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The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art presents Starry Transit, an installation by Martha Glowacki at Washburn Observatory on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The sculptural exhibition interprets nineteenth and twentieth century scientific investigation of migratory bird navigation, employing the historic setting of the observatory.

Martha Glowacki Constructs Starry Transit
Martha Glowacki uses a lathe to shape wood elements Starry Transit.
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Wisconsin artist Martha Glowacki is renowned for her finely rendered sculptures that emerge from disciplined research. She is interested in the history of science and in scientific equipment people have created to understand and control nature. She translates her broad interests into artworks that look like relics from scientific exploration collected by natural history museums.

Cabinet, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, 2004, wood, glass, brass, copper, bird carcasses, paper, pigments.
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For this exhibition, Martha Glowacki was inspired by planetarium experiments demonstrating that birds orient themselves for migration by star positions. The installation engages visitors with sculptural components that generate experiences of scientific discovery. Visitors may:

  • investigate the contents of drawers in an artistic adaptation of a nineteenth-century cabinet of curiosities
  • observe the manipulation of instruments that relate migratory navigation to sky maps
  • hear the sounds of birds flocking for migration
  • examine etchings of constellations and migration flyways
  • read poetry and scientific notes on observing natural phenomena.

Glowacki has created this assemblage of objects to look like scientific collections from the nineteenth century, at the time that the Washburn Observatory was built on a hill overlooking Lake Mendota.

Installation View, Washburn Observatory
Installation view, Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, interior of Washburn Observatory.