Issue 2: Making Conversation

On the Exploration and Development of Contemporary Artists in the Field of Cosmology

I hope that through this essay to let the readers and viewers feel the contemporary art in the field of cosmology shine.

With the gradual deepening of mankind’s understanding of the universe, cosmology is no longer the exclusive domain of scientists. More and more artists are exploring and interpreting the mystery and vastness of the universe through unique perspectives and expressions. This paper will combine the works of three contemporary artists to discuss the abstract expression of the universe from Kandinsky’s works, Around the circle and Circles in a Circle, Anish Kapoor’s intermingling of art and science, Cloud Gate and Black Hole series , and Katie Paterson’s linking of personal emotions with the universe, All the Dead Stars and Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon. A multi-faceted presentation of contemporary artists’ exploration and development in the field of science (cosmology).

In contemporary artists’ explorations of cosmology, the views of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre provide a lens through which to view art-making.” Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy contemplates the universe through the lens of contemporary art and offers a pertinent discourse. Deeply thoughtful about the nuances of reality and personal freedom, Sartre often explored the notion that an artist’s work is a gateway to personal truth, reflecting the complexity of existence while being filtered through the consciousness of its creator. Although Sartre did not explicitly address cosmology in his discussion of art, the principles he articulated in his existentialist philosophy can be extended to this context. In his existentialist treatise Being and Nothingness (Sartre, J.-P, 1943, Being and Nothingness ),Sartre suggests that our engagement with the world is determined by our individual creation of meaning. From this point of view, the artistic representation of the universe becomes a subjective interpretation, a ‘reflected world’ in which each work of art is a separate universe defined by the artist’s free choice and personal project. This existentialist view coincides with contemporary artists’ attempts to encapsulate the universe, claiming that the infinite expanse of space is as much a canvas for philosophical enquiry as it is for scientific investigation. The physicist Richard Feynman emphasized the importance of imagination in scientific discovery in one of his many public lectures, noting that art and science are alike in that they are both processes of creative enquiry.(Feynman, R. 1965. The Character of Physical Law [Public lecture]). Carl Sagan, an American physicist and author, often discussed the connection between science and art, writing in Cosmos.(Sagan, C. 1980. Cosmos.)

That “both art and science are ways in which human beings make sense of the world and express their own existence, and they are complementary, not mutually exclusive.” 

In the field of art, contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer said in an interview, “Art is the exploration of the self, an exploration that is not fundamentally different from the exploration of the universe.” Kiefer’s work is often filled with deep dives into history, mythology and literature. When he says that art is an exploration of the self, he emphasizes how the artist traces personal and shared history in his creations. By incorporating material and symbolic elements into his work, Kiefer’s artwork feels like an excavation of the meaning of the universe-it reflects the complexity of the inner world and our attempts to make sense of the outer world . (Kiefer, A. 1989. Interviews with Anselm Kiefer.)

Not coincidentally, the renowned Dutch printmaking artist, Maurice Cornelis Escher, said of his own work “I keep feeling that the deepest secrets always lie in the most insignificant things, both in the outer universe and in the inner world of man.” Escher is known for his mathematical compositions and impossible structures. He believed that the deepest secrets, whether in the universe or in the inner world of man, are often contained in the seemingly ordinary things of everyday life. This view reflects the complexity in Escher’s work and his fascination with infinity and cycles. (Escher, M.C. 1957. Escher on Escher: Exploring the Infinite.)

In his view, art should go beyond the surface and touch those deep structures hidden beneath the interweaving of reality and fantasy.

In summary, this dialogue between art and science is a multidimensional reflection of the real world, not just in terms of intellectual complementarity, but also in terms of the interpenetration of sensibility and rationality. Contemporary artists have drawn on philosophers and scientists to use art to explore and express concepts of the universe. From the Abstract Expressionist Kandinsky to modern artists such as Anish Kapoor and Katie Paterson, artists use a wide range of mediums and techniques to bring the viewer into a deep reflection and imagination of the universe. Through these artworks, not only do they touch upon theories and discoveries in the field of science, but more importantly, they open up a new way of perceiving, allowing us to look at ourselves and the world around us in a new light.

The universe is an infinite, ever-expanding space whose vastness and depth provide endless inspiration for artists.

In exploring the application of cosmology in contemporary art, the work of modern Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky is indispensable. Kandinsky, widely regarded as a pioneer of abstract art, transcended traditional theories of form and colour in his work, seeking to capture an inner spiritual essence and emotional resonance.

Wassily Kandinsky’s later works are marked by intense abstraction and a deep quest for spirituality, often reflecting a deep philosophical and metaphysical exploration of the universe. As Kandinsky matured artistically, his work became less representational and more focused on inner experience, which for him was closely linked to his understanding of the universe and its mysteries. Kandinsky was influenced by a variety of sources, including theosophy and anthroposophy, doctrines that offered alternative spiritual insights into the universe and human existence. He believed that art could and should express these spiritual truths. His later works are characterized by vibrant colors, bold geometric shapes and a sense of movement, which can be seen as attempts to capture the essence and timelessness of the universe.

