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Félicie d'Estienne d'Orves – Atome Primitif/Oeratoom

Patrons - Carmiña Caballero, Carolien Coenen, Dirk Baro, Frank Luyts, Freyia Han, Hanne Reumers, Helga Gielen, Hildegard Van Hove, Jan Weynants, Jeroen Reumers, Joris Van Damme, Kristel van den Boom, Lutgarde De Haes, Manuel Van De Weijer, Martine De Flander, Mieke Vanbergen, Myriam Tollet, Radegonda Bröde, Saskia Gheysens, Wim Roeckx.
Curator - Louise Goegebeur and Julie Goossens
Partners - KU[N]ST Leuven, a collaboration between the City of Leuven and the university KU Leuven. Contact: Lien De Keuckelaere, Nanou Catry en Lucie Rullaud
Leuven, 2022

The commission

On January 28th the "Oeratoom / Atome Primitif" will be inaugurated, an in situ installation by the French artist Félicie d'Estienne d'Orves in homage to Georges Lemaître (Charleroi, 1894-1966), father of the Big Bang theory, priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven.

In the early 1930s, Georges Lemaître described the first model of a non-static, constantly expanding universe. According to his model, the universe originally consisted of a "primitive atom" from which space and time would have emerged - an idea known as the Big Bang theory.

Developed as part of the KNAL! festival, the work is the result of a year-long collaboration between the artist and a group of patrons, Leuven residents who responded to a call from KU[N]ST Leuven to think about creating a work of art that celebrates the theories of this cosmological pioneer. To select the artist and to accompany them at each stage of the project, these committed citizens benefited from the support of the non-profit organization the New patrons, whose original approach encourages sponsors to express their ideas or wishes to an artist who, through dialogue, creates a unique work of art.

The work of art

In the heart of Leuven, "Oeratoom/Atome Primitif" is a work on a human scale, centered on the human point of view, which, through a walk through the city, pays tribute to the daily exploration of our reality.

A bridge between ancient and contemporary technologies, from bronze to electronic programming, the work corresponds to Leuven's ambition to place itself in a historical continuity as a medieval city while presenting an expanded vision of the world and the cosmos through innovation. A leading university city whose creativity pushes the boundaries of knowledge

Contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang was not a sudden explosion, but a long and slow process. Félicie d'Estienne d'Orves' proposal attempts to retranscribe this reality while responding to the sponsors' wish to create a work of art that would spread throughout the city, that would be both an exploration and a meeting place inviting the spectator to walk through the city with a sense of wonder.

The result is a work on the scale of Leuven's city center, composed of 80 white bronze medallions engraved with the names of galaxies listed among the thousands of billions in our known universe. In the center of each medallion, a drawing in relief indicates the category to which these galaxies belong (spiral, irregular, lenticular or elliptical). The galaxies are positioned according to their belonging to different ages of the universe, from the periphery of the city (or "ring") which represents time 0, to the center of the city or present time, that is 13.8 billion years. Thus, by walking from the center to the periphery, each meter we walk takes us back 10 million years, bringing us closer and closer to the birth of the universe.