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Metric Units for the Solar System

Sirovich Family Resident – Sara Morawetz
STEAMplant Faculty Members – Mark Rosin and Joseph Morris

Metric Units for the Solar System is an exploration of our relationship with the systems of ‘standardized units’ we have created to order society; examining the various tensions implicit in the function, perception and ultimately arbitrary construction of such formalisms. Extrapolating the original rationale for our own system of metric units, a new set of ‘natural measures’ will be constructed for each planetary body in our solar system – deriving a local ‘meter’, ‘second’, ‘kilogram’, ‘joule’, and so on for each that is reflective of the physicality of its environment. Metric Units for the Solar System is an investigation of the contextual biases embedded in our ‘standardized’ frameworks; asking the audience to consider that when we leave our planet and travel elsewhere, how then should we measure?

Should we not offer other worlds agency in the construction and regulation of their own systems of standards? Is the application of Earth-bound measures to other worlds merely a colonial gesture?

Pratt Research Open House (2019)
ArtSci Affair: Muons & Meters (2019)

Metric Units for the Solar System (Metre Schematics)

Measurement is not so benign an act – it is inevitably bound up in ideas of judgement and comparison. Of how one length or scale measures-up to another, whether one is more precise or correct, or ultimately better. Measurement is not impersonal — it is a human construct, reflective of our desire to order and control. To break space into a discrete and manageable set of containers, to enumerate and account for each of them individually, and to sum them up as a whole.

How then should we measure beyond the Earth? Do we take our existing Earth-bound metrics with us, or offer other worlds agency in the determination of their own systems and standards?

In the 15 “Earth” meter (50 foot-long) work Metric Units for the Solar System (Metre Schematics) installed in Pratt Institute’s ARC building, Morawetz and her team present a set of meter lengths derived from the characteristics of each planet in our Solar System. Contrasting the length of planetary meters with her own physicality, Morawetz asks us to confront the scale on which the universe operates and our place within it.

Opening reception of “Metric Units for the Solar System (Metre Schematics)” (2019) in the ARC.