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Cantor Arts Center presents Josiah McElheny's monumental installation, Island Universe
Josiah McElheny (U.S.A., b. 1966), Island Universe, 2008. Dimensions variable. Chromed aluminum, handblown glass and electric lights. © Josiah McElheny. Photo © Stephen White. Courtesy White.

STANFORD, CA.- Josiah McElheny’s monumental installation, Island Universe, made of brilliantly polished chromed metal, handblown glass, and radiating lights, is an attempt to visualize something impossible to see—the big bang. Working at the unexpected intersection of physics, the history of Modernism, and art, McElheny imagines a multiverse scenario, where five separate universes occupy the same space, frozen in their individual moments of expansion.

A marriage of scientific research and aesthetic modeling, McElheny collaborated closely with David Weinberg, distinguished university professor, and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Ohio State University, to make the necessary calculations and conceptualize the installation’s forms. Their collaboration took place while McElheny was a resident at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University.

“Bringing Island Universe to the Cantor also is meaningful because the project was inspired by the work of Andrei Linde, a renowned professor in the Physics Department at Stanford,” said Susan Dackerman, John and Jill Freidenrich Director at the Cantor. “My hope is that this exhibition encourages conversations among faculty, students, and the wider community about how art and science can be linked in visually stimulating and surprising ways, and how these two disciplines can inform each other.”The installation at the Cantor will be the first time Island Universe is exhibited on the West Coast.

In 1965, the first physical evidence of the big bang theory became public, launching popular interest in space science. That same year, artisans in Vienna created the iconic chandeliers of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The confluence of those two events inspired McElheny, who many years later modeled Island Universe on the chandeliers but also incorporated the notion of an expanding universe with the careful placement of the metal spheres, glass disks and globes, and lights that make up the work.

The glass disks and globes that are part of Island Universe were hand-blown by the artist, who is recognized for his conceptually rigorous approach and his physical mastery of materials.The 2006 MacArthur Fellow once said that using glass in his work gives a unique perspective not because the glass itself is important, but because of what viewers see through it.

In the case of Island Universe, viewers might feel as though they’re able to see the beginning of time.

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