When the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea
but, as I bid you, remember to work the land.
These words are universal, and resonate to this day as a call to the sources. From north to south, and from east to west, the appearance of the constellation Pleiades in the sky announces the beginning of the ploughing and sowing season. In “Works and Days”, Hesiod clearly and poetically sets out the agricultural and maritime laws, the framework of which can be seen through the stars. But in a world of increasing light pollution, they are less and less visible and the signals are getting blurred. Artist Luca Serasini is working to bring them back to earth; at the crossroads of astronomy, mythology and Land Art, his project Frange d’Interferenza explores the existence of gravitational waves.
It all begins with Luca Serasini’s fascination with bulls; at first he simply draws them, red, symbols of virile power, and presents them for the very first time at the M’Arte Biennale in Montegemoli. Familiar with the event, he transforms them into papier-mâché sculptures that seem to emerge from the ground and whose scarlet colour contrasts violently with those of nature. In 2013, Luca’s bulls change their faces again: the Progetto Costellazioni project (constellation project) starts to take shape, and land art becomes the artist’s main medium.
For this edition, he reproduces the constellation of the bull on a blank piece of land: he plants pegs in the ground, each representing a star, and connects them with large pieces of non-woven fabric (a fabric whose fibres are random and whose consolidation is done by chemical treatment). The installation must appear linear from the sky, and function as a mirror for the real constellation. The first obstacle is the hilly terrain, which complicates the placement of the pegs; Luca positions himself as an observer and directs his team to the re-calculated points. The work is about 200 x 80 metres, visible to the general public from the nearby village and the poles, equipped with LEDs, are switched on at nightfall.
He uses the same process for many of his installations, always pushing their interactive aspect further; when he reproduces Orion, it is in a vineyard, the ground is flat and the public can now walk inside the work, between the stars. For this occasion, he collaborates with the musician Massimo Magrini who creates a sound dedicated to each star of the constellation. Using an application that can be downloaded to a smartphone, visitors can enjoy a visual and sound experience.
For Pegasus, made up of ten stars, Luca asks storytellers to create and narrate stories about the characters the star embodies. He sets up ten dial phones, equipped with Arduino, which ring when a person approaches. When they pick up the phone, the star tells them an anecdote, in a choice of three languages.
Luca is constantly seeking to establish a symbolic link between the stories, places, and philosophy behind each constellation. His primary interest is in ancient mythologies and he is fascinated by the similarity of these stories from one civilization to another. For him, they bind us as human beings and forge the common History of humankind, it is eternally inscribed in the sky. We have tended to forget this over time, and today more than ever; with the development of urban infrastructures, the multiplication of public lighting, and the intensification of our frenetic lifestyles, the map of the sky is less and less visible to the naked eye.
From 2019, Luca starts to take an interest in the scientific aspect of stars; during a residency in Morocco, he creates an ephemeral work on a sandy beach dedicated to the birth of stars, and in particular binary stars. A phenomenon still debated in astrophysics, they are a system of two stars orbiting around a common centre of gravity. The work, after only a few hours, disappears with the high tide, giving a new performative dimension to the artist’s work.
With this new level of reading of the constellations, the project takes a turn to give birth to Frange d’Interferenza. During a visit to Virgo in Tuscany, Luca learns of the existence of gravitational waves, a major scientific development of the 21st century, which he later wants to represent in a new installation. Virgo, an international collaborative project, is a giant interferometer: it is an instrument that aims to detect these famous waves by creating interference.
Imagine a peaceful lake into which a stone is thrown; it sinks, its weight being lighter than the Earth’s (principle of gravity), and creates a point around which circular waves are formed. The larger the stone, the larger the waves, and vice versa. But in any case, these waves disappear quickly.
Generally speaking, the space-time defined by Einstein is like our lake, a kind of fabric on which any moving mass causes waves that we call “gravitational”. Whatever their magnitude and scale, they dissipate rapidly, which makes them difficult to measure, hence the existence of Virgo in Italy, Ligo in the USA, and two others.
As for constellations, Luca wants to make them visible to the naked eye; he chooses to represent their propagation by undulations or fringes, and not in a circular way. But as the installation is no longer linear, the challenge now lies in the weather. The amount of grass can be problematic to create the curves, which pushes the artist to carry out various test phases. Massimo Magrini also accompanies the project in sound, he will create a new downloadable application for the public, who will be able to listen to the waves recorded by the Virgo representatives. The work will be carried out in the form of a land art installation and performance, and visitors will be able to walk among the waves, at the foot of Virgo itself, at the end of June 2022.
We are not aware of the existence of gravitational waves, yet they pass through us and unite us by ricochet effect. We have also stopped looking at the stars in favour of artificial lights, yet their stories remain universal.
Through his constantly evolving project, Luca Serasini never stops reminding us of the foundations of humankind with poetry.
“If you are willing to learn about a topic, you can change your mind about it”. When you ask Luca Serasini if he believes that art can change one’s way of thinking, his answer is positive, we can constantly change our way of seeing things. This is even the personal philosophy he adopts when he creates his constellations and gravitational waves; his installations show the evolution of his views and interests over time.
Luca has always been an art lover; self-taught, he flourishes in painting and later in music, as well as being encouraged by his entourage to take the direction of an artistic career. But concerned about the financial stability of his family, he puts the idea aside and chooses to study electronics and editorial graphics. In this ever-expanding field, technological developments will guarantee work for a long time, and there will be no shortage of jobs, so his future is secure. As soon as he finishes his studies, he finds work; he mainly does data visualisation in the field of science, especially for general purposes. Today, he still works in a multimedia computer graphics laboratory, and collaborates with various scientists.
