Archives for the month of: January, 2016

A short blog on natural and unnatural things.

Helen Sear’s video Company of Trees leads you deep into the forest.

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In the forest the straight line becomes a circle. We are following a girl in a red dress who is glimpsed between the trees, part here part there, never a complete picture, always fading away, and counting. Numbers appear. The title Company of Trees of course makes you think of wolves as does the red dress. We are in a fairy tale, lost in a dreamlike state.

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In other rooms are other images from the countryside, the stacked chopped wood of the woodcutter, small birds and blinding golden fields interwoven with symbols.

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Human presence is here as in the fairy tale it is a human story but how much control do we have even in chopping and harvesting.

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This countryside is not a sentimental place to stray in.

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….the rest is smoke

We gaze down but see the sky. The image ripples but the water stays still.  Helen Sears uses video after effects imaging to create an illusion of movement in an elliptical pool The Beginning and End of Things.  

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Another illusory reflection; Bill Viola’s installation Moving Stillness (Mt. Rainier), 1979 at Blain Southern. Even after 35 years this piece is still captivating in its mystery.

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We see a reflection of the mountain in a large pool of water, every so often the water is disturbed and the image dissolves into undulating patterns of light which very slowly restore themselves to equilibrium and the image reappears. The mountain and its reflection do not appear to correspond. 1601 Bill Viola 2

Nothing is hidden from us, through technology we experience the magic of physics which is the magic of nature. Viola’s works open space in this way for a spiritual engagement which is a vital part of his ideology.  To alter materially as we pass in and out of life is something we have no control over but to transform our minds is our challenge. He is an admirer of the philosopher Ananda Coomaraswarmy whose writings  embrace mythology and metaphysics – Art is nothing tangible. We cannot call a painting ‘art’ as the words ‘artifact’ and ‘artificial’ imply. The thing made is a work of art made by art, but not itself art. The art remains in the artist and is the knowledge by which things are made.

Viola produces meditative spaces. Another pioneering early work was presented by Blain Southern and The Vinyl Factory at Brewer Street Car Park.  The Talking Drum an early sound composition  that explores resonance in an empty swimming pool using drums and pipes.

It was an uncanny experience entering the vast shadowy space of the underground car park to what felt like the eerie soundtrack of a noir thriller.

In Venice I had another opportunity to walk through the pulsating glow of Joana Vasconcelas’ Garden of Eden. This fibre optic maze has all the false trappings of the biblical Eden in its hypnotic draw.

I’d never really thought about how concrete was applied to our landscape. At UAL’s Shadow Without Object Symposium Bernd Behr introduced us to the Victorian polymath inventor of sprayed concrete Karl Akeley. Sprayed concrete takes on the shape of what it covers, like a skin.1601 Carl AkeleyAkeley was also a pioneering taxidermist and creator of natural history dioramas, he also devised a motion picture camera to take on location. In his presentation  Akeley in the elephant Skull  Bern Behr makes connections between this liquid concrete film that holds an image of what it covers and photographic emulsion. The desire to reconstruct, to capture and present an accurate representation of reality are questioned. Akeley worked hard to perfect his models as being true to life. 1601 Carl Akeley gorillasHe made many expeditions to Africa to collect his own specimens, make drawings and take photographs so he could transpose the African plains to urban New York. He was of course presenting an idealised view to the awestruck New Yorkers adding to the distorted representation of faraway lands much like the holiday postcard photograph.




In my first brush with particle physics I discovered the language to be quite like that of mythology, full of mysterious characters like the charm quark and strange quark, the muon neutrino and the tau. These characters are governed by fundamental forces like the strong force and the weak force that cannot be seen or explained other than by their attributes – just like the mythical gods.  I have recently been working my way through The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. It attempts to explain the theories of quantum physics.

1512 The quantum UniverseI’m not sure how this will ultimately feed into my work and the maths is way beyond me but I am excited by the possibilities it explores. I find this unpredictable world that operates on an unimaginably tiny scale fascinating. It is hard to grasp certain concepts as the theories cannot be visualized. Subatomic particles, physicist Richard Feynman tells us, do not behave like waves, they do not behave like particles, they do not behave like clouds, or billiard balls, or weights on springs, or like anything that you have ever seen.

Back in 1927 scientists Davisson and Germer did an experiment firing electrons through two slits in a screen. They expected a certain pattern to appear on the screen on the other side as the electrons hit that surface. The interference pattern that did appear gave the impression that a wave had passed through the two slits rather than a series of particles yet on the collecting screen were tiny dots not a continuous wave like surface. Something very strange was happening – and from then on physicists have had to rethink how things move around the universe.

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Anders Jonas Ångström discovered in 1853 that each element emits its own unique spectrum of coloured light when heated. This is spectroscopy. There is a handbook on this by Heinrich Kayser – Handbuch der Spectroscopie which is online but not the simple colour chart I was hoping for. Quantum physics has been able to explain why these coloured lights are unique to each element and astronomers have been able to use these codes to work out the chemical composition of the stars.

