Chrysanthe Kapuranis is a local Tucson artist. She became fascinated with astronomy after coming across a group of students on campus who were observing the Moon through a telescope. Kapuranis decided to enroll in the class herself alongside her studio art classes, which kickstarted her love of astronomy and planetary art. Her piece Tactile Moon was created in an effort to increase the accessibility of science and to make sure everybody gets a chance to experience the beauty of the universe.
What inspired you to create pieces of art that are meant to be touched?
I was supposed to do a tryptic—three paintings that relate to each other—so I started photographing the moon, and I painted a tryptic of the moon phases. It led to this. There’s a blind professor in astronomy, and there’s also a lot of visually impaired students, so we thought, what about tactile art? We can help everybody learn about astronomy. I found that there aren’t a lot of people doing something like this. It’s not exact—it’s more on the artistic side, but it also teaches people about the Moon. I look at it as interdisciplinary. To me, that’s really so exciting.
Could you explain a little more about the interdisciplinary aspect?
I was learning too. Through art, I learned all about the Moon. I got to learn about astronomy, but now it gives somebody else a chance to feel. That’s what the purpose of this project was. It was so experimental. I really didn’t know how to proceed, so I asked various people. We paint with texture in class, but this was different, this was creating texture so someone could learn from that and feel it and experience it. I didn’t really have a lot of help in that area.
How did you end up figuring out what to do?
Somebody said buy the gel medium so I could do it in acrylic instead of oil, because acrylic is kind of like a plastic; nothing will happen to it from your fingers touching. The colors were inspired from me researching online about elevations on the Moon. The deep craters have one color, the high elevations have another. So, it’s a little bit realistic, some not. It’s just how I felt it. Sometimes, as an art student it’s how you feel it and just creating a little bit of emotion. Not everyone will be able to see it, but the visual people can see it and wonder, why is it orange? I didn’t explain it, I just let people experience it.
So, experiencing new things is important for people?
For me, it touches me. People get absorbed in the day to day. They forget. They don’t see that big picture. Zoom out and look down on the earth. When you’re in an airplane, you can look down and feel that peace. You see the cars in traffic, and the business of life, so when you learn about these things it takes you to, like, another dimension. You see all this beauty and mystery that’s out there. Some people aren’t so passionate about it. If you would only take the time to look. When we’re out on the lawn with the telescopes and people are walking, we always invite them, we say, come and see! Little kids want to see—they get so excited. It’s amazing. For some people, it’s their first time doing that kind of thing.
Why do you think some people have never gotten into science?
It’s so academic. That’s how it was for me. I was so nervous and thought that I wasn’t going to pass that astronomy class. This professor, Dr. Kortenkamp, was amazing and provided so many visuals. He was open to this merging of art and science. He has the right mindset, I think, to help people that don’t understand science or are afraid of science. I think it’s up to the professor to be open to those things, even if it’s an illustration—it doesn’t have to be fine art. It can be illustrations, you know, color. It really helps, because someone is going to stare at that, and they’re going to look at it and be intrigued by it. Then, they’re going to read about it. Science is way intimidating. Having someone say to you that you’ll pass and encouraging you, instead of being distanced, and having projects that are relatable helps, also.
Do you think that art can help people to see that beauty in science?
It worked for me. Reading is just words on a page. There’s so much information out there. It depends how it’s done, but when there’s art you’re going to attract somebody’s eye. For a snap second, if you see something and it piques your interest, you’re going to stop and ask what it is. I think people love art because they learn from it. It’s not just mathematical equations and paragraphs of text and research. There’s a visual, and you can learn from that. It’s nice because we encourage each other, too. We do better when we work with people. We’re all inspiring each other. If there’s words on a page, throw in a visual. It tells the story and adds to that story.
Can events and projects like The Art of Planetary Science encourage people to see science in new ways?
I really love it, since I’m not in the class anymore. I get to go back and see what everybody’s working on. Some people are doing it for research. For some, it’s how they interpret the universe. I like looking at the data also, because some of it is done in such a creative way that it brings you in and makes you question things. It’s kind of like a “wow” factor—the amazement of where we are. I always tell people that we’re just this ball out there, a little tiny ball with all these other balls, and we’re rotating along this elliptical orbit. It’s so amazing when you think about that. When you hear the news and it’s not always pleasant, just think where we are. This is an amazing place, how lucky are we to be here? Make the most of it instead of complaining over little, trivial things. Be inspired by everything we have through nature, the stars.
Is it important for scientists to communicate about their work?
I think it would help their research. It is important because it breaks up your day to day work. Having the Festival of Books here really helps, because you get to go to all the booths and see a lot of science. There are people there explaining it, and there’s visuals and pictures. Getting out at these fairs is important because people love it and children love it. If you get a child interested in that, and they may become that next scientist. We have to provide those opportunities.
What do you think comes next, for you?
I’d like to explore the idea or accessibility more. I feel like, one day anybody can go blind. There are many people on campus who are blind or partially visually impaired. One day, I might be blind. It’s something that I’m going to keep thinking about. If someone can experience something that has meaning, that ties into something they can experience or learn from… it’s important for everyone to be able to feel that, and not feel like they’re missing out. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I’m keeping the idea open.
This interview was conducted in person | Image “Tactile Moon” courtesy of Chrysanthe Kapuranis and The Art of Planetary Science