Introduction to “Phases of the Moon”


“Phases of the Moon” is an edition of 50 framed sets of moon phase lapel pins.  Each set is accompanied by a digital widget that displays the current lunar phase and it’s corresponding pin.   The fabric pins were created by applying discharge paste – which removes dye rather than adding ink – and the backing is printed with a placeholder image of each pin.  The frame is designed to be rotated at every full and new moon.  This project was produced in the Summer 2009 by Bay Area artist Helena Keeffe and The Present Group on behalf of The Present Group subscribers.

Helena’s proposal was chosen by the current subscribers as part of our yearly “Subscribers Choice” Voting Round.  You may read all the finalists proposals here.

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Helena Keeffe has developed an art practice based in situations and exchanges, inviting others to engage in a participatory experience and encouraging vulnerability and intimacy where one might otherwise expect a formal authority. Her work typically involves repurposing a familiar format and disrupting the expectations of the viewer. Many of her projects explore ideas of generosity and economics of exchange that function outside standard monetary models. Her projects are inspired by and deal with real-life situations, often celebrating or bringing to light aspects of urban environments that are normally overlooked.

The digital widget was designed and programmed by Oliver Wise

Interview With Helena Keeffe

Helena Keeffe was interviewed on August 23rd, 2009 by Oliver Wise and Eleanor Hanson Wise of The Present Group.


icon for podpress  Interview with Helena Keeffe - Part 1 [16:05m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

icon for podpress  Interview with Helena Keeffe - Part 2 [22:48m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

A Time Alongside Time by Matthew David Rana

“[A] qualitative alteration of time…would have the weightiest consequence.”
-Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History

Waxing its way to fullness, or waning its way to newness, the double promise of enrichment and becoming has been brought to bear on the moon. As a venerated celestial body and object of astronomical contemplation, the moon has been made to transcend itself as a powerful and resonant symbol. It is capable of teaching us about our position in the cosmos while providing a distant location on which to pin our hopes and desires.Whether it?s being shot for or leapt upon, the moon, like the starry firmament that surrounds it, is a reminder both of our limitations as terrestrial creatures and our intractable persistence in the face of an incomprehensible vastness.

In his book Infancy and History, Giorgio Agamben speaks to this kind of existential angst when he writes of time as a moment of tension where action and potentiality converge and life is revealed in its totality. Drawing on the ancient Greek notion of cairos, he emphasizes not being a slave to time as a universal or historically unfolding abstraction. Rather, for him, time issues from the specificity of human acts. As action without time
would be meaningless, so is time without action rendered desolate, void. To paraphrase Hakim Bey, it?s the idea that since we refuse to be nothing, there must be a project. In this sense, time can be thought of as something intensely personal, a unique form of temporality inflected by one?s actions within the flow of experience.

While not quite the revelation that Agamben described, my experience with Helena Keefe?s “Phases of the Moon,” was of qualitative alteration. The time that issued from the modest gesture, enacted daily for one synodic month, of affixing to my clothes a pin representing the changes in the moon?s phase, was a peculiar one in which my place and position in the world were thrown. As I repeated this aesthetic act, a major principle around which my daily life is organized began to loosen its hold. My orientation shifted away from a solar calendar and towards a lunar one. Although the new structure remained cyclic and related to the sun, I began to behave differently. I developed a ritual: check the widget, replace the previous day?s pin and attach the new one (rarely have I dressed myself with such intentionality and care). Having gained an awareness of the moon that I previously lacked, I began seeking it out at night, verifying that I was properly synched up. Although the act bore similarities to the careful placement of a flower in a lapel or the jauntiness of a feather in a cap, it was more than an anachronistic or ironic flourish. Somewhere between a Victorian-era locket and a campaign button, the pins themselves drew equivalences between the time produced by ritual and remembrance and the time produced by discourse and communication. More subtly, they came to represent a time in which what?s private and what?s public can productively exist together.

For a time, I was in a time alongside time. To try to recover or extend that time, to cultivate it and make it something enduring would, I think, be to somewhat miss the point. The message is a bit less dramatic than that. It?s even less complicated than a faith in the promise of the fleeting moment. In fact, it?s deceptively simple: for even our smallest gestures, there are weighty consequences

Matthew David Rana
is an artist and writer based in Oakland. He is a featured contributor to Art Practical and his writing has appeared in the books, There is No Two Without Three and I’m a Park and You’re a Deer. Matthew is also co-director, with Michelle Blade, of The Living Room, a storefront project in Oakland. He is currently pursuing a dual MFA/MA in Social Practice and Visual & Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts.