I signed up for a sunrise walk with Royal Society Research Fellow Lucie Green as part of Tate Modern’s weekend of events – Light and Dark Matters. Lucie researches the activity and atmosphere of our nearest star. The walk however was marked by the extreme absence of sun. Horizontal sleet whipped at us as we stood on the millennium bridge, blustery snow forced us to huddle under the arches of the Bank of England.

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Soaked through and bitterly cold we contemplated the effects on our economy of the massive hot plasma ball and the space weather it produces.1512 Sunrise walk (1)

Geomagnetic storms with massive solar flares can send huge surges of electric currents to course through the earth and knock out the electric grid of cities that sit on a solid rock base where the current is trapped.

In the afternoon was a panel discussion Are we darkened by the light? with Catherine Heymans, Katie Paterson and Marek Kukula chaired by Asif Khan.

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The artificial light that floods our lives hides from us the magnitude of the night sky. Astrophysicist Catherine Heymans gave a moving account of how a chance internship in the Australian outback opened her eyes to the stars and began her love of astronomy.

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There were so so many stars – she, like many of us, had been robbed of this amazing experience for years, so yes we are darkened by the light.  The universe is an arena of extremes; the longest timescales the hottest temperatures, the largest voids of utter emptiness. An astronomer can only observe what the universe chooses to reveal through light. For most people darkness is the absence of light, it is light being absorbed by something. For scientists darkness means that the object doesn’t emit light. Dark matter does not emit light, it should really be called invisible matter. Millions of dark matter particles flood though us all the time yet we still haven’t managed to identify even one particle.

There is so much unknown about the fundamental truths of our universe but with new technology more and more is revealed to us. The gravitational bending of light is one way to ‘see’ dark matter. In the next few years the European Space Agency are launching a new super powerful telescope Euclid that will image the whole sky in its quest for Dark Matter.

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Katie Paterson spoke about her work while burning a candle that released scents in ever disturbing layers beginning with wet basement as we projected through our atmosphere towards interstellar space.

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The candle’s 12 hour olfactory journey though earth smells includes geraniums, tar, old pennies, raspberries, rum and sulphuric acid finally snuffing itself out on reaching the scentless void of a black hole. Katie Paterson was the first artist to launch a piece of art into space.1512 melting

Working at the sort of extreme temperatures found in the conditions of creation within the universe  she undertook melting and re-casting a meteorite. She was resetting the meteorite’s inner cosmic clock.

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Reformed, the meteorite was launched back into space to reach the International Space Station returning once again to earth perhaps this time burning up in the atmosphere on re-entry.1512 launch

It is usual to think about what is revealed to us by light but Marek Kukula also wanted to show what can be revealed through shadow and darkness.  In Dark Frame, made by Woolfgang Tillmans while visiting the European Space Observatory in Chile, the image displayed on the screen is of the digital camera chip before an image is captured.

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It reveals the flaws and aberrations in the dark space of the camera itself. Darkness is not always as dark as we expect.

Galileo Galilei shocked 17th Century society when he pointed a telescope at the moon and made drawings of the shadows he observed. His drawings demonstrated that the moon was not the smooth and perfect celestial object set in the sky that people had believed.1512 galileoThe movement of the shadows showed a lumpy pitted surface rather like earth. Maybe we weren’t so special after all.

We still use darkness and shadow today to understand what the universe is like.1512 starWith ever more powerful telescopes we have been able to determine that all the visible stars in the universe have their own solar system. We know this because as a planet moves across a star the light dips by a tiny amount, enough to be registered. The shadow of the planet gives it away.

What he told us next I found quite hard to grasp and I keep thinking about how can this be true and what does it mean for us. Astronomers chose a tiny piece of sky that looked black with no stars in it – from earth it would be the size of a grain of sand.  They pointed the Hubble telescope at this piece of sky for 10 days. It cost £50,000 an hour to do this. It collected light for 10 days and this is what it saw….

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This tiny fragment of sky was full of galaxies. In extrapolation this means there are at least One Hundred Thousand Million galaxies in the observable universe.

The scale is beyond imagining yet in this image there is still blackness between the galaxies, this tells us something fundamental. If the universe was infinite and had been around for ever then every part of sky would be filled with stars – the image would be would be completely bright. So as there are still black parts we can deduce that the universe hasn’t been around forever and is not infinite. We understand that our universe hasn’t been around for ever from the big bang theory but does this prove there was nothing before?  Does this prove there is an  edge with nothing beyond? It is hard to grasp as the distances are so vast.  Would light from so far away have got here by now – was 10 days long enough to look?  I keep thinking about it.

