Danelle Marqui Brown: Sepideh

ADC Member creates installation for 'Art. Storytelling. Impact' exhibition

Last week, ADC — in partnership with Shutterstock — played host to Art. Storytelling. Impact, an exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of Chicken & Egg Pictures. As part of the exhibition, five ADC Members were selected to partner with five documentary filmmakers to create art installations inspired by their cinematic creations. We’re featuring the artists, films and installations here on the ADC Blog, but we invite you all to visit the ADC Gallery to experience them first hand.

“Sepideh: Reaching For The Stars”
Directed by Berit Madsen


Creative Director/Historian of Science, Technology & Medicine/Storyteller
Brooklyn, NY





Tell us about your installation

My installation pays homage to the legacy of women in the history of astronomy, both through the lens of science itself and film history. Key aspects of Sepideh’s story — particularly that of an aspiring and visionary female youth determined to become an astronaut — are weaved into each of the six stations that make up the collective installation. In some ways this is made obvious and in others it is more understated. The installation is interactive, but not in the modern context of digital technology. Light technology and moving image are used to accentuate the installation, setting an intergalactic tone. However, the true interactive components are made up of thought provoking activities such as wishing upon the “stars” and engagement with good old fashioned “classroom” physics. For instance, I incorporated tuning forks in one of the stations to not only suggest what “interstellar music” may sound like, but also to demonstrate how a small vibration that is activated by a simple gesture may emit a particular level of sound (frequency), but when placed upon a solid foundation, its frequency (poetically inter-exchangeable with a person’s voice or story) is amplified and reaches a wider audience. The installation is meant to encourage participants to think outside of social and mental boxes, as well as re-awaken wonder in the beautiful universe we are all a part of. By no way is the installation devoid of male figures within the history of astronomy and its cinematic representation. Collective history is made up of both “his”stories and “her”stories from various creeds, nationalities, and backgrounds.

What was it about Sepidah that inspired you to create this? Was there any key moment where you said “Aha! That’s what i want to express!”?

In addition to being a creative, I am a historian of science, technology and medicine. I gravitate towards historical investigations that explore the intersection of social politics, science and health. As a result, the rich storyline within Sepidah: Reaching for the Stars reached out to me and I had to answer “YES!” There is a particular scene in the film where Sepideh was confronted by her disapproving uncle. It broke my heart to see and hear him attempt to crush and threaten the dreams of his young niece. And though Sepideh is visibly affected in the scene by his berating threats and discouragement, the fierce youth turned around and proclaimed to him, “There is nothing wrong with me looking at the stars. After me there will be 10 more doing what I have done. I’m not alone.” That was the key moment where Sepideh turned into one of my new found heroines. At the same time however, knowing what I do about the history of astronomy, I did not want Sepideh to feel as if she, and her hero Anousheh Ansari, were walking alone in their astronomical paths. I wanted her to know the legacy of women in her field. It was from that heart space, and imagined conversation, that I began to understand the idea I wanted to express.

What was it like to collaborate with the filmmaker?

As Berit Madsen, the director of Sepidah: Reaching for the Stars, resides in Denmark, we spoke via a Skype session and had a few email exchanges. Though we could not meet face-to-face in the physical sense, our collaboration was still an inspiring and eye-opening experience. Taking a cue from her observational approach to documentary film-making, I tried to curb the urge to ask her too many questions during our main session. Instead, I tried to just listen and riff off of the waves of her organic storytelling. Listening to Berit speak freely about the process of making the film, on aspects of Sepideh’s story that did not make it into the final film, and her own experience of star gazing underneath the glimmering Iranian night sky was captivating. I had initially gone into our discussion with a pretty solid idea of where I wanted to take the installation, but after listening to more of the film’s backstory and learning more about Berit’s approach to filmmaking, I was inspired to evolve the design concept.

“I had initially gone into our discussion with a pretty solid idea of where I wanted to take the installation, but after listening to more of the film’s backstory and learning more about Berit’s approach to filmmaking, I was inspired to evolve the design concept.”

As both a documentary filmmaker and social anthropologist, Berit is an inspiring beacon of light for me. Though I have been working as a creative professionally for the last fourteen years, and was a DONA certified birth doula for several years, it is only fairly recently that I began my academic journey within the field of history. I am completing my thesis these next few months. Having the chance to talk with someone who merges the discipline of social science along with the arts was very encouraging. As is evident in the film, having role models and mentors along one’s journey to establish their selves in any given craft/profession is essential, especially if it is perceived as a road less travelled.

How does this installation compare to what you normally do?

As an experiential and visual designer, I have designed for interiors, events, print and web, all of which have connections to general installation design. As an academic, I have lectured and written on historical, cultural and scientific topics with small visual aides as a backdrop (i.e. PPT, Keynote or a few Posters). However, this installation was the first time I was able to integrate both historical, scientific and social narratives within a standalone multisensory installation, not to mention build an 8ft light fixture. It was an exciting and thrilling challenge. I hope to have more opportunities where I can merge these disciplines together in creative ways.

Danelle’s installation, along with four others created by ADC Members for this exhibition, are on display at the ADC Gallery until November 5.