ABOUT    An interdisciplinary research and visual art project,  investigating the visibility of orbital debris.

ARTIST      Isabella Ong
CURATOR   Seet Yun Teng


ABOUT    An interdisciplinary research and visual art project,  investigating the visibility of orbital debris.

ARTIST      Isabella Ong
CURATOR   Seet Yun Teng

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“The sky filled with the luminous debris
of ancient, incomprehensible machines”

—Robert Charles Wilson, Axis

On 10 February 2009, Kosmos-2251, a defunct Russian military communication satellite, collided with Iridium-33, an operational American satellite. The collision destroyed both satellites, generating thousands of fragmented pieces of debris, many of which are still orbiting the planet today. This event is considered the second-biggest fragmentation event in orbital history. Despite its massive scale of destruction, the Kosmos-Iridium event remained largely unnoticed and in the margins. The sites of satellite operations in Earth's orbital space render these objects and occurrences invisible, due to the immense distance that separates the orbital regions as an ‘outside’ space, or outer space.

There have been multiple incidents of debris-causing events, from anti-satellite missile tests to rocket fragmentations. Under the cover of darkness and distance, these occur as silent and invisible explosions in the sky. In 1978, Donald Kessler predicted that as we send more satellites up into orbit, the frequency of collisions would grow, generating more debris in their wake and thus increasing the probability of even more collisions. This would eventually trigger a runaway chain reaction that would render our orbital space unusable, forming rings around Earth—not unlike those of Saturn—composed of “dead stations, corpses of collisions, booster rocket and all their slag and dust”1. This man-made ring of dead objects will outlive humanity, circling and glistening around the planet long after we are gone; the night sky a black crow, twirling its hoard of shiny flotsam.

The title of this project borrows from the Beatles' song, replacing the word diamonds with debris. Space debris is not unlike diamonds; luminous, glittery things that they are. Unlike the stars of the constellations, satellites do not produce their own light but rather reflect sunlight off their metallic surfaces as they traverse across the night sky. Enthusiastic satellite watchers look out for these metallic glints to track these satellites, though they are not easy to spot. Under the protection of the crow's wings, these objects roam the night sky, hidden and incognito.

To see with the naked eye is not the only way to look. We track these orbital artefacts, through the use of radars and telescopes, and actively catalogue them. Seeing is one part of it; how do we recognise these objects? One way is through stories. Just like how we have come to recognise the constellations of stars through mythology, we can illuminate our artificial night sky and render space debris more visible through storytelling and mythmaking.

Lucy in the Sky with Debris is an on-going interdisciplinary project investigating the visibility of orbital debris. Merging science, mythology, material culture and visual art, the project is a response to the planetary issue of space debris through an expanded practice involving the generation of research, collaboration, mappings, stories and kinetic sculptures.

To peer into the artificial night sky and peek under the feathers of Lucy, the crow.

This is an on-going project spanning 2022—2024.
This website publishes work-in-progress research, writings, and prototypes, as a way to facilitate collaborations and conversations.
Follow us on Instagram at @lucyintheskywithdebris, and feel free to reach out at isabellaong@gmail.com.

Isabella Ong
Seet Yun Teng
National Arts Council Singapore