Oscar Lhermitte is the French artist behind the Urban Stargazing project, the premise of which is, roughly speaking, to repopulate the sky with artificial constellations. He moved to London a few years ago to study at the prominent art and design schools Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art, where he developed a penchant for experimenting with different mediums and artistic processes, which resulted in an artistic practice that seems to embrace every imaginable field of art. We took advantage of his post-Easter euphoria to ask him a few questions about his creative process and inspirations.
The Creators Project: Your projects seem to be responding to needs that people usually keep to themselves, as we saw with your Albatros bookmark. Can you tell us more about your creative process?
Oscar Lhermitte: The idea of the Albatros bookmark came to me by chance, while I was reading a boring book. I was also inspired by pop-up books. At first, it was just an idea and it took me several years to materialize it and make it marketable. When I begin a project, I spend a great deal of time trying to fully understand its context and what revolves around it. Why was this object, this mechanism created? How does it work? In what world does it exist? After that, it’s an experimental phase littered with countless failures. But I welcome my mistakes with open arms because I can easily learn from them.
Can you tell us more about the Urban Stargazing project? How did you set it up?
The Urban Stargazing project was developed in 2011, as part of my master’s thesis at the Royal College of Art. The project focuses on bringing back the stars that have disappeared from the [night] sky because of the urban phenomenon of light pollution. I’ve been living in London for five years and I’m frustrated because the only constellation I get to see is the Great Bear. Supposing that weather conditions are favorable, we should be able to see about four thousand stars with our naked eyes. But in an urban environment, we can only see two or three dozen of them. The project is a series of outdoor installations exhibited in different places throughout the city, each one representing a constellation narrating old and contemporary myths about its geographical location. It’s also a way to raise people’s awareness on the gradual disappearance of starry nights.
My goal was to do a natural experiment, but I didn’t want it to be a big show. I wanted to bring back the stars in urban areas without anyone noticing. I tried using lighted balloons on rooftops, LED-lit kites, parachutes, white lasers… After these failed attempts, I finally managed to place an “invisible” light structure between three trees.
What was your inspiration for Shy Electronics? When I saw your video, I couldn’t help but think about HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Science fiction is a great source of inspiration. I love reading books like Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon or Isaac Asimov’s essays, and movies such as Moon by Duncan Jones and Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Shy Electronics is supposed to raise questions about new technologies. In cinema and literature, works of science fiction present ideas, opinions and questions about man’s relationship with technology.
A great part of your projects could be described as “useful.” Do you see think art should be functional?
I do see art as useful and functional, just like design. In my opinion, design provides answers while art raises questions.
Have you ever done something just for the sake of aesthetic value?
The project Revolving Photography could be seen as an aesthetic project. But in my opinion, aesthetics should not be differently perceived from function. The form and function are far too tied together, as form is actually a function in itself.
Your works embrace several artistic disciplines, and you clearly don’t want to be constrained in your creativity. Is there any particular area you would like to cover?
I don’t like to put a label on my creations. Sometimes I design products, sometimes I make art and that’s it. Ideally, I would like to try everything there is.
What are your upcoming projects?
I can’t say much about this for now, but I’m currently focusing on the moon…