Looking into the Great Wide Open
This flip-book displays a succession of stills from a lm taken inside an Inwards Telescope, a device created by the artist duo Children of the Light for the Into the Great Wide Open festival.
The instrument comprises a simple aluminium tube mounted on a stand. During the festival, which took place on Vlieland, a small island o the coast of The Netherlands in September 2022, Children of the Light positioned three Inwards Telescopes near the shoreline around the island, where they resembled, from afar, coin-operated tourist telescopes familiar from seaside resorts.
In the patent he filed in 1608 recording his invention of the telescope, Hans Lipperhey, a citizen of Zeeland, located in the present-day Netherlands, described its purpose as being “for seeing things far away as if they were nearby”.
On looking into an Inwards Telescope, which, despite the name, does not contain any lenses and is simply a metal tube, the viewer does not see things far away, be they seascapes, seagulls or sunsets, as if they were nearby, but instead an ever-shifting pattern of concentric circles of luminosity. The device abstracts the surrounding landscape into pure light.
What is the viewer, as they squint into an Inward Telescope, to make of this unexpected sight? Questions, perhaps. What did they expect or want to see and why?
Optics as it developed in 17th century Europe onwards was, perhaps, the paradigmatic Enlightenment science. Via an expanding range of optical instruments it brought ever greater swathes of physical space and their contents, from the microscopic to the interstellar, into the orbit of scientific knowledge as observable phenomena to be analysed and classified. Use value was, of course, one of the key criteria of evaluation.
Arguably the triumph of The West from the Age of Empire onwards was driven by an insatiable desire to conquer exteriority on every emergent frontier. A reductive analysis, but still true. Identify. Evaluate. Control. Extract.
At the time of writing, NASA is beginning to release the first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most sophisticated astronomical imaging instrument in history, designed, amongst other things, to observe the first stars and the formation of the first galaxies. Alongside the pure wonder at these visions of alien beauty that transcend superlatives, there must lie, for anyone with even the vaguest grasp of recent history, a sense of threat. For our culture, every picture is a map.
Humanity, at least not in any form that we would recognise, will not reach these ancient stars, the oldest pictured so far being 28 billion light years away. Near space, however, now that Capital personified in a small cast of hyper-effective but nonetheless absurd billionaires has got in on the act, is terrifyingly within our grasp. Having trashed our planet at extraordinary speed, the impetus to expand into the solar system in search of resources and, eventually, habitable territory will be unstoppable. And so it will go on.
But what if, back in 1608, Hans Lipperhey, instead of a refracting telescope “for seeing things far away as if they were nearby”, had patented an Inward Telescope for seeing light and beauty? And what if, instead of a never-ending search for new frontiers to conquer, we had spent the last few hundred years seeking, within ourselves and our cultures, spaces in which to breathe?