“We were peering into this darkness, crisscrossed with voices, when the change took place: the only real, great change I’ve ever happened to witness, and compared to it the rest is nothing.”
—Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics
For some nine months now, Sunday Service host Janani Balasubramanian has been in residence with the brown dwarf research group at the American Museum of Natural History. (Brown dwarfs are celestial objects which are neither planet nor star but somewhere in between in mass and brightness.) There, a motley group of astrophysicists examine brown dwarfs, low mass stars, and other objects whose existence disrupts our very notion of what is planet and what is star—and consequently disrupts the story of the universe.
Here, Balasubramanian brings together artists, astronomers, and artist-astronomers to show and tell stories of transformation. A dataset becomes music; a telescope reading becomes Art Deco; dust becomes a system; a shift in planetary motion becomes a folk tale; a rock becomes a family. The evening becomes a great deal of magical fun.
About the Curator
Janani Balasubramanian is a writer and gamemaker whose work has been presented at more than 160 stages across North America and Europe, including The Public Theater, MOMA, Abrons Arts Center, Andy Warhol Museum, Red Bull Arts, Ace Hotel, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most recently, Balasubramanian premiered Heisenberg (an audio augmented reality game on uncertainty and chaos) at the New York High Line. Balasubramanian is currently a Van Lier fellow in new media at the Public Theater, and is working on Stargeit, a Cold War era novel about an extraordinary friendship.
About the Artists
Jean-Paul (JP) Ventura is a New York native and was born and raised in Washington Heights. As a kid, he was drawn to the mystery of waves after spending weekends with his father, a fisherman, on the Pilot II ship of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. This interest manifested artistically in exploring sound waves through DJing musical genres such as Chill-out, Disco, House, Electronica and Techno. Academically, JP is a senior undergraduate at CUNY Hunter College, where he is a Physics and Earth & Atmospheric Science double major. He is also currently interning at the American Museum of Natural History where he studies radiation signals produced by the magnetic fields of low-mass stars and uses that data to model the potential effects of those fields on the atmospheres of orbiting extrasolar planets. His hopes are to develop frameworks for the study of astrophysical data through sound for use in public outreach, and in the future, to help improve scientific access to the visually impaired community.
Ellianna Schwab Abrahams
After working for the better part of a decade as a graphic designer, Ellianna Schwab Abrahams moved to New York City to pursue a career in astrophysics. Curious about most anything physics, Ellianna has combined her two passions, observational astronomy and electromagnetic theory, in her research at the American Museum of Natural History, where she is a Helen Fellow. She studies stellar activity in the smallest, coolest stars, using light from across the electromagnetic spectrum to investigate large and small-scale magnetic properties. In her free time, Ellianna is an avid hiker and stargazer. She also likes to swim and visit the penguins in Central Park.
Bex Kwan and Sophia Mak
Bex Kwan and Sophia Mak are not the same person. However, being housemates and friends who are both queer, chinese, gender non-conforming performers of roughly the same height (Bex is half an inch taller), people kept confusing them for each other even though they had just met. Together, they peel back their alleged sameness to explore histories of foreignness, family mythologies and tender friendship. Through performance, they investigate where their mirrors of each other will fail, and where they will be transformative.
Mark Popinchalk is a science educator and PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center. He analyzes brown dwarf and exoplanetary atmospheres with the Brown Dwarf NYC research group, usually by comparing them to computer models. He is a planetarium presenter at the American Museum of Natural History, and a co-host of Astronomy on Tap NYC. He plays ultimate frisbee, enjoys nerdy games, has more liquid water than Mercury but fewer rings than Saturn, and his favorite color is sky-blue-pink.
Moiya McTier grew up in a log cabin in the middle of the woods in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. From there, she went on to Harvard University where she combined her lifelong passion for fantastical narrative storytelling with her newfound interest in space to become the college’s first ever double major in folklore and astrophysics. After graduating, Moiya continued her education in the Astronomy PhD program at Columbia University, where she specializes in exoplanets and galactic dynamics. In her spare time, Moiya enjoys communicating science, cooking, and looking at pictures of dogs online.
About Sunday Service
Taking place the first Sunday of each month, a guest curator is invited to organize a salon style evening of cross-disciplinary performances and presentations that brings together a multiplicity of views around a singular prompt, such as a question, theme, or formal structure. Sunday Service centers works in progress, interdisciplinary endeavors, and diversity in format showcased in a lo-fi environment to foster the testing of ideas and critical discourse amongst peers.
Sunday Service is programmed by Stephanie Acosta and Alexis Wilkinson, Knockdown Center’s Director of Exhibitions and Live Art.