The Ersatz Constellations

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Constellations are a kind of necessary pareidolia, concentrating infinity into a human-scale narrative. The Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese and Arabs all sought to make sense of the world by projecting their cultures onto the heavens and their narratives still permeate our culture.

Our recently born near-constellation of robots – HubbleSpitzerFermi and Kepler – have furnished us with a hi-def and precise understanding of the cosmos. But the retreat of the night sky, driven by our 24-7 artificially-lit civilisation, has robbed us of the imagination to create a contemporary astral mythology and project our newly globalised culture onto the heavens.

Two years ago, Oscar Lhermitte’s Urban Stargazing project, sought to create artificial constellations above urban London, observable only at night. Lhermitte’s twelve new constellations were in reality lights strung from high cables, but at a glance provided Londoners with new mythologies – The GuitarThe Irish Giant and The V2.

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Lhermitte’s project requires significant construction and obstruction and is as much about zoning laws and planning permission as the creation of playful mythology. Perhaps the urban constellation is poised to become more commonplace…

At TED 2012 last year, Vijay Kumar demonstrated his Autonomous Agile Aerial Robots, swarms of small drones designed to sense each other and fly in close formation and just last month, thirty similar quadrocopters were used to create acrassly commercial Star Trek constellation floating above Tower Bridge.

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If we come from “the dense nuclei flung from the wombs of stars” and London is our new cradle of the ersatz constellation, what myths and stories will follow?

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