In the image of all the galaxies we see some areas of distortion caused by gravitational lensing that is the clue to dark matter existing. How do we represent what we can’t see? Here dark matter is shaded in as a blue haze but it gives a false impression of what dark matter is.1512 blue dark matter

Scientists often colour space images using black and orange as the human eye is good at seeing detail in this combination. For the Planetarium Show Dark Universe at the Greenwich Observatory the American scientists decided to use a different colour scheme. Inverting the black sky to white and the dark matter to black the bright conglomerations of galaxies are shown nestling within filaments and tendrils of dark matter. 1512 dark matter

This new image gives a poetic insight into how our universe is bound together by unseen forces. Marek ended his talk quoting a poem by dark matter research astronomer Rebecca Elsen who died in 1999.

Let there Always be Light (Searching for Dark Matter)

For this we go out dark nights, searching
For the dimmest stars,
For signs of unseen things:

To weigh us down.
To stop the universe
From rushing on and on:

Into its own beyond
Till it exhausts itself and lies down cold,
Its last star going out.

Whatever they turn out to be,
Let there be swarms of them,
Enough for immortality,
Always a star where we can warm ourselves.

Let there be enough to bring it back
From its own edges,
To bring us all so close we ignite
The bright spark of resurrection.

Rebecca was hoping for a rebirth of the universe but it’s not what looks like will happen. Dark energy is causing the universe to expand at a faster and faster rate. Dark matter doesn’t look like it will be able to prevent it reaching a point of collapse.

Dark energy is not a force but it is having an effect.

How do we explain these phenomena of the universe when we do not have the words?  Physicist Werner Heisenburg replied – fortunately mathematics isn’t subject to this limitation. Marek Kukula concluded – Perhaps art is not subject to this limitation either?

It was good to see an exhibition of works entirely devoted to finding ways of expression for our experiences of the universe.
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Mahal de Man

Melanie King and Louise Beer not only collaborate as super/collider with Chris Hatherill but also run Lumen with Raymond Hemson  – an artists collective based in Bethnal Green that once a year heads up a residency in the small village of Atina, Italy away from light pollution that hides the stars from Londoners.

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Nettie Edwards

They aim to inspire a dialogue about how humanity understands existence in providing an opportunity for artists to encounter the night skies and make work in response to their experiences.

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Peiwen Li

Lumen iii LA LUCE DELLE STELLE at the Crypt Gallery, Kings Cross was the result of the last residency.

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Eva Rudlinger

Exhibiting artists: Naomi Avsec, Louise Beer, Molly Behagg, Samuel Brzeski, Alice Dunseath, Nettie Edwards, Jaden Hastings, Osheen Harruthoonyan, Raymond Hemson, Emilia Izquierdo, Elena Karakitsou, Melanie King, Claire Krouzecky, Peiwen Li, Mahal de Man, Yaz Norris, Lisa Pettibone, Marta Pinilla, Natasha Sabatini, Alice Serraino, Joshua Space, Eva Rudlinger, Sisetta Zappone, Qing Zhou

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Melanie King

I am hoping I have put the right name to the right work but I couldn’t quite get to grip with the map so apologies if I got any wrong.

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Sisetta Zappone

As I learnt at the Princes School of Traditional Arts looking for patterns in nature leads to geometry.

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Manifold Design ‘345 in RGB’

Manifold Design exhibiting at the 56th Venice Biennale are an architects studio that questions the relationship of physical materials and properties to conceptual constructions.

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Manifold Design ‘345 in RGB’

‘345 in RGB’ supposes a landscape composed of fundamental elements.

In the context of interconnectedness Eduardo Basualdo makes work that tests our understanding of material. Generating  elements that work together to reflect the way the universe  connects through opposing forces and results in a precarious act of balance. As in quantum physics we must look at the world differently.

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Eduardo Basualdo Grito

These quotes from Eduardo Basualdo about his work Grito are taken from an interview with Javier Villa

“The pieces shown in Venice are practical exercises to test strengths we humans have to interact with the material world and modify it. In this case the question was how to break an iron bar using pencil and paper, and where to do it…this happens, from my point of view, in the plane of the imagination”

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Eduardo Basualdo Grito

“The paper is an X­ray, it becomes a lens through which we view that metal and we see it as a different state of matter, as in a dimensional leap. The Biennial spoke of the possible futures and the actions that we may exert on matter, the violence on the material is a way you have of building your own future. Of nor depositing it either in the hands of religion, or of technology, or of politics.”

A piece from my series everydaymatters was selected to show in Space Between at The Stone Space, Leytonstone. This was a group show of work which inhabits the space between perceived reality and abstraction.

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Susan Eyre everydaymatters (palm SW4)

The gallery also hosted an afternoon of artist talks. A good chance to explain and exchange ideas.1512 Space Between

My interest in the origins of the idea of paradise and wondering what exactly I was looking at when I went out to photograph locations led me to the CERN website. From reading about the standard model and dark matter I discovered some amazing theories about what we can and can’t see. Now I have been reading about how electrons leap about exploring the entire universe in an instant on their journey. I have a lot of questions.