What comes to mind when you think about your time at Hunter College now?

What a great “temporary autonomous zone” I was afforded, though not getting lost in full autonomy of course. . . . How can one in the heart of New York City? There was freedom and space, and an abundance of conversation and good, smart people and teachers. A huge program has to be what one makes it. One can go through it quietly, not taking advantage of all its possibilities, or relish the frisson while it is afforded. And many pigeons come to mind always, everywhere.

In the past you have organized astronomy walking tours; that’s a big space to tackle! As an artwork, you’ve described these tours as less about relaying scientific knowledge, but more about the failures of human systems, such as language and calendars, to communicate such vastness. What are the most salient breakdowns that you’ve found while investigating human comprehension of all the space that surrounds us?

It isn’t so much vastness that I am trying to communicate, but I guess the impossibility—not approaching it with tackling in mind, necessarily, knowing there’s no conquering the universe. It began with solitary walks using navigational tools, delighting in [the tools’] failures or mine. An example—attempting to find true magnetic North and walking perpendicular to Central Park North or using a constellation app on my smartphone to locate myself, but also finding cosmic shapes on sidewalks, floors, and elevators along the way. The tours, sometimes unannounced, sometimes accidental, as I am walking with friends, developed from these solitary haunts. Since then there have been more formally organized and announced tours with guest guides and navigators, ones I’ve met from and through the MFA program. Most recently, Nathan Carey and I led a group through Chris Burden’s 1983 Scale Model of The Solar System installed in Corona, Queens.

Inside the first salon in the Voorhees building, without physically walking, guests presented guided “tours” through their cosmographies, personal cosmologies. Kiran Chandra took us along a tour in a live and recorded narration illustrated by a slideshow of close-ups of surfaces within the building; J. J. Manford through a selection of paintings; Patricia Dominguez through a photographic interactive website; . . . Chris Domenick using pushpins for a tour of the stars. There’s no prominent breakdown, no salience. “No more building up / It is time to dissolve / Break it down again.” Sorry, I’ve just quoted Tears for Fears.

You started The Amateur Astronomers Society of Voorhees while a student at Hunter College; it’s even named after the engineering school that was in the 41st Street building before the MFA program. Are there other ways besides the name that your experience at Hunter led you to form this society?

Alone, I’d started accumulating a log of instances of accidental ruptures in knowledge, even if barely perceptible fractures in history. I also took classes in various subjects in the main campus as an undergraduate, from the Anthropology of Race to Astronomy. I never forgot that Pope Gregory [xII (1505–1585)] ordered for ten days be skipped, and it had all to do with the alignment of the solar year. I love the invisible architectures we are in: the calendar, the clock. Then there was a little jolt to our collective knowledge in our lifetime, upon [the former planet] Pluto’s status demotion. During the MfA program I photographed walks in and around Hell’s Kitchen and what I could observe from there: midtown, in the middle of all the light pollution. Why not address space from midtown? Astronomy became the ultimate subject because the expansion of the universe is absurdly, ridiculously, impossibly immense. 

These experiences at Hunter and the location of the Studio Building [at West 41st Street] contribute to the larger question of knowledge and a presentation of these instances of failure and rupture. It stems from learning the alphabet beginning with the “A,” as in a fruit that I’d never seen nor touched nor eaten. I was also extremely lucky to have been part of The Artist’s Institute season dedicated to Jimmie Durham [(American, born 1940)]. The form of the Institute, Anthony Huberman’s generative model, [and] its being a semi-subterranean space with an old fireplace, may have given me the idea for a salon, a room of exchange.

The namesake [of the society] is accidental. It came after wanting to form a loose society, and . . . belongs to an embrace of the particular location I was in. Michelle Rosenberg alerted me to a yellowed, peeling Voorhees Technical Institute sticker on an old industrial locker from the 1960s in the 41st Street Studio Building when I was thinking of a logo. [Hurricane] Sandy also occurred during my thesis semester. There were announcements made within a short period about the status of the Voorhees / MFA Campus, but prior to this no one ever referred to it as Voorhees within the program. It had only ever been the Studio Building. Delving into the history of the name came after, which was luckily fruitful and is introduced in Misa Jeffereis and Chistopher Rivera’s Pirate Press issue dedicated to the building.

Unless noted, all photos are by the artist, Emmy Catedral.

Detail of Interior View—Colter Jacobsen’s Light Mill, Wind House, 2014. Installation at Fridman Gallery, New York

North Meadow Glacial Erratic with Asphalt, Central Park

A Compass That's Lost Its Needle, and the Current State of My First Edition, Lisa Robertson, Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture (Astoria, Ore.: Clear Cut Press, 2004)

Strait of Magellan, Back Endpaper for Lapham’s Quarterly, The Sea Issue (Summer 2013), under Printout of Marie Tharp (American, 1920–1986) who Created the First Scientific Map of the Entire Ocean Floor

Shadow on Luis Camnitzer (Uruguayan, born 1937), Discovery of Geometry, 1978

Detail from Index, Adam Frank, About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang (New York: Free Press, 2011)