Fall 2006

Artist Project / As the Stars Go By

Anna Von Mertens

This body of work takes violent moments in American history that act as pivot points—where what came before seems separate from what follows—and depicts the star rotation pattern above these moments in time. My hand-stitched works have the proportions of a movie screen, intended to suggest a representation of historical events through the distanced lens of observation, but through this format also offering a literal vista, a window onto a world.


Events portrayed in the series include the Civil War Battle of Antietam, which remains the greatest one-day loss of life in America’s history; the stars seen from the balcony of Memphis’s Lorraine Motel on 4 April 1968, as dusk settles during the hour between the time that Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and the time he was pronounced dead; and the first sighting of land by Christopher Columbus off the coast of the Bahamas, a moment at which the stars 
are both a navigational tool and an indicator of the changes to come.


The work is intended to act on many levels: as a memorial, as an actual vantage from a specific moment in history, but ultimately I am simply documenting an impassive natural cycle that is oblivious to the violence below.

Anna Von Mertens, Midnight until the first sighting of land, October 12, 1492, six miles off the coast of current-day San Salvador Island, Bahamas, 2006. This work shows the stars as Christopher Columbus and his crew would have seen them when they first sighted land off the coast of the present-day Bahamas. From Columbus’s journal: “The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land, and a stalk loaded with rose berries. These signs encouraged them, and they all grew cheerful. … After sunset, steered their original course west and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight … and as the Pinta was the swiftest sailer, and kept ahead of the Admiral [Columbus’s phrase for himself], she discovered land and made the signals which had been ordered.” I chose this pivotal event in American history not for any violence contained in those few hours, but for the violence that would ensue from that moment.
Anna Von Mertens, 5:34 am until sunrise, March 20, 2003, Baghdad, Iraq (from the Palestine Hotel looking toward the Presidential Palace on the Tigris River), 2006. This work documents the star rotation pattern above Baghdad—with the constellation Scorpio tracking across the southwestern sky—as the bombing began on 20 March 2003 during the second war between Iraq and the United States. The vantage point from the Palestine Hotel is familiar to many Americans, as that is where most members of the foreign press were staying. I remember hearing witnesses describing the bombs that lit up the Baghdad sky that night as looking like fireworks. In this instance, the sense of mediated, distanced observation that characterized the American experience of the war is mirrored in the impassive wheeling of the stars.

Anna Von Mertens has had solo exhibitions at venues including the Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach; Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco; University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery, Los Angeles. Von Mertens received a B.A. from Brown University in 1995 and an M.F.A. from California College of Arts and Crafts in 2000.>