Around the circle, reveals the complexities of cosmic order and spiritual exploration through a simple composition. The painting consists of multiple colored concentric circles arranged on a square canvas, which expresses both strict geometric order and symbolizes the trajectory of stars and celestial bodies in the universe. Each circle can be seen as a separate universe, and their layering and color transitions simulate the radiation of stars and the depths of galaxies. Kandinsky’s use of color here conveys emotion and spirituality, and the interplay between color and shape triggers a resonance that transcends the physical world, a resonance that seems to speak directly to the viewer’s inner soul. The painting is not just a visual picture of the universe, but a symbol of cosmic movement and energy, a symbolic system of interconnectedness and interdependence between universes.

In the context of cosmology, Kandinsky’s Around the Circle presents an important point of view: the universe is not only physical and observable, it is also perceived and experienced. The painting expresses a cosmology that contains multiple layers of meaning and forms of existence. By using the circle as a miniature model of the universe, Kandinsky leads us to contemplate the deep structure of the universe and its connection to our inner world. He challenges our perception of reality, combining art and cosmology in search of their intrinsic connection. This work by Kandinsky is not only a milestone in abstract art, but also an important point of reference for contemporary artists when exploring the theme of the cosmos, inspiring those who came after him to think deeply about the universe and the nature of human existence.”

Kandinsky, W. (1940) ‘Around the circle’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Wassily Kandinsky’s Circles in a Circle is a significant work that provides a deep well for analysis, especially when considering its allegorical meaning and resonance with cosmological themes. The painting presents a series of circles within a larger circle, creating a sense of movement and harmony despite the abstraction of the composition.

From a cosmological perspective, one might see in Kandinsky’s composition a metaphor for the structure of the universe itself – the movement of celestial bodies through the wider cosmos. Each circle can be seen as an individual planet or star, while larger circles are the boundaries of galaxies or even the universe. This interpretation dovetails with Kandinsky’s interest in spirituality and metaphysics, as he often sought to transcend the physical world and tap into deeper cosmic truths through art.

Art and science are both essentially explorations of the real world.

Anish Kapoor is one of the most influential contemporary artists, known for his sculptures using highly reflective materials and strong geometric shapes. His works often create powerful visual and spatial effects that provoke the viewer to think about the universe, existence and infinite space.

A prime example of how Kapoor uses technology to express space and the universe is his work Cloud Gate, also nicknamed “Bean” by the general public. This public sculpture in Chicago, USA is a huge stainless steel work with a highly polished, almost mirror-like surface. This mirrored surface not only reflects the surrounding cityscape, but also distorts and multiplies it, creating a fluid, almost cosmic visual experience. The viewer can see reflections of themselves and their surroundings on its surface, but these reflections are distorted and seem to touch the edge of four-dimensional space.

Kapoor, A, 2005, Millennium Park, Chicago

For the interiors, his “Black Hole” series uses technology to simulate the idea of space and the universe by creating a black concave surface that seems to swallow light and space. These works appear to be empty on the surface, but when viewers interact with them, they conjure up images of black holes, voids and cosmic abysses. The “Black Hole” series employs advanced technological means to simulate the concept of cosmic space, embodying the depth and mystery of the universe by creating a black concave surface that seems to swallow light and space. The works appear empty on the surface, but when viewers interact with them, they evoke images of black holes, emptiness and cosmic abysses.

These “black holes” often inspire the viewer to think about the infinite universe. The concave black surfaces are designed to absorb and refract light, creating a bottomless effect. When the viewer stands in front of the work, they will find themselves pulled into a real black hole. This visual illusion gives a strong sense of space and time, making it seem as if one is literally standing at the edge of the universe, facing directly into the vastness of interstellar space.

This interactive nature of the artwork emphasizes the importance of the viewer’s experience. Rather than viewing a material work, one is experiencing a cosmic event. In this way, the artist connects the viewer’s personal emotions to the eternal themes of the universe, making each person’s experience unique. This kind of artistic exploration is not only a visual pleasure, but also a deep philosophical reflection on the nature of the universe.

In the “Black Hole” series, the combination of art and science with the concept of the universe has reached a new level. This is not only an innovative attempt in art, but also a challenge and expansion of the audience’s cognitive boundaries.

The use of technology in Kapoor’s work is not just in the choice of materials used to make them, but also in how he draws on modern engineering and physics principles to construct his sculptures. Working with engineers and scientists, he uses computer modelling and advanced manufacturing techniques to realize his designs. These technological tools allow him to create shapes that are structurally complex and physically nearly impossible, while maintaining aesthetic simplicity and refinement.

