Beacon, N.Y. – Stars provide reference points that guide travelers across land and sea, but what if features of the land—including the built environment—could influence the placement of the stars? Constellation, a large-scale light installation by Melissa McGill that opened in June, draws upon architecture and local history to make this happen.
Situated above the ruins of Bannerman Castle, a fantastical turn-of-the-century construction on a Hudson River island north of New York City, the work is activated as the sun goes down. 17 points of light appear gradually, placed relative to existing and past features of the castle. A longer history is also evoked, as Constellation refers to the belief of the Lenape, the Native Americans of the area, that the stars of the Opi Temakan (“White Road” or “Milky Way”) link our world with the next.
The new constellation glows for two hours each night. Thin aluminum poles ranging from 40 to 80 feet tall support the solar-powered LED lights, which are encased in hand-blown glue globes. Visible during the day, the poles are painted to blend in with their surroundings near the ground and fade to silver toward the top so that the lights seem to hover like stars.
“Like so many who travel and live along the Hudson River, I’ve had a long fascination with the mysterious castle ruin and this island,” McGill has written. “As I investigated its history and reimagined its present, I was moved to create a project that continues my work exploring the space between absence and presence, bringing to light the overlooked, hidden, or lost aspects of architecture, found objects, and places.”

Constellation has been in the works for three years. The process of building support for the large-scale project was complicated, as the New York Times reports. You can view the work for at least the next two years from Metro-North trains, roads, trails, and boats in the area. An audio guide is available for download, and information on viewing and tours can be found here. A book to be published in August documents Constellation while taking it as a starting point for an interdisciplinary dialogue.