Making the planetarium shine with music and visual arts

This autumn, the Milan Planetarium Ulrico Hoepli becomes a stage for arts, hosting Luca Maria Baldini's soundscapes and a new video work by Luca Trevisani.

Video Sound Art festival, taking place in Milan from 18 to 25 September, brings art and music to two iconic venues in Milan: the Milan Natural History Museum and the historic Planetarium Ulrico Hoepli. The latter was the stage of an unforgettable Domus event a few years ago, with Michele de Lucchi as Guest Editor.

On 18 and 19 September 2021, the planetarium hosted the musical performance "L'occhio e i pianeti" (The eye and the planets) by the artist Luca Maria Baldini, in collaboration with Le Cannibale, dramaturgy by Video Sound Art's curatorial team (Laura Lamonea, Thomas Ba and Davide Francalanci) and direction by Tommaso Santagostino. A performance, the artist explains, born of the desire to create a dialogue between art, music and astronomy that would directly involve the Milan Planetarium through the invaluable intervention of astrophysicist Fabio Peri in the creative process. A collaboration that, to quote the artist, was able to outline "a story made of poetry and science".

The planetarium added new meanings to Baldini's performance. A mixture of field recordings from nature, synthetic sounds and acoustic instruments produce a soundscape in which “boundaries are broken down and words blend seamlessly with electronic music. Immersed in the stellar and spatial backdrop of the planetarium, we are able to forget that we live in a world dominated by light pollution”, the artist comments. The work of art and the space housing it contribute symbiotically to the atmosphere. 

The Milan Planetarium, Credit: Francesca Ferrari

Today, the Milan Planetarium is the largest in Italy. Cultural exhibitions and events between art, literature and astronomy attract over 120,000 visitors every year. 

Inaugurated in May 1930, the planetarium was donated to the city of Milan by Ulrico Hoepli, founder of the homonymous publishing house, and is the second planetarium to be built in Italy after the one in Rome. The neoclassical building was designed by architect Pietro Portaluppi in an area of the public gardens of Porta Venezia, a few steps from the Milan Natural History Museum. It housed the Zeiss model II planetarium instrument, through which an audience of over three hundred people could admire the projection of the starry sky on the inner lining of the dome. In the 1960s, the fascination with space missions and the moon landing increased the attention and the number of visitors. In 1980, the planetarium was incorporated into the Milan Natural History Museum and equipped with new image processing and projection systems as well as a sound system.

For the 11th edition of the festival, Video Sound Art invites artist Luca Trevisani to create a new video work exploring the planetarium as a "theatrical machine and display of astronomical events". The project is scheduled to be finalised in 2022. As with Luca M. Baldini's musical performance, Trevisani's work will not provide an academic presentation of the planetarium but will incorporate its suggestions and atmospheres to narrate a story.

The Milan Planetarium, Credit: Francesca Ferrari

"A planetarium”, says Trevisani, “is a theatrical space in which our conceptions and perceptions of celestial and astral space, and of the space we inhabit every day, are told and staged. Our idea of the world is projected onto a concave space with didactic, spectacular and imaginative purposes". In conceiving and realising his work, Trevisani aims at "reinterpreting the metabolism and vitality of the Hoepli Planetarium, altering and enhancing the regular functioning of this magical and precious treasure chest, portraying its effects in a movie”.

The new work will also recontextualise the artist's earlier production: "Since 2008, I have been making flying sculptures with balloons filled with helium and balsa sticks (e.g. The tilting constellation). These portraits of imaginary constellations tell and unmask the human obsession with order, classification and the constant projection of our perceptual system onto the world. Restless sculptures that fly, travel, move through space, change over time, decay, deflate, only to be reconstructed. An ironic and very serious spatial palimpsest. For this new work, the idea is to have my sculptures, my constellations, attend one of the shows at the Milan Planetarium, to tell the stars what we think of them, and what we think of the sky, and to record a testimony of this small animist ritual, as improbable as it is serious and committed".

Trevisani defines it as "an absurd, impossible and destabilising lesson, necessary to avoid the obvious, the conventional and to alter the order of discourse". A story that does not pretend to explain, but knows how to tell. "It is necessary to interrupt the continuity of our saying in order to generate broader and more conscious views; this is why the lesson at the planetarium will not use the words and vocabulary that usually inform a lesson. To speak to the stars, but without being able to name them".

Safari (not the exception but the rule), Performance by Cecilia Mentasti, Credit: Francesca Ferrari

The 11th edition of Video Sound Art festival focuses on the notion of “rhythm” as a social and natural phenomenon, the engine of change and the essence of every organism. Since 2011, the festival has been promoting and supporting new productions, bringing contemporary art into venues far from the ordinary distribution circuits, including public schools, basements, theatres and sports facilities. The programme presents performances and installations in dialogue with the places that host them; an exchange that materialises in the works of contemporary artists such as Haig Aivazian, Caterina Gobbi, Francesco Cavaliere and Tomoko Sauvage, Andrea di Lorenzo, Cecilia Mentasti and Radouan Mriziga.

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