Annotated Links: TPG11

Helena’s Picks:

galileosmoonGalileo Galilei’s Moon Drawing

First known drawing of the Moon through a Telescope

Michael Light – Created a book, titled Full Moon, of 129 images of the moon culled from the 32,000 images taken during Apollo missions.
*note: it looks like he is building a new website… this link may not be active much longer?

Astronaut Alan L. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon and retired early from NASA to focus full time on making paintings depicting his lunar travels.

Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels

Tiny Showcase – Alec Thibodeau Lunar Calendar Poster

The Moon in Contempoary Art:

Wax and Wane by Cassandra C. Jones seen at Baer Ridgeway Gallery in San Francisco

Wax and Wane is a Snap-Motion Re-Animation made from 900 found photographs placed in order to re-create one full cycle of the moon.  The photographs that are included in Wax and Wane came from around the world and are taken by different photographers, mostly amateur. I collect them from friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, strangers, image banks, photo exchanges, thrift stores, libraries, private collections, want adds, eBay and the public domain archives ofthe US Army, NOAA and NASA.”


Aleksandra Mir‘s “First Woman on the Moon” is part land art, part social commentary, and part performance.  In 1999, inspired by the thirtieth anniversary of JFK’s famous speech leading us to moon exploration, Aleksandra Mir created a lunar landscape on a Dutch beach and documented her exploration, as the first woman on the moon, on video.

Chris Thorson’s “Waning

Art of the moon: an exploration in space:  From Galileo’s conspiracy theories to Paul Van Hoeydonck’s secret sculpture installed on the moon, Skye Sherwin, a writer for The Guardian(UK), looks at how the relationship between art and lunar exploration has endured

Wikipedia gives us:
A Chronicling of the Moon as an inspiration for works of literature, art, and music and
The Moon in Mythology


Please use this space to comment on the project, the themes that this project addresses, and to contribute your point of view. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s what we’ve been thinking about and wrote to our subscribers:

One of the great things about the subscription art model is the shelter it provides for artists to try out new ways of working.  The piece you have just been delivered, “Phases of the Moon” by Helena Keeffe is a perfect example of this.  Helena is primarily a project based artist who works in the public sphere through grants and public commissions – she describes a few of her most recent projects in the interview.  But as a subscriber’s choice winner, you provided her with an opportunity to combine her interests in craft and object based works with her larger interest in creating subtle connections between people.  The result is a rare occasion to own a work by Helena and to experience her work on a more personal level.

Each lapel pin in the frame represents a phase of the moon and is meant to be worn in synch with the actual moon.  To help you keep track, we’ve created a few digital ‘widgets’ that display the current moon phase, its corresponding pin, and the orientation of the frame.  For Mac owners we’ve included a Dashboard widget on the interview CD.  But if you don’t have a Mac, don’t worry; we’ve also created a webpage for the widget, as well as one you can add to your Google homepage.  You can find those at:

The frame is designed to be rotated every full and new moon.  As the moon waxes towards a full moon, each day’s pin will move down the frame, like you would read a book.  On the day it becomes full (or new,) it’s time to rotate the frame 180 degrees.  We should also note that the pin in the corner, next to the full moon, represents a lunar eclipse.  You’ll only wear this one once in a blue moon (couldn’t resist,) as the next total lunar eclipse isn’t until Dec 21st, 2010.

Matthew Rana, in his review of the work, talks about how for him, the work created an altered sense of time, a new awareness of the moon itself and of the public/private discourse that is produced by the intimate act of affixing the pin to your clothes each morning.  For us, this project sparked a renewed interest in the solar system itself and the mechanics of the planets orbits. Your experience will surely be your own.

All the best,

Eleanor and Oliver

That was fast…

TPG11 "Phases of the Moon" by Helena KeeffeTPG11 “Phases of the Moon” is officially sold out!  Thanks to everyone who spread the word and to our subscribers for making this project happen.  We make a limited number of back issues because we want each edition to reflect the size of the group at that time, so the only way to guarantee you won’t miss one is to subscribe.

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