Walking the Solar System

Walk the Solar System is probably the last project i’ll blog from the Design Interactions show i saw at the Royal College of Art in June. It’s also one of the most charming.

The Sun: 75 cm Yoga Ball, hosted by Afroworld, 7 Kingsland High Street, E8 2JS Photography by Mark Henderson

View of Louise O’Connor projects at the Summer show

Despite many a primary school drawing or text book illustration, a true scale model of our Solar System is unfeasible on paper.

Over the Summer, Louise O’Connor gave Londoners a chance to walk the Solar System and get a sense of its true vastness.

A walkable scale model has been installed along the road which begins at Kingsland Road in Dalston and finishes in Stamford Hill. During last Summer, local shopkeepers at appropriate points on the route have been acting as guardians to the planets – hosting models represented by everyday objects, at their correct sizes on this 3.1 km scale.

Passersby were invited to enter the shops and ask “the planetary guardians” to be shown the planet.

Although her project challenges school books representation of the solar system, Louise didn’t have the heart to deprive Pluto from its planet prestige. “Pluto was actually demoted from planet status along in 2006 and is now classified as a dwarf or minor planet along with Eris and Ceres,” Louise told me. “However, after growing up with Pluto as a planet, the model just didn’t seem right without it…”

3venusladbrok.jpgVenus: 1/4 inch Metal Ball Bearing, hosted by Ladbrokes, 23-25 Kingsland High Street, E8 2JS. Photography by Mark Henderson

How did you get interested in the solar system and its physical representation at a more human scale?

Louise: Much of current design practice increasingly contains speculations borne from more and more complex and abstracted scientific developments, and fascinating as they are, (and I sincerely mean that!) I wondered whether, against this complex background, we can truly comprehend even the ‘simple’ things? And recognize that these ‘simple’ things can be truly wonderful and inspiring in themselves.

So in terms of the Solar System, the simplicity and almost prosaic nature of it as a concept, coupled with a typical lack of true conceivability of the scale in physical form, made it a good candidate and a very evocative thing to connect to and experience physically.

Personally, I remember particularly my own primary school solar system project, drawing similar ‘scales’ as I mentioned before in class, and then later that day, looking at the sunset in my grandma’s garden, trying to imagine this thing called ‘space’, with such a massive sense of awe, which I haven’t forgotten!

In terms of my wider practice, I am interested in how physical experience, and re – presentation (of both the ‘everyday’ and intangible concepts) can be used as playful tools for debate, engagement and shifting perspectives, as well as ‘human’ and hence absurd yet genuine ways in which we can attempt to connect to natural phenomena outside our physical experience.

And so over the course of the year, as a project, this has included many investigations into ways we may experience a variety of fascinating phenomena from different scales more physically and intuitively; incorporating singing, listening, animating, wearing, and of course dancing, and so this particular outcome came also as a natural development from these.

8uranusbouncy.jpgUranus : 25 mm Bouncy Ball, hosted by Mr Kumar at Kozzy Home, 108 Stoke Newington High St, Hackney, N16 7. Photography by Mark Henderson

Why did you decide that the solar system walk would follow a straight line? Why not distribute the planets over a non-linear walk that would reflect the fact that some planet are on the east of others, etc. not sure if my question makes sense though…

Louise: Yes that definitely makes sense and is a good question!

Well, there were a few of reasons:

Firstly, despite the fact that the planets very rarely all truly align, the diagrams we typically draw as children or see around us predominantly show this image, so I wanted to reference that, and expand it into reality. It also demonstrates how even at their closest – if they were aligned – just how very far apart they still are, so of course usually they are much further!

Secondly, on a practical and experiential level, I felt it would be more fluid to connect and feel the distances through a straight (ish) line, as in, if people had to navigate around blocks etc, they might get lost, or take longer routes than needed. Similarly, my choice of using everyday objects rather than abstract spherical models came from similar reasoning – that it would be a more graspable idea if it were based on a size we already roughly know.

0aalousiemappp.jpgMap of the Solar System walk

Lastly, I really like the idea of these historic routes of transit in the City, and repurposing them for my own absurd ends! The road this walk takes place on is part of what was Ermine Street or Earninga Straete (in 1012), one of Britain’s major Roman Roads, going from London to York.

Saying that though I have been thinking about future scale walks (for other ‘un-draw-able on paper ‘scales) and I think that they certainly wouldn’t have to always be in a line, perhaps the planets orbiting and moving location will be my next step!

10pluto.jpgPluto : Pin head, hosted by Lisa Star Nails, 145 Stamford Hill, N16 5LG. Photography by Mark Henderson

Thanks Louise!

Walk the Solar System is part of the Psychomythic Nature Quest series which aims at finding ways of representing and physically experiencing scientific knowledge and in particular the most unimaginable aspects of the natural world.