100 Billion Suns by Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson

100 Billion Suns, 2011, Confetti cannon, 3216 pieces of paper, © Katie Paterson, Photo courtesy of Storm King Art Center

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Art, Prayer, and Vision

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Through her ‘cosmic art’ (Barkham 2019), Scottish artist Katie Paterson manages to ‘visualize the invisible’ and distil into arrestingly simple expressions vast expanses of time and space.

100 Billion Suns (2011) is a playful rendition of an astronomic event of epic proportions—gamma ray bursts, the brightest explosions in the universe, which are said to burn with a luminosity 100 billion times that of our sun and to yield an exorbitant brightness undetected by the naked eye.

For the 2011 Venice Biennale staging, Paterson had approximately one hundred handheld confetti canons set off in random locations around the city. Each canon showered 3,216 paper dots, corresponding to the number of gamma ray explosions known to astronomers. Each dot was colour-matched to a sample from a recorded image of a burst (Patterson 2011).

Much like Elisha’s prayer for his servant’s vision, Paterson opens a window on the invisible and combustive forces at work in the universe.

In 2 Kings 6:8–17, Elisha’s servant is initially restricted to ordinary vision. All he can see are enemy horses and chariots surrounding the city, ready to charge towards him and his master. It is only through Elisha’s mediation in prayer that his eyes are opened. What he sees with freshly opened eyes is more reliably real than Aram’s army. Luminous chariots of fire, harking back to Elijah’s rapture (2 Kings 2:11–12), surround the encroaching enemy as harbingers of salvation.

100 Billion Suns makes what is real and highly potent, but naturally unseeable, into a visual event. What Paterson accomplishes through her performance, Elisha accomplishes for his servant through prayer. Perhaps this invites us to consider some of the ways that art can function as a mediation that facilitates a seeing of reality in its depth dimensions. Maybe even a form of intercessory prayer.



Barkham, Patrick. 2019. ‘“I've breathed in some crazy things from outer space”—Katie Paterson's Cosmic Art, 28 January 2019’, www.theguardian.com, [accessed 21 July 2020]

Patterson, Katie. 2011. ‘100 Billion Suns’, www.katiepaterson.org, [accessed 21 July 2020]

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