Thompson Rivers University

Cosmic display comes to downtown

December 5, 2018

Donald Lawrence's comet is not hanging above the TNRD Civic Building entrance just yet. This is a rendition of what the entrance will look like once the comet is in place at the end of January.

Donald Lawrence’s Comet MMXVIII was installed on the TNRD Civic Building in May of 2019, this story was written previous to its installation in December 2018.

Rarely do comets blaze across the night sky. A glimmering projectile in the distance brought to life when peering through a telescope.

Kamloops citizens don’t need to stare at the night sky to catch a glimpse of the cosmic snowball. A TRU professor constructed one of his own from recycled materials and in the new year, it will be permanently positioned above the entrance to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) Civic Building which houses the Kamloops Art Gallery and Library.

Donald Lawrence is the mastermind behind the Comet MMXVIII sculpture that will be brought to life when the sun goes down.

“For me, it goes back to a childhood fascination with astronomy. My brother gave me a telescope when I was 10 and I remember looking at a solar eclipse in the backyard with my dad through sheets of x-ray film,” said Lawrence, who remembers his first comet, Comet Bennett, in 1969.

One of the many drawings of comets that Lawrence studied before working on his sculpture.

Along with gazing into the night sky, Lawrence also grew in awe of comets after discovering them in books.

“I’ve always had an interest in astronomy,” said Lawrence. “I’ve had the materials for this project in my mind since being invited to create this work in the spring. I thought they would be a perfect fit for creating a self-illuminated sculpture of recycled materials.”

Constructed largely of recycled materials Lawrence, began creating his version of the comet back in the summer after receiving an invite to October’s Luminocity exhibition.

Luminocity is a biennial exhibition at locations downtown and at Riverside Park featuring video projects and other forms of intermedia art designed to brighten the night.

Lawrence used a galvanized wash tub from the 1930s, densely covered in bubble wrap as the nucleus for the comet, with roughly 80 fluorescent light tubes serving as the comet’s tail. The tubes are wrapped in tape to protect itself from the elements and are connected by lengths of waxed thread. LED lights suspended inside a collection of over-sized galvanized funnels made the comet come to life.

“I didn’t make the sculpture to try and look like a comet. Rather, it references the hundreds, or even thousands year-old tradition of the images of what the people imagined comets to look like,” said Lawrence.

Suspended between two trees with a system of ropes and pulleys during Luminocity, Kamloops Art Gallery curator, Charo Neville wanted to give the piece a longer lifespan than its two-week display.

A photo of Lawrence’s comet from the Luminocity exhibition that was held in October.

“It’s really stunning visually and very captivating when it’s lit up. It really feels like a comet has come down from the sky,” said Neville. “It was a beacon for that project in the park, so we struck up conversations with Donald about making it a permanent fixture because we didn’t want to see it get dissembled or sent off to storage.”

Lawrence graciously accepted and immediately began drawing up plans for a structure to hold his glowing comet. The apparatus will be constructed once Lawrence is finished with his classes in December and will prominently hang above the entrance towards the end of January

The irony of the sculpture’s new possibly permanent location is not lost on the professor.

“I learned about comets through books. I think that it will be pretty cool to see my comet above the entrance to an art gallery and a library where maybe future artists will be and maybe find inspiration for their projects further down the road,” he said. “It’s a very nice recognition.”

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