We are in the 1990s, at the beginning of Luca’s professional career, when he discovers electronics; he learns to play the electric guitar and enjoys it for a while with his band, but the instrument does not fully satisfy his creative needs. So he takes up painting, a practice in which he can deepen his personal expression. He begins by using fairly classical mediums and techniques such as watercolour and oil. At the time he does not like contemporary art because he does not understand its interest. In 1996, he participates in his first group exhibition and presents his work to the general public for the first time. It is a difficult step to take, but Luca takes it in his stride; already accustomed to coordinating scientific conferences, he transfers his professional skills to the artistic sphere and organises his own exhibitions.
In 2003, Luca reads a book on contemporary art that a friend had recommended to him; however insignificant, this reading totally changes his perspective on the subject. He discovers his new inspirations, Christo and Jeanne Claude, Bill Viola, Robert Smithson and many others. He understands the meaning of their work, from the use of specific materials, to the general creative process. He sees the complexity of the different aspects of an artwork, and decides to experiment with art himself. He immediately sets to work and in 2004 presents a first video art installation in which he presents the sea from different angles. It appears powerful and violent, a metaphor for waves of emotions, and whose only container is the screen that imprisons it.
It is also during this period that he travels to Greece, more precisely to Crete. Land of Zeus and the Minotaur, he discovers the sacred culture of the bull, a symbol he loves and is fascinated by. Luca travels, experiments with new ways of expressing his art, and does not forget his initial inspirations, the sea and nature. He tries photography, graphic novels, collages and interactive visual installations.
The work on constellations and Land Art seems to be a logical continuation of the story, and he will produce them all over Europe. He has no trouble finding his subjects as the selection is vast; all the constellations and stars are named after Greek, Roman or Arab mythological figures. Moreover, the culture that revolves around the theme is rich so it becomes prevalent in his practice for several years. But out of desire and need to know more, Luca takes an interest in their scientific dimension, seeking to understand the formation of stars, and the existence of phenomena that are still in the domain of scientific theory. Every drawing or graphic resulting from a space mission becomes an inspiration for the artist.
The next step for him would be to explore the origins of the cosmos. Because one thing is certain, his work always converges on nature. Luca lives near the sea, if not in front of it during his childhood, and remembers helping his father in the vegetable garden; as a teenager, he didn’t like to spend much time there, but with age, he has learned to cultivate these precious moments, and to appreciate working in the open air.
Land Art turned out to be much more than a simple medium, it is also a way for him to live his art in osmosis with his love for nature.
Luca Serasini is far from having taken the classic path of an artist, let alone that of a research artist. It is his open-mindedness and his willingness to learn new things that have guided him along this road.
On the island of Chios, the giant hunter Orion fell in love with Merope, the youngest of the seven daughters of King Oenopio. The king promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to the hunter on one condition : he should eliminate all the animals on the island. Oenopio, who believed that Orion would not be able to do so, was proved wrong and did not keep his promise. To dissuade him from taking revenge on the king, Artemis invited Orion to come hunting with her, under the worried eye of her brother Apollo, who then sent a scorpion to kill him. Orion took refuge in the sea, and Artemis, who no longer recognised him, shot him with a fatal arrow. When she realised that she had killed Orion, she placed him among the stars with his dogs, Sirius and Procyon.
The myth has several versions and interpretations, especially the chapter on Orion’s death. But from Pindar to Ovid, the conclusion does not change: the hunter becomes a constellation after his death. Some will remember that Orion and the scorpion never reach each other, even in the sky; when one appears in the East, the other disappears in the West. Others, like Luca Serasini, focus on Orion, who is always looking for the seventh sister of the Pleiades, a constellation close to the hunter and his dogs. Merope is indeed a star invisible to the naked eye.
To help us remember and locate them, we have given them the names of the characters who have animated Western and Eastern mythologies, and their arrangement on the celestial map echoes their story. However, the first mentions of constellations and stars date back to Mesopotamia. As for the first evidence of their use, we have to look at the Bronze Age, making astronomy the oldest science. Our ancestors had already understood that the movements of the stars were closely linked to the cycles of the seasons, floods and tides, which were essential for managing agriculture, fishing and navigation.
The initial discoveries will have enabled us to organise ourselves as a society, and to develop exchanges with neighbouring societies. Naturally, the need to predict periodic phenomena was added to this, pushing us to develop a measure of time.
Thus, the Egyptians, needing to anticipate the flooding of the Nile, set up the 365-day calendar that we know. Since then, many major discoveries have marked history, making Greek and Arab astronomers and mathematicians famous since antiquity.
The field of astronomy is relatively comprehensive and universal; from basic crop management to space exploration, it has also guided travellers. Throughout the centuries, beyond the simple discovery of new territories, the desire to conquer and monopolise resources has taken over, shaping our current geography.
Although this phenomenon is still relevant, the fundamental questions of yesterday are still valid today; we keep actively searching for answers about the origins of our planet and our universe, as we still believe that they determine our future.
Since the dawn of time, we have looked to the sky as a vast exploration ground, finding meanings in it and attributing myths to our gods and goddesses.
But while the night has been replaced by artificial lighting, the stars are still there, hidden in the sky. They test our ability to remember the stories that bind us, and live on through them.