Photo by Chri Strassegger

KEPLER/SOMNIUM Murals in Anger, Austria

In May 2013, I participated in the KOMM.ST art festival in Anger, Austria as part of their "TEN ARTISTS" residency program. My project was to complete two murals at the local bus stop in two weeks time. This was my second trip to the Styria region of Austria, and during my first visit I had learned that 17th-century astronomer/mathematician Johannes Kepler lived and worked in Styria. After a little more research, I found that while in Austria, Kepler wrote "Somnium", considered by many to be the first published work of science fiction. So, for this residency I thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to Kepler and his story.

"Somnium" describes a series of events in which a "daemon" is summoned from the Moon by an elderly woman (Fioxhilde) and her son (Daracotus). The daemon explains what it is like to travel to the Moon and how the Earth and the heavens appear from its perspective. By framing the story as fiction, Kepler was able to publish controversial observations that didn't adhere to the Church's geocentric view of the universe.

Although the daemon is never described visually in the text (Kepler portrays the creature as a disembodied voice), I chose to illustrate the being as a spirit from astrophysics' future, complete with Apollo-era space suit. In the story, the daemon explains the motions of the planets and how they appear from the vantage-point of the Moon. I used a flower pot as a metaphor to describe this exchange. The sunflower is the Sun and each of the flowers is a different planet from the inner Solar System. The spirit is gesturing toward Earth's moon.

Fioxhilde is pictured holding a skull goblet because it is believed that her character was based heavily on Kepler's mother who was constantly on trial for being a witch. Katarina Kepler didn't help her case much because by all accounts she was a very witchy lady. It is alleged that, while under investigation, she had her father's body exhumed in order to create a healing goblet from his skull. Fioxhilde is also pictured uttering 21-character spell "ASTRONOMIA COPERNICANA" to summon the daemon.

The second column is a portrait of Kepler himself, with his bust embodying the future of space exploration. We see the Apollo command module circling the lunar surface, the fulfillment of Kepler's dream of human's visiting the Moon. I wanted the portrait of Kepler to resemble the younger Daracotus from the other mural, since it's clear that the character was based on the scientist in his youth.

The entire experience of creating these murals was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. The people of Anger, Austria were so supportive and generous. Working outside in the beautiful Austrian countryside was amazing and humbling. It's even been suggested that the village is planning to re-name the bridge "Ellingsonbrücke", a prospect that I still can't wrap my brain around. There are at least six more columns on the bridge so maybe there will be more murals in the future.


Process Photos of KEPLER/SOMNIUM