The following article was published in August 2023 by Co-Prosperity Sphere on the occasion of Madeline Vaccaro’s solo exhibition, Good Morning Moon.
To the naked eye, the moon presents like a dot of cream with predictably fluctuating bounds, a constant and gentle observer of terrestrial life. Often associated with female power, menstruation, and fertility, it organizes the tides of our seas, lakes, and bodies, like an intermediary administrator of earthly and celestial movement. Although inherently unphotogenic, the moon nevertheless maintains a presence in human art and allegory. Its earliest known representation, the “Nebra Sky Disk,” dates back to 1600 BC and is believed to reconcile lunar and solar calendars—a challenge that appears fairly often in ancient traditions and astronomical mathematics. According to Aztec legend, for instance, a rivalry between two prospective sun gods, Nanahuatzin and Tēcciztēcatl, wasn’t settled until another god threw a rabbit in Tēcciztēcatl’s face, making him the lesser source of light—the moon. That third party deity saved the Earth, ensuring it wouldn’t burn up from too much light. And while being the moon might seem like a lesser prize, it remains forever encoded in anecdotes of cosmological balance, distant yet bound to Earth and Sun at once.
Multidisciplinary artist Maddie Vaccaro began photographing the moon during the pandemic. In a practice she refers to as diaristic and meditative, she took digital cameos of the moon to share on social media, instilling a sense of quotidian stability during a time of collective crisis and isolation. “Photographing the moon became a meditative pause and ritual,” Vaccaro says in a recent conversation about her work. “Every time I saw it in the sky, I would stop and try to capture an image of it. The moon reminded me to stop and take a breath.” The impetus for this exercise came when Vaccaro noticed the moon’s presence in daylight. The moon became omnipresent after that, coloring Vaccaro’s life with its fluctuations and moods. She posted affiliated photos with timestamps and diaristic statements like “Shy moon 9:22 pm,” “Home moon, 4:57pm,” “Golden hour moon, feeling cozy, 4:50pm,” “Full moon on the end of my Saturn Return 7:08 pm,” and so on. These slight observational descriptions reconcile the sun’s hour, the moon’s position, and Vaccaro’s own subjective mood during a period of notorious uncertainty. As she puts it, “I was moving through ‘feeling-knowing’ instead of ‘knowing-knowing.’” With the moon as anchor, the posts capture her personal relationship to the cosmos, triangulating her sense of place-feeling additionally with the virtual presence of friends and followers.
The vernacular character of these image-time-phrase posts and their mode of dissemination is key. “Capturing a really beautifully composed, clear photo of the moon hasn’t been the point for me,” she says. These are not precious events, in other words. In one image, Vaccaro posted the moon reflected in a puddle on the ground. One sees the cement under the reflection—earth and sky appear simultaneously through the vehicle of water, or residual rain. The puddle makes a metaphor for social media—a disembodied social arrangement of algorithms and marketing cloaked in social camaraderie. This space was especially vital during the pandemic and has since transformed every aspect of human life. In fact both social media and the weather have become exceedingly present in the past few years, both driven by capitalism and consumption with side effects that pressurize social and ecological communities. Yet social media is notoriously devoid of more-than-human presence, except by way of representation. Vaccaro introduces the moon as it would appear in the sky and reciprocally locating a “ground” in the technoverse. Instagram becomes the reflective puddle that, in this case, looks up and elsewhere.
For her exhibition, good morning, moon, Vaccaro transposed an excerpt of 360 lunar photographs on a fabric mural hanging in Co-Prosperity Sphere’s storefront window. Gridded images in the mural sometimes include cityscape elements, sometimes just the sky. They pass progressively through different times of day, from dark to light to dark again, like the course of a day. But unlike the original data event of her posts, faces of the moon are divorced from text in this installation. Excerpted texts are instead reprinted on two separately framed text panels in a second corner window display. Each block of white typeset text stands out against an image of the Chicago shoreline. Both panels hang in cloud-like frames of white curvilinear forms. Divorcing the originally-paired text and image underscores the translation of the image’s original virtual occasion. Further down in a third window display, Vaccaro has installed twenty-eight ceramic works—referencing the moon’s twenty-eight day cycle, alternately round and square slabs, each with patterned facades that hang in an almost checkerboard fashion, seven by four, or seven days, four weeks. These ceramics are also part of Vaccaro’s meditative practice and coincided with her moon portraiture. “The ceramic works have also been a working anchor/release/therapeutic method of making art that allows me to access a calmer part of my brain.” Vaccaro created a plywood wall to support these ceramics. “I fabricated a cloud-like plywood wall for them to hang on closer to the street.” The cloud again echoes virtual space, reiterating the ways in which Vaccaro makes social technology commensurable with astronomical events by engaging materials—clay, glazes, photography—in a conscious but habitual practice that grounds her daily awareness in a place of making, despite collective precarity and personal loss. This third and final window of ceramics additionally reinforces Vaccaro’s interrogation of organic forms and straight lines. Ceramic slabs are alternately square and round. The moon is always framed by a screen. The fabric, itself soft, and depicting images of the moon, is divided by multiple rectangles which again echo the screen. The flow of time is gridded out by the Roman calendar.
The moon’s real-life presence inevitably eclipses any photographic representation taken with a terrestrial camera but its charisma inspires us to try. Perhaps in doing so, the earthbound among us might better conceive a long lunar view, an aspiration invariably conflated with wisdom and serenity. And while social media platforms seem to simulate a space of non-placeness—free from geography, time, and planetary occasion, we cannot avoid the ways in which those material factors govern our lives. No matter the tycoons who want their own tourist space programs, or twice-indicted former presidents who blithely encourage systemic social injustice, or the catastrophic rise of climate-induced migration, good morning moon, is a welcome reminder to pause, take a breath for a minute, and be in a world with the moon.