Astro-stories and mechanical animations

Date & Location

2022, Alba Iulia


The National Library of Romania and the Batthyaneum Library branch

We find ourselves in an unusual place from Alba Iulia, away from the hustle and bustle of the world, in a somewhat strange-looking building. At first a Trinitarian church and monastery, afterwards a military hospital, then a novel-like twist: Bishop Ignatius of Battyán turns the building into an astronomical institute. And – what’s more – a public library. The year was 1798.

Today, on entering Aula Magna, the main hall of the library, among the globes and telescopes you can may also find four boxes, each fixed on a tripod. If you turn the crank on one end of the box, the light turns on and the film starts to play – you are actually flicking through a mechanical animation made up of 24 pages (or frames). Moving onwards, a 5 and a half metre long illuminated “shelf” is floating in the slightly narrower space between the walls packed with old bookcases and manuscripts – it is a support for pages extracted from a story and then turned into models that you can interact with, twirl and drag.

Taken together, these five elements of the exhibition tell the story not of the library room but of another space, one floor above, perched above the semi-cylindrical vaults. Imagine that you can reach the observatory using a winding staircase that climbs somewhere above the library room. The astronomical observatory stands high above, where the church spires once used to do. Thick walls, traces of paintings, a few blind astronomical instruments – for in the meantime they have lost their lenses – and traces of dismantled instruments – each tell a little piece of history.

There we began to piece together part of the Observatory’s story, a collage made of on-site explorations and deciphering of plates or a couple of centuries-old texts. Except that the reality would show us one thing, whereas the project imagined in the 18th century engravings told another story altogether. It seemed that the walls, on which traces of the paintings are nowadays barely visible, were once painted with esoteric allegories typical of the Age of Enlightenment. The floor weren’t made of wood, as it is today, but covered with multicoloured tiles. And on the – currently white – ceiling, some 200 years ago nine boxes were traced, which could be opened with pulleys to allow celestial observations. The middle box depicted the Bishop, and, around it, eight allegories illustrating various astronomy-related disciplines could be seen.

At times it was a bit unclear where history ended and where fiction began. Finally, the stories overlapped. Some arranged themselves neatly, horizontally and in chronological order, in four chapters summarising the history of the astronomical observatory: Astronomy, Batthyaneum, Instruments of the Batthyanian Observatory, Years of the Observation.

Others, on the contrary, set themselves in motion. The characters from the engraved ceiling boxes continue to tell their story, but in a new way, interacting with each other in 8 mechanical animations. Chronology, Geography, Geometry, Nautics, Optics, Astrology, Meteorology and Architecture are the personified disciplines that mingle with gods, muses and humans, and the stories continue to recompose themselves with each new turn of the crank.

Curators: Cristian Mladin, Cosmina Goagea
Creative Director: Constantin Goagea
Exhibition design: Cristina Ginara
Animations: Ioana Trușcă
Design mechanical animation systems: Alexandru Voicu
Graphic design: Artemisa Pascu, Andrei Grosu
3D Modeling: Ionuț Leahu
Communication: Mugur Grosu
Production: Atelier Set, Acant Design, Azero, Dotas Atelier, Square Root, The Craft , VEM Lighting
Photo: Andrei Mărgulescu

A project organized by Zeppelin in partnership with the National Library of Romania and the Batthyaneum Library branch. Project supported by the Romanian Order of Architects from the Architecture Stamp. Project co-financed by the Administration of the National Cultural Fund – AFCN. The project does not necessarily represent the position of the National Cultural Fund Administration. AFCN is not responsible for the content of the project or how the results of the project may be used. These are entirely the responsibility of the beneficiary of the funding.