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Seen, not measured: Relocating drawing within astronomical observations

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This paper presents a practice-based research project that explores archival material documenting data collection in nineteenth-century astronomy and locates drawing as a point of access into the shift from human- to technology-dominated methods of observation and representation. I focus on two works that use drawing in contrasting ways. First, by adopting marks from handwritten logbooks as a form of drawing that is laser-etched onto mirrors to highlight the under-acknowledged work of women ‘star measurers’. This technique of remediating drawn lines references both the scientific discourse and the social framework that structured the women’s work, and I use a technique of light reflection to illuminate the absence of their identity in previous narratives of this history. The second line of inquiry is based on written descriptions of double stars. Using hand-drawn animation, I have forged a connection between human and machine interpretation and description of astronomical phenomena, to investigate the involvement of multiple authors in this process. These works provide material explorations into the shift between manual labour and machine automation to illuminate the human traces of expression that are embedded into technological processes. I propose that drawing in combination with other media can offer insight into this increasingly entangled and complex relationship for both artistic and scientific discourses.
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Keywords: archives; astronomy; handwriting; materiality; observation; photography; technology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121807477Australian National University

Publication date: December 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • Drawing: Research, Theory, Practice promotes and disseminates drawing research with a focus on contemporary practice and its theoretical context. This journal seeks to reestablish the materiality of drawing as a medium at a time when virtual, on-line, electronic media dominates visuality and communication.

    This peer-reviewed publication represents drawing as a significant discipline in its own right and in a diversity of forms: as an experimental practice, as research, as representation and/or documentation, as historical and/or theoretical exploration, as process or as performance. It explores the drawing discipline across fine art, science and engineering, media and communication, psychology, architecture, design, science and technology, textiles, fashion, social and cultural practices.

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