A Collection of Ephemerides

Moira Roth began the Library of Maps in 2001 as an ongoing series, which has grown to 41 texts about an imagined library, its contents, inhabitants, and history. For this issue, Roth contributed two enigmatic texts on abstract applications of mapping—one describing the (dis)appearance of astronomical phenomena, and the other the paths of sleeping minds. Excerpts from this project are presented in conjunction with Joanne Easton’s new work, Untitled (Insatiable): a video in which Easton entwines telescopic images of deep space, cycles of growth and regeneration, and paradoxical combinations of what would otherwise be vast distances and unmappable relationships. Collectively, the video and two poems chart changes in time and space between celestial events and our own accounts of them. They plot a line from the events described in ephemerides (tables showing the positions of astronomical objects) to the commonplace experience of ephemera (in the form of maps, manuscripts, and their markings).

Moira Roth

Map 34
Of the Night Sky and the Night Garden
(for Rose Hacker, upon my departure for Hiroshima and Kyoto)

I. The Night Sky

That night
He had been told
Of studies
Prophesizing the future demise of
The already-faint atmosphere of the planet.

“Only twenty years,”
His friend had announced,
In a somewhat triumphant tone.

Gazing up at the night sky,
The Astronomer thought of the soon-to-be-invisible Pluto
And of its moon Charon,
And imagined
Charon and his ferry Taking the dead to Hades.

That night, too,
He brooded
Upon his own death,
While unbeknownst to him
The first night rose
Bloomed in the nearby newly planted garden
Of the Old Observatory.

II. The Night Garden

In the Night Garden
Of the Old Observatory,
Rose upon rose bloomed
As the Astronomer began to make
His daily visits
To the Garden.

At first,
He merely sat
On a bench,
Looking at the stars,
But later,
He brought with him
A small telescope,
One that he had used as a child.

It was in this old telescope,
Twenty years later,
That he caught the last glimpses
Of Pluto
And its moon, Charon.

In her Mirror,
The Chief Librarian also
Saw the planet and its moon
As she sat in the Library of Maps
Smelling from afar
The roses
In the Night Garden.

Written 7/30 – 8/02/02

Map #36
The Map of the Sleepers
(for Angela Holm and Gilian Sneed)

Over time,
The librarians became used to
The silent, still presence of the Sleepers.

They slept in the basement of the Library,
On two silver beds
Under coverlets of yellow velvet,
And one of the duties of any Chief Librarian
Was to see to their well-being.

Along the main basement wall,
Beneath a small window,
Was a sheet of strange glimmering metal,
And each morning,
When the Chief Librarian
Came to check on her charges,
She would find new markings on this:
Usually white and red lines,
Which, finally,
Became so overlaid
That the Map appeared like a spider’s web
Of faint thin threads.

Who had been brought in
To study these strange markings,
Had proclaimed
That they must be charts
Of the Sleepers’ journey—
But could speculate no further.

One dawn,
The Chief Librarian walked down to the basement
Only to find that the Map
And the Sleepers had disappeared

And that the rising sun
Was ablaze with white and red rays.

She gasped,
As did the Old Astronomer in his observatory,
Realizing that the Sleepers’ Map,
With its myriad white and red lines,
Was just like the one
They had created from two separate dreams—
Of a city of marble and water,
And another of fire.

Both were terrified
By the sight of this transfigured sun,
And what it meant.

Written 9/06/02, revised 4/07/03

Joanne Easton

Moira Roth is the Trefethen Professor of Art History at Mills College, in Oakland. She is a feminist art historian and critic who writes and lectures extensively on contemporary art. Roth has edited four books, and in 1998, her first volume of collected essays appeared: Difference/Indifference: Musings on Postmodernism, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage (with a commentary by Jonathan D. Katz). Over the last decade or so, she has also written and published fictional narratives and poem cycles, as well as scripted and produced a series of plays in Japan, Europe, and California.

Joanne Easton is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Oakland, CA. Her work explores the space between reason and experience. She received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and her MA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her MA thesis work focused on doubt and imagination in the Studio Critique. She has been an Artist in Residence at the Vermont Studio Center and Kala Art Institute and exhibited her work in several Bay Area spaces including Jules Maeght Gallery, Gallery Route One and ProArts, as well as in Chicago, Michigan and Ohio.