The innovative use of technology and materials in Kapoor’s work allows the viewer to experience a realm beyond the spatial perception of everyday life. Through these works, he offers a new way of thinking about space, time, matter and invisible existence, thus challenging and expanding our understanding of the universe.

In addition to objective descriptions of the universe, the artist also incorporates their  emotions into their works.

Katie Paterson is a Scottish artist known for her work that combines complex scientific concepts with poetic expression. Her work often revolves around themes of time, ecology, and the cosmos, exploring through art the infinity of the universe and humanity’s place within it.

Katie Paterson’s All the Dead Stars is a map of dead stars, pinpointing the locations of some 27,000 known dead stars. The map is not only an astronomical achievement, but also a thought-provoking work of art that covers the different ways in which stars end, from supernova explosions to the wreckage of celestial bodies such as black holes or neutron stars.

The work emphasizes the persistence of time and memory on a cosmic scale, and our sense of insignificance as human beings in the face of the eternity and infinity of the universe. All the Dead Stars touches upon a fundamental human curiosity about the universe and the origins of life, as well as our contemplation of the end of life and the passage of time. Within the timeframe of the universe, the life of a star is but a moment, but in that moment they may illuminate the possibility of other life.

With this map, Patterson reminds us that the death of each star is part of the story of the universe. Each marker represents a huge release of energy, events that are crucial to the evolution of the structure of the universe. The death of a star can lead to the birth of new stars and planets, and the heavy elements produced within the star form the basis of life. This cosmic cycle reveals the link between destruction and creation, reflecting the ultimate balance and harmony in the universe.

At the same time, All the Dead Stars by its very existence also asks us questions about how we record and honor the past and how we find our place in the long history of the universe. It not only captures astrophysical data, but also expresses the artist’s search for the nature of existence. Viewers of this map may feel a connection that transcends time and space, understanding that even fading stars are relevant to us as their stories are intertwined with the story of this universe we all inhabit.

All the Dead Stars is an aesthetically and emotionally profound reflection on the beauty of the universe, stellar life, and our place in it. More than just a map, it is a tool for philosophical reflection, leading us to contemplate the meaning of life, the concept of time, and the infinite possibilities of the universe.

Patterson, K, 2009 ‘All the Dead Stars’

Katie Patterson’s Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon is a poetic and conceptual artwork that blends technology, nature, and music. In this project, Patterson encoded Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata into Morse code, sent it to the surface of the Moon via radio transmission, and captured the signal reflected back from the surface. Part of the data was lost in this process due to the irregular surface of the moon, and Patterson then converted the received Morse code back into piano music. As a result, the music played is a lunar-transformed version that is incomplete compared to the original, with a distinctive staccato rhythm.

This work profoundly touches on the theme of information transfer, transformation, and physical interpretation in space. It embodies the human desire to communicate with outer space and explores the concept of cosmic harmony through the interaction between music and nature. This work is not only about technology, but also about communication over distance and time, reflecting the changes and distortions that occur when information is transmitted across the universe.

By sending this classic musical work into outer space via radio waves, Patterson expresses a reflection on human culture and technological capabilities. The journey of music as a universal language sent to the moon and reflected back to Earth becomes a symbol of the interaction between art and science. The Moon, as a satellite of the Earth, has been an object of human imagination and exploration, and in this work it becomes a medium for music, reflecting a moonlight sonata after a cosmic journey.

This work creates an emotional experience on a cosmic scale. In listening to this music, the viewer is not just enjoying Beethoven’s work, but experiencing a dialogue between music and the universe. This experience goes beyond the art itself and connects to the human curiosity about the universe and the desire to explore the unknown. It reminds us that even though we are small beings in the universe, we are still able to create works that touch the edges of the universe through art and science.

Patterson, K, 2007 ‘Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon’

Patterson’s artwork reminds us that while technological advances allow us to increasingly explore and understand the external world, art provides an internal perspective that allows us to connect to the universe on an emotional and spiritual level. Art here is not just a creation or expression, but an experience of a way of being that allows us to realize that human perception and emotion are equally integral to the colorful textures that make up this vast and limitless universe.

Through Katie Patterson’s work, we not only observe the universe, but also spiritually dialogue with it, experiencing its depth and mystery. Her work challenges our imaginations, stimulates our contemplation of existence, and heightens our sense of the depths of life and the universe. In Patterson’s universe, art and science mirror each other, reflecting our inner desire for eternity and transcendence.

