Satellite Telescope: A mixed-media installation that connects us to the intricate science of seeing


Written by Mamelodi Marakalala

Reality can be multi-faceted and vast, in the sense that there is not one single image of every object we have ever encountered with our eyes. This thought reigned in my mind as I stood before the resiliently glistening installation Satellite Telescope (2014), created by Lyndi Sales. 

It is a large-scale artwork made from multiple thin pieces of Perspex, each taking a distinct size and shape that is not simply geometric but also planetary and cosmological. They have been lined close to each other to create what seems like an actual satellite telescope suspended in the atmosphere and looking upon the physical and active world beneath it. Each of these Perspex slates is given almost an ombre treatment, predominantly in shades of pink, while revealing a multitude of colours. They come together – as united as the different parts of a single machine, or organism. 

With each eye movement or step taken, there were slight changes in the various elements, and this gave the installation slightly different shades and forms at the turning of a single moment. This interaction reminded me of one of my philosophy classes wherein the professor had us standing in a circle with a chair in the middle of it. He asked the circle what object we saw before us, to which we replied in blaring chorus that it was a chair. He proceeded to ask a few individuals what object they were seeing in front of them, to which they were expected to realise that they were seeing the different parts of the chair that were in their direct field of vision. Ever since then, I have been particularly interested in the act of seeing, which this artwork represents. There are many factors of influence in all our visual and cognitive encounters, from the positions at which we stand when we are looking at an object, to the neural networks of the brain that work in presenting information about that object to us.

“I have always been interested in altered states of mind. Ever since reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, I have wondered about this preternatural light that he speaks of. A warm, otherworldly light that one encounters after taking a dose of mescalin. I have never taken mescalin, but I have always been curious to see beyond the veil of what reality is. The radiant Perspex was a material I discovered many years ago, and I knew the moment I saw it that it embodied this otherworldly light that I so longed for in my work. My experience making this work was to somehow create an installation that the viewer could walk through and see their own reflection in the mirror of the Perspex, but also to see their reflection disjointed, fragmented, and boundaryless,” says Sales. In many ways, she makes the viewer wonder not only about the many images of the objects in their daily surroundings but also about the images of oneself, such as the depths of the colour of our individual skin and the shapes we inhabit with every movement. 

Even further, the different interactions we have with the world also rely on the strengths and limitations of our visual capacity. At some point in her life, Sales developed a corneal condition that threatened her vision. Through the philosophical and psychological considerations of perception and illusion which she has grounded and centred her artistic practice around, she prompts us to always keep in mind that there is more to seeing an occupied space and being in a space or, particularly, being seen occupying that space. 

People born with nearsightedness, farsightedness, visual distortions, colour blindness, or perfect vision will see a single object very differently from each other. Sales recounts, “As a young child, I used to think about colours. I often wondered if the red I was seeing was the same red that others saw. How would we ever know if we saw the same colours? I guess this applies to everything we see. We are all viewing the world through our own lens of current experience, of teachings of past experiences.” These childhood considerations are represented in Satellite Telescope (2014), which she now sees “as having evolved, taking on an energy and life of its own in the new space.” She adds, “the way the colour changes with the light and movement of the units and the mirroring of the viewer’s image should enable each person to experience the installation in their own unique way.” 

Sales has created multiple Satellite Telescopes throughout the years that were specific to the sites at which they were to be installed. “I made one for Texas A&M University, and it was directly inspired by research around a flight craft that the engineers were working on, that has reduced sonic boom when it breaks through the sound barrier. All the research was part of my visual reference for that work. Another version was for the Sasol Observatory. The work hanging at Keyes Art Mile was purchased from my solo show at CIRCA in 2016. I am really happy with my artwork in this space. I think the natural light works beautifully to emphasise the radiant qualities of the Perspex, and the dark wall interior is the perfect backdrop to the glistening radiance of the material. The original was meant to be viewed as a more personal experience where the viewer could walk between the installation units, but I do understand that in a public space, this would not be possible. So to have the work elevated means it gets to be interpreted by the viewer in a different way. Not better or worse, just different,” Sales said. 

The structure of this artwork appears as an experiment in ways of seeing, being, as well as interacting with time, space, and different fabrics of existence, especially in the scope of the physical and psychological. Sales has artistically tapped into the notion that reality is shaped by the factuality of what can be seen, but life happens from the moment we begin to move around those images and open doors leading to bridges, as Huxley did with the mescalin, that lead us to a deeper understanding of the essence and significance of things and ourselves. 

Lyndi Sales’ installation is being exhibited at the Keyes Art Mile at 21 Keyes Avenue, in Rosebank, Johannesburg, until August 31, 2023. 

The artist can be followed on Instagram.  

Most popular

Similar articles