- Courtesy Of Michael Zebroski
As August 21 approaches, excitement about the upcoming total solar eclipse is growing steadily across the U.S. As expected, the infrequent celestial event is providing a catalyst for discussions of science and superstition and, yes, politics, among the masses and the media.
Morrisville artist and Johnson State College assistant professor Michael Zebrowski is one of those whose wonder has been sparked, and his multi-tendril public artwork "Eclipse S U R V E Y" will enter its next phase at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., as the Earth is cast in shadow.
On August 16, Zebrowski will join the leagues of folks packing up their cars to caravan to prime viewing locations along the eclipse's path, which extends from Oregon to South Carolina. In addition to his wife and small children, Zebrowski will take along several pieces of functional sculpture he calls "surveyors." Each of these yellow-painted metal tripods — the largest of which is about 10 feet in diameter and seven or eight feet tall — will have a recording task to perform on eclipse day.
Zebrowski fabricated his biggest surveyor last year during his residency at Spruce Peak at Stowe, when he used it to record the sun's movements over an extended period. This time, a telescope and time-lapse camera will be mounted to the surveyor in order to record the hour-and-a-half of the eclipse from the Gibbes' lush gardens.
Another of the smaller surveyors will hold a camera trained on the shadow of a tree. As Zebrowski said by phone, leaves during an eclipse can sometimes act as pinhole cameras, projecting multitudes of tiny reflections of the sun. Other devices will record changes in sound and temperature.
Using audiovisual equipment to record the eclipse's behavior is only one part of this work, however. Last spring, Zebrowski began to distribute pairs of eclipse-viewing glasses dubbed "surveyors" — like the tripod sculptures — through an Indiegogo campaign. At $25 a pop, each pair of laser-cut wood-frame glasses came with a paper survey requesting that each observer record specific data about their eclipse experience and mail back their responses. As of last week, Zebrowski had sold some 75 pairs of glasses and was aiming for 100 by eclipse time. (In addition to these limited-edition accessories, the Gibbes commissioned him to make 300 pairs from cardstock and plywood to distribute at its viewing party.)
The public engagement component of "Eclipse S U R V E Y" serves as a soft launch for Zebrowski's art and design studio, UP END THIS, which has been in gestation for more than a decade. Incorporating product design and sales represents a new direction for the artist, who noted that the glasses operate on both a smaller and larger scale than he is used to: small in size, but large in terms of physical reach and exposure. As he wrote for his Indiegogo campaign, "We are the Observers and Surveyors, our memories are the recording devices."
In a recent story for the Atlantic, Ross Andersen writes, "One behavior that distinguishes humans from animals is the considerable energy we devote to observing the sky." For Zebrowski, this human aspect of the eclipse has an edge of political potential.
"The thing that saddens me the most about our political climate right now is that we are so disjointed, and we are so polar," he said. "I love the idea of this event being a binding and a sharing moment. The survey plays into that exactly — it's about trying to get people to engage this thing and, at the same time, engage each other."