The Mysteries of Space


The declassified state secrets arrive by Fed Ex, stacked in the envelope  written out neatly by hand. The paper delicately yellowed. It was the eighties after all, the Star Wars Project.


Declassified State Secrets Arrive

The declassified state secrets arrive by Fed Ex, stacked in the envelope written out neatly by hand. The paper delicately yellowed. It was the eighties after all, the Star Wars Project. Specifically, this stack details the effects of wind turbulence on the beta electron accelerator. Or spoken more plainly, the machine that was to shoot the missiles out of the sky. I will be drawing tornadoes across them as part of my larger drawing project. “The Mysteries of Space”.

The Mysteries of Space

This work considers the heavens from a very different perspective than the other physicists I am working with. I flips through the pages of carefully written numbers. Even the white out corrections feels dated. The intimacy of the calculations, the beauty of the numbers unravel in something between a sketchbook and a journal, encoded in the physical laws of mathematics, a long poem about what we were afraid of, and memories of a truly a different age. Unique in this project, I feel lucky to have this access. I sit with the papers, in the physicists’ position, thinking of the sky from the angle of defense and cold war strategies of my Reagan childhood when World War III was the push of a red button. This is the math that expressed it. The machine that was supposed to keep us safe. The delicate numbers that form those gestures in black pen, with red corrections, the equations that held those possibilities. My attachment to this work is different to the other physicists involved, in my project, the connection so deep, pulled from my little girl nightmares of mushroom clouds and cold war realities. A collective nightmare we dreamed together.

US Navy Physicist Christos Kapetnakos

When I first go to meet Christos Kapetnakos for this project we already know one another well. An elegant Greek man in his seventies now. I am in his tall DC apartment. Like the DC apartments of any good spy movie it’s one of those tall ones, the interior s exquisite, four levels with a staircase snaking through. We go down to his study with wine glasses in hand and he pulls the labeled cardboard boxes one by one from the shelf. He hands me some photographs of a large machine flanked by scientists in white lab coats and goggles, the particle accelerator. Surrounding us on heavy wooden book cases are about thirty file boxes, each neatly labeled. It looks like the elegant office of some attorney, but this is not the mundane legal speak and nonsense normally reserved for such containers. Each box contains an aspect of “The Star Wars Project”, considering the machine and its function under various circumstances and conditions. “What if this happens, how to account for that” Decades of calculations done while Christos was one of the lead nuclear physicist for the US Navy. Thirty years ago I would be looking at the most highly classified documents this country had. I imagine spies sneaking in through windows and as flower delivery men and maids, but of course they were not in the study back then. I look down at what I am wearing. Wondering if I should be wearing something more “007″ for this occasion. Sadly its Christmas time so I am wearing red plaid.

See the Math, Move Beyond the Abstraction

But what does it mean to see the actual math, to move beyond the abstraction of it as a concept. It is particularly fascinating to see it now. Afterwards, chipped out in black pen on white A4 paper. It’s awe-inspiring, the math so far beyond my understanding and then the impact of it so concrete. The theories mercifully untested by history, the work so exactingly specific. Strands of numbers, and lines formed by the hand holding the pen, the idiosyncrasies of one individual’s mark, so personal and singular.

I am here including some of the first drawings I have made on his research which he has so generously made available. Once completed it will be some of the work that makes up the larger series and will continue to post images as they come.