These three artists have influenced me during my creative period. While thinking about the forms of their creations, I have also found my own unique way based on my professional background, which is the medium. The choice of medium is often closely related to the theme the artist wants to convey. In exploring the infinite and mysterious nature of the universe, it is crucial to choose a way to delicately express such grand concepts. Etching, an ancient printing technique, is an ideal medium to express the theme of the universe due to its unique production process and the unpredictability of the results. The paradoxical nature of uncertainty and precise control in the art of etching maps the delicate balance between order and chaos, the ordered cosmic structure and unpredictable cosmic events that exist in the universe. It is against this background that I turn to the question of how to reveal the deep structure of the universe through etching art.

My second unit of work continues the theme of ‘The Universe’ that I often did as an undergraduate, but previously I had been working on the universe as a whole, a particular way of thinking about the universe in relation to iconography. This time I chose a very important part of the composition of the universe, even the main part, dark matter. This is because the concept itself is an invisible substance, which is a challenge to present in a graphic art (printmaking) way, by expressing a substance that no one has ever seen, connecting the substance itself to the viewer and engaging in a dialogue that transcends time and space. Although his words and books are based on the field of science (astronomy), astronomy, especially ancient astronomy, is inseparable from the initial imagination and further observations, which are objectively depicted and eventually verified. All our science is primitive and naive compared to objective facts, but this is the most valuable thing we have. The same applies to art, because I think that the universe is rich and great enough in itself, and all artistic expression pales in comparison to it, but that is the most valuable thing we have. I tried the sugar-water technique at the very beginning, I wanted to use the sugar version for the overlay, but it did not work well and I finally opted for a more straightforward cardboard (using dry engraving). I chose the etching technique for the second unit of work, which included both metal and paper plates (a fusion of different materials).I think the beauty of etching is that there are uncertainties, but these uncertainties can still be controlled through time, and the nature of the technique fits in well with the theme of my work and what I want to convey.

In the third unit of work, I introduced new tools and experimented with using power tools instead of hands for most of my plate making. Not only did this allow me to become more efficient, but the variety of textures and lines that could be created was much greater. The tools themselves have more regular lines, and the dots and points can be spaced equally, and it is this that makes mixing these regular and orderly lines seem yet chaotic. But the nature of the universe is still, I think, regular, and in the chaos of space, each individual must obey the rules imposed by gravity. I was able to control the depth of the textures and lines directly during the production process, and the timing of the erosion was made easier. In terms of the final result, I think the transformation has been successful, the image looks more harmonious and deeper, but there is still room for improvement. The patterns and lines that appear on the screen are now too accidental, and in the future it will be possible to try to arrange some designed shapes and lines with some scientific facts in the field of cosmology.

Photo credit: Myself

In this article, we have delved into how cosmology has become a fascinating subject in contemporary art-making. We have analyzed in detail how Kandinsky’s Abstract Expressionism inspires our perception of cosmic forms, how Anish Kapoor skillfully incorporates scientific theories into sculpture, and how Katie Patterson combines far-reaching cosmic concepts with delicate personal emotions to create thought-provoking works of art. Through their works, these artists have not only challenged our imagination, but also broadened our understanding of the infinite possibilities of the universe.

The vastness and mystery of the universe has always been a source of inspiration for artists, and the development of modern technology has provided new tools and perspectives for this exploration. This interaction between science and art not only promotes dialogue between the two fields, but also enables the public to feel more intuitively the beauty of science and the power of art. These explorations by artists have deepened our understanding of humanity’s place in the universe in a unique and powerful way.

Looking to the future, with the continuous accumulation of scientific knowledge and the advancement of art creation techniques, the artists will go even further on the path of revealing the mysteries of the universe. Their works will continue to stimulate the curiosity of the audience, provoking deeper thoughts about the universe and reflections on the nature of life. This interdisciplinary exploration is therefore not only an expansion of culture and knowledge, but also a quest for a deeper understanding of human existence and the universe we inhabit. In this process, art is not only a medium of expression, but also a bridge between humanity and the universe, between the past and the future.


[1]Kapoor, A, 2005, Millennium Park, Chicago

[2]Kandinsky, W. (1940) ‘Around the circle’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

[3]Kandinsky, W. (1940) ‘Circle in a Circle’, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania

[4]Patterson, K, 2009 ‘All the Dead Stars’

[5]Patterson, K, 2007 ‘Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon’


[1]Escher, M.C. (1957). Escher on Escher, Exploring the Infinite.

[2]Feynman, R. (1965). The Character of Physical Law [Public lecture].

[3]Kiefer, A. (1989). Interviews with Anselm Kiefer.

[4]Sagan, C. (1980). Cosmos.

[5]Sartre, J.-P,1943, Being and Nothingness.

About the author

Song Xingyuan is a graduate of MA Fine Art: Printmaking. This is her fourth year of printmaking, her subject of interest is the universe, this interest also stems from her undergraduate course in introductory astronomy, she hopes that through this essay to let the readers and viewers feel the contemporary art in the field of cosmology shine.