Alternative Worlds navigates the terrain between awe of natural beauty, epistemology, and play by investigating the intersection of science, science fiction, and faux science. Scientific and artistic endeavors employ synonymous strategies for interrogating our world, helping us better understand the universe and our place in it. This interrelated series, which combines traditional printmaking, charcoal drawings, copy transfers, and metallic prints simulate astronomical data collection, analysis, and presentation, culminating in a fictional narrative that describes an artist’s recreation of the cosmos.
This research-based practice, drawing on Mergens’ background in math and physics, synthesizing the visual language of historical cosmographic illustrations, images from the STScI’s database, and science fiction tropes. Her drawings mimic how astronomical images are pulled from sensor data, as well as a series of intaglio, aquatint, and sugar lift prints. Linework in both mediums suggest calculation, analysis, and classification, while scribbled notes on the surface indicate a scientist’s hand. In the spirit of play, Mergens activates an authoritative tone through composition, text boxes, and fictionalized astronomical language. Together these elements serve as a conceptual map for the way scientific discourse has entered public consciousness. This imagery inspires curiosity, evoking the sublime that in turn drives scientific inquiry. Mergens’ work is an invitation to think critically about how we want to construct our future together, through scientific and artistic exploration.