Small planets on view as part of Josh Simpson: Galactic Landscapes at Berkshire Museum

I imagine that even before recorded history, humans have gazed up at the night sky in awe. Its milky blackness speckled with dots of lights that traveled millions of light years only to be absorbed by the rods and cones of our genetic ancestors, who then returned to their nocturnal routine — hunting, gathering, or finding shelter. Not much has changed in the last few millennia. Every night around 10 pm, I open my front door, let my dog out one last time and stare aimlessly into that same milky blackness lost in thought, ruminating about my own rods and cones absorbing light that has traveled across the universe. This continues in near silence, until my dog decides that the rabbit munching on clover is a real existential threat to the entire neighborhood, snapping me back to the present with her very loud, very persistent, very deep barking. I thank her for keeping me safe, usher her back inside, take one last look at the night sky and continue with my nightly routine. This routine takes about 15 minutes … just about double the time it takes for light from our sun to reach planet Earth.

A view of planets, a Saturn, and platters in Josh Simpson: Galactic Landscapes at Berkshire Museum.

I am sure I am not unique in my nightly routine: 30 seconds of introspective searching for my place in the universe followed by 15 minutes of ego-driven actions. Actions that make me feel like I am in control. Actions designed to reaffirm that I am the master of my domain. We humans are good at reassuring ourselves that we are in control, that we know better. We are the only species with complex emotions. We are the only species with the innate ability to create visual, written, and auditory works of art. We are the only species that manipulates the world we inhabit to suit our needs.

Or are we?

History, with its nearly perfect vision, has shown us that even my limited examples of our dominance or “uniqueness” aren’t even remotely true. We find comfort in our declarations of greatness, our uniqueness, while we secretly know we are just a small collection of cosmic material. Unique to some degree maybe, but ultimately nothing more than atoms recycled again and again over eons of time.

Or are we?

Stunning Blue New Mexico and Corona Glass platters on view as part of Josh Simpson: Galactic Landscapes at Berkshire Museum.

Humans are a dichotic species, comfortable in our routines but always striving for more, something new, something different. There are those of us who look to the night sky and think it’s too big, it’s too scary, unable to fathom a journey of 100 million light years. Then there of those of us who embrace it and are inspired by the wonder and awe of it. Those who want to break down the routines and systems we use and build new ones. Those whose uniqueness allows them to see the world from a slightly different angle. Those who dare to dream, fail, and try again. Finally there are those of us who create their own rules, systems, and worlds.

Our collective timeline is more than dotted examples of the latter, of those who create their own rules. Humans have pushed the boundaries of science to the point of myth. Cutting-edge work being done today was once only a dream, illustrated in the comic books of my youth. The work of Josh Simpson serves the same purpose. Josh is an artist who creates his own rules, systems, and worlds in a quest to explain the science fiction of today. To help us pause and wonder at our shared existence with light produced 100 million light years ago.

Josh’s glass work is not only created of the same cosmic material that produced us, its creation follows a very similar path. A smaller gathering of carefully chosen material, mixed in a high temperature environment, molded and shaped by laws of physics and finally left to cool slowly over long periods of time. I have always been curious about the relationship humans have with glass. Few artistic media give the artist such control over raw elements and the ability to change their physical characteristics using heat to meet a desired aesthetic. This is the element I find so fascinating about Josh’s body of work. The science used to explore questions of our very origin, of relationships to time, space, and each other, are physically embodied in the processes used to create his art. His work can simultaneously exist in a chemistry lab and in a fine art museum. It allows, if just for a brief moment, the viewer to ignore our dichotic nature and except the duality of our existence. It allows us to find wonder in the science of its creation and facts in the myths and fantasies it explores. It allows us to shorten the distance between us and the stars, making it a little easier for us to step outside our routines and dare to stare at the sky for just a little while longer each night.

Craig Langlois, Chief Experience Officer
Berkshire Museum

An excerpt from this essay appears in Josh Simpson: Stellar Disks, 2018, published by Salmon Falls Press.


Josh Simpson: Galactic Landscapes is on view at Berkshire Museum through January 6, 2018.

Click here to learn more about the exhibition.