Aaron Marx, Builders of the Universe
“To connect to this primal moment, light is a material and thematic element throughout this installation: powerful lasers cut the sculpture, films capture the poetic nature of sunlight, and artificial lights are installed within the reconstructed star map, responding to environmental stimuli.”
Builders of the Universe
I recently discovered a book assembled by Albert Einstein titled Builders of the Universe. It is a primary source work that collects texts about the most significant scientific discoveries in history. The first chapter is Genesis, an interesting choice that creates a dialogue between science and religion.
This interplay of ideas is apparent throughout the book, which includes On a New Star, Tycho Brahe’s 1575 account of his discovery of a new star and the amazement it inspired. Torn between the fixed nature of scientific understanding and his observations, Brahe described this star as “similar to the one that appeared to the eastern Magi, when the Savior of the world was born.” Another chapter features Copernicus’s review of the astronomical studies used to verify that the earth moves while the sun stays still. Surprisingly, much of this research begins at the birth of Christ.
I used Internet technology and digital modeling techniques to develop a scale star map from the moment a star was born—the birth of Christ. As a site-specific installation I chose Minneapolis as the location and set the time to year zero. This map was then developed into a digital model and projected onto the surface of a sphere. Interested in digital fabrication techniques but skeptical of computer-driven art, I deconstructed this map and developed a system to laser cut the parts but hand assemble the sculpture. These pieces were reconstructed into a sculpture through intuitive and ad hoc assembly.
The idea of light was significant. In the beginning, the earth was “without form and void,” and the first thing God created was light. To connect to this primal moment, light is a material and thematic element throughout this installation: powerful lasers cut the sculpture, films capture the poetic nature of sunlight, and artificial lights are installed within the reconstructed star map, responding to environmental stimuli.
Builders of the Universe is a project motivated by the potential of discovery. It explores our relationship with the past and looks toward the boundaries of the future, while speculating on the divide between science and spirituality. It seeks new forms of interaction between person and environment and wonders about the awe inspired by our vast universe.
Issues of free will and destiny …
Aaron Marx is an architect by training, and digital fabrication, including 3D modeling through parametric design, is a familiar tool of his trade. “But I’ve always been a drawer and a painter, too,” he says. So much digitally designed art tends toward the same geometric tropes; for his work in these new media, he wants the idiosyncratic mark of the hand to remain evident, to temper the tidy symmetries and geodesic spheres you often get from entirely code-driven models.
Marx has been mulling Albert Einstein’s slim volume from 1932, Builders of the Universe: From the Bible to the Theory of Relativity. It’s a compilation of sacred and scientific texts grappling with ideas at the intersection of cosmic, religious, and scientific concerns. The idea of combining that rational spirit of inquiry with traditionally theological questions appeals to Marx as a new way to consider issues of free will and destiny, human purpose, good and evil. He is specifically interested in questions of relativity and time: what the boundless plasticity of a given moment—the conflation of past, present, and future—means for the lived experience of memory and a coherent sense of self.
“I’ve also been wrestling with this: How can we use new technologies to explore these kinds of big-picture questions in art?” By his own reckoning, Marx is not a particularly verbal sort. Thinking through such cosmic concerns, he’s more comfortable dealing in models than in words. “I’m a maker. I need to make something to find a way into the question,” he says. “And for me, one way to do that is to start with a meaningful point in time—to deconstruct and then reconstruct that moment from the inside out.”
For his sculptural installation Builders of the Universe, that’s just what he did. Marx used the turn of the Common Era as his beginning point, because “the birth of Jesus seems to be a conventional starting place for most Western thinkers, both scientific and religious.” To set the coordinates, he used his own current home (the Twin Cities) with the traditional date of Jesus’ birth, and gathered data about the visible stars’ configuration in the sky at that time and place. He fed the data for those celestial coordinates into a computer program; he connected the “dots” into patterns of intersecting lines; and he etched the resulting star map onto the mirrored Plexiglas you see mounted in the gallery.
With the aid of 3D modeling, he then deconstructed the geometric forms created from his star chart into separate, laser-cut cardboard shapes. Finally, he reassembled those machined, cardboard pieces by hand into a monumental, free-form sculpture—all jutting angles and unexpected nooks and crevices, offset by broad ovoid curvature. Lit from within at several points, the whole piece is hung from the ceiling of The Soap Factory like some mad chandelier, casting a complex web of light and shadowed line onto the gallery walls. Marx calls it “sculpting with light” and says that the interplay of illumination and shadow guided his hand throughout the assembly process.
“There’s something beautiful about gluing all these pieces myself,” he says. It’s painstaking work, elaborate and fluid and (sometimes maddeningly) open-ended. But according to Marx, the labor of this project matters far more to him than its material results. As a meditation-in-action, a rumination-in-process on concepts like memory and intention and time, it offers tangible witness to sincere intellectual and spiritual yearning.
I am a multimedia artist, educator, and activist working at the intersection of digital technology, architectural design, and creative civic engagement. My art examines the relationship between memory and the built environment, considers temporal art in public space, and investigates the potential of digital tools and fabrication techniques in the creative process. Much of my art is a synthesis between traditional artistic practices of drawing, painting, and sculpture and digital processes of physical computing and architectural fabrication techniques. Most recently, I have been looking to the concept of memory as a framework to explore social issues, including energy consumption, the costs of war, and communal dreams.
b. 1979, Minneapolis
lives in Minneapolis
mentor: Ta-coumba Aiken
Aaron Marx is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture and has degrees in Mathematics and English from Hamline University. His creative work is multidisciplinary, exploring the connections between the seemingly perfected world of science and the shifting realm of human experience. Aaron is an artist who believes that art has the power to influence culture and humanity in significant ways. His art explores the relationship between memory and the built environment and questions the role of temporal art in the public sphere.