Urban Stargazing


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Oscar Lhermitte
13 Wednesday 13th July 2011

The Guitar

First off, congrats on getting through the RCA show! How did it all go?

Thank you very much. Studying at the RCA was an amazing experience, probably the best one I had so far. I still don't understand how they run the selection process, because for some reason everyone you meet there is extremely friendly and ready to help. The MA at the RCA, is a tough one, you need to be ready to give up any sort of routine, but the stuff you learn and the people you meet there is priceless.

What led you up to starting the Urban Stargazing project?

The project started one night, when I looked up in the sky and could only see an empty black canvas. I did some research on light pollution and realised that it was a major problem in urban environments. The sky glow is not only affecting the sky observation, but it also disturbs the urban wildlife. The objective was to make people aware of that situation.

How much of it was collaborative? And how much solo work where you just put your head down and got on with it?

The whole project is a solo project, although it was supported by my tutors Onkar Kular and Sebastien Noel. The biggest part of the work was all the experiments/failures that had to be tested in order to find the right system. Some were very stupid and dangerous, others more appropriate. Giant helium balloons, home-made cannon shooting LED parachutes, crossbow, laser pointers, etc.

How did you go about setting up the actual project, once you had the concept sorted?

Once I found the system that was working well, I did an extensive research on the history of London so that I could pick up interesting stories to turn into constellations. I also had to scout several parks in the city in order to select the ideal spots. Once everything was ready, my assistants and I (three people are required to shoot the constellation in the sky) would go set them up at dawn.

The Ring

Why do you think it's important that us city people take the time to actually look up and experience natural light?

Over time, society has developed a complex rhythm that demands we live in an environment artificially lit 24 hours a day preventing us from experiencing the natural lights coming from billions of light years away, shining and twinkling as soon as the Sun sets to the west. I see this phenomenon as a pause, a moment of silence between two beats, making the rhythm even.

Is the project still running around London? What do you hope it achieves, or has achieved, since it went up?

Yes, it is still on. Unfortunately, since the last couple of weeks were quite windy, some of the installations went down, but others are still there. I hope it will bring excitement, but also yearn for knowledge. I received feedback from people saying they wish they knew more about astronomy.

The Mosquito

Which are your favourite constellations, both classic and from the project?

Ursa Major is definitely my favourite, simply because the Big Dipper is part of it and this the most easily recognisable pattern in the sky. My favourite London constellation would be the Mosquito. In 1985, scientists discovered a new mosquito species unique to the London Underground. When the first engineering work started in the 19th century, many mosquitoes were trapped in the tunnel and lived there in isolation from the outside world, rapidly adapting - a perfect example of Darwinian evolution.

What's next for Urban Stargazing and other concepts you have in the pipeline?

Hopefully more installations in London, in different cities and different countries. I got very addicted to it and cannot wait to prepare the next ones. It would be great to also design permanent ones in public spaces with the help of different organisations. In terms of other projects, I have a few in mind already you'll see them on my website when they will be ready.


To see more of the Urban Stargazing project, head out to the London streets at the locations Lhermitte's chosen. Otherwise, there's always the online option on his site here.

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