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Deane Walker Lecturing at the Royal Opera House in the Strand, London 1817
SPECTACULAR ASTRONOMY: historical and experimental explorations into the visual and spatial experience of planetariums, 19th-21st centuries

L’astronomie spectaculaire : explorations historiques et expérimentales de l’expérience visuelle et spatiale des planétariums (XIXe-XXIe siècles) 


Research project

within the programme iCAVS (Interdisciplinary Cluster for the Advancement of Visual Studies) 

Principal investigator: Charlotte Bigg (CNRS, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris)

Second Principal investigator: Kurt Vanhoutte (University of Antwerp)


Membres de l’équipe 

Eric Joris (new media artist /CREW, Bruxelles) 

Prof. David Aubin ( l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris / Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu) 

Dr. Nele Wynants (Université Libre de Bruxelles / University of Antwerp)

Dr. Sébastien Soubiran (Jardin des Sciences, Université de Strasbourg) 

Prof. Maaike Bleeker (Theatre Studies & Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University).  


Duration: 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2015




The objective of this project is to bring together an international, interdisciplinary group of researchers from the human, social, and exact sciences as well as artists, visual technicians and planetarium professionals to investigate the history, present state and future of popular astronomical spectacles. Through an historical study and experimental digital reconstruction of planetarium performances since the early 19th century, we want to analyse a particularly important locus where spatial and visual cultures of modernity were elaborated and experienced at the intersection of science, technology and spectacle.  

We look into the material and technological characteristics of these devices, their social and cultural context but also their perception and experience by different audiences. Thereby we also seek to develop new approaches and methodologies for studying visual cultures : science performances are a perfect object to initiate a conversation between history of science and performance studies, fields that have mostly ignored each other so far. 

Integrating perspectives from art history, cultural studies and theory, communication and museum studies, this conversation will sharpen thinking about, e.g. the performativity of images, how to analyse their experience and if and how they stimulate belief. The experimental component explores the value of digital reconstructions of historical devices for academic investigation in fields related to visual studies and provides an opening to public thinking about these issues, including about their practical implementation for science communication in or as future planetariums. 


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