North Adams, Massachusetts
In October 2021, a sleeping Canadian woman was nearly pummeled by a 2.8-pound meteorite that fell through the ceiling and landed in her bed, just near her pillow. The event almost made her one in 700,000—the statistical probability of being struck by a meteorite, as calculated by astronomer Alan Harris. While several such near-misses have been documented, there are very few confirmed reports of meteors striking humans. All the same, Amy Hauft is fascinated by the possibility. 700,000:1 | Terra + Luna + Sol, her current installation (on view through January 2, 2023) uses the idea as a starting point to explore space in relation to the history of the landscape.
700,000:1 features three separate works presented as a single consideration of the cosmos. Terra consists of two partial spheres. The first, emerging from the floor, is solid and covered in artificial grass. A thin path of small steps runs through the center, inviting viewers to walk up its grassy hill. Those who walk the path are rewarded when their heads breach the second partial sphere—a hanging reverse-dome of tufted blue chenille strips. Visitors orbiting on the outside watch as a head becomes visually separated from its body. The moment they step onto the Astroturf however, understanding shifts from the intellectual to the physical (and nearly everyone smiles before they can catch themselves). Terra is a somatic art experience that invites us to consider our infinitesimally small place in the universe; it’s also a double dip into joy. Given the installation’s reference points, which include Lars von Trier’s 2011 apocalyptic art-drama Melancholia, it’s remarkable that delight is the outcome. The film’s influence is clearest in Terra, from the visual drama of two spheres aimed at each other to the surreality of deep footprints left in perfectly manicured grass. The film’s first eight minutes give a sense of the impending doom, which is visually anchored in the history of landscape painting, especially the smallness of the human body in the landscape. Like Hauft, von Trier considers space as a part of that artistic genre.
Throughout her career, Hauft has created installations that offer rewarding physical experiences. For Luna, she began by purchasing a 3D map of the moon from NASA. Then, between her St. Louis studio and MASS MoCA’s build team, she fabricated 140 puzzle-like pieces to construct an accurate though concave moon room. A complete sphere as opposed to Terra’s halves, Luna is built behind a wall. The only access is a porthole-type opening just big enough for a human head, which again gives a voyeuristic aspect. Visitors outside see a headless figure, while the person whose head is inside the moon enters a new experiential soundscape. Sound and pressure are radically different within that space, the otherworldliness inspiring some participants to whistle and whisper—one person sang for 20 minutes while a long queue formed behind her. The setup recalls classical ideas of the head, or intellect, being heavenly or infinite in contrast to the mortal body, which remains base and earthly. It also brings to mind all the circling, hovering space trash we’ve left in our exploratory wake and recent reports of the shrinking upper atmosphere caused by anthropogenic climate change.
There’s a certain logic to Hauft becoming a sculptor who works with themes of space and the landscape. Her father was an aerospace engineer, and she credits his engineering abilities for the development of her practical skills. Space projects determined where the family lived when she was a child, and launches meant she could stay home from school. Hauft cites the moon’s special cultural significance—“part folklore, part science”—as reason for her fascination.
Sol, the final component of 700,000:1, acts as a counterweight to the minimal aesthetic of Terra and Luna. Taking the form of a blindingly bright chandelier made from gold-infused Venetian glass, it hangs right at eye level, its draping glass flowers and abundant, delicate details begging to be regarded for their finery. But it’s nearly impossible to give them their due. The lights are so bright and crisp that they force the eyes to look away and shift back to Terra, the land and firmament we think we know so well.