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Midsummer weekend at Allenheads Contemporary Arts. As always it was fantastic to be back in the North Pennines surrounded by the unique landscape and equally unique participating artists. Thank you to Helen Ratcliffe, Alan Smith and co-curator Rob La Frenais for creating such a stimulating event and inviting me to be part of it. Continuum contemplated shared futures and journeys; explorations of the unknown on a cosmological and human scale.

I was privileged to be given access to use the local Blacksmith’s Shop heritage site for Aóratos a site specific installation with fire and film.

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It is not impossible that wormholes exist in our universe.

To traverse space by means of a wormhole would require vast amounts of negative energy.

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Visitors were invited to burn offerings of negative energy to power a ‘wormhole’.

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Using specially prepared tokens visitors could write or draw messages to clear their subconscious of any negative or unwelcome thoughts.

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The offerings were burnt giving out blue and green flames in the forge fire releasing the absorbed negative energy to open the wormhole portal above.

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This turned out to be quite a personal and sometimes emotional experience for visitors who thought carefully about what they would send into the flames before ascending the stairs to enter the portal to the vortex and take the journey through the wormhole exiting at a different point to where they entered.

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Beyond the threshold hidden landscapes and alternative perspectives were revealed.

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It is hoped visitors left the wormhole video installation feeling cleansed and positively charged.

There was a wonderful enthusiastic crowd from Newcastle’s refugee community travelling with artist Henna Asikainen – ” Understanding what it means to be displaced from ones cultural, social and ecological environment and then to establish a home in another, which is fundamentally different, has been the basis for the emergence of my recent projects.”

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Henna shared a practice from her own Finnish culture through her participatory work Omens  – a divining practice from ancient times involving melting metal over an open fire and pouring it into cold water and then interpreting the resulting form. The interaction of metal and water being symbolic of different cultures coming together, making new forms, interpreting the outcomes together, and by sharing these hopes & fears, generating a dialogue about our common futures.

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Annie Carpenter and Alan Smith collaborated on Salvaged Alignment a sculpture activated by the sun at the exact moment of the solstice.

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Annie was also showing Perpetual Apogee  a sculpture referencing Victorian kinetic models of the solar system embracing inaccuracies inherent in such scientific modeling.

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Alan Smith was screening his film 2052 looking at the everyday 33 years from now.

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In the gallery Robert Good presented A New Atlas of the Sublime, a series of panels dissecting the hierarchies and subtleties of language used when attempting to describe the power of a sublime experience.

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Nicola Ellis, referencing algorithms and scientific technologies used in social media, gave visitors an uncanny experience in Watch Yourself Watch Yourself

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Sarah Fortais performing Voyager in her DIY spacesuit arrived from afar, by public transport, to explore the local neighbourhood of Allenheads through the eyes of an alien with accompanying space dog Maddy.

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Great to meet up with Pippa Goldschmidt again and hear more readings from her short stories inspired by past roles as astronomer and civil servant on The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space.

 

Tracey Warr and Rob La Frenais Writing The Future workshop posted story portals around the village for visitors to discover.

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Much celebration at the launch of Lucien Anderson’s Humble Telescope on the cosmic pond. Come the dark skies of Allenheads, lay back and gaze up through the portal from a watery bed.

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As the solstice sun dipped John Bowers, Tim Shaw, Rob Blazey, Malcolm Conchie and Alan Smith began the annual Midsummer Night’s Drone that continued through to sunrise.

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Aóratos imagery took reference from theories of cosmic strings, space foam and the idea of a web of tiny wormholes connecting all points in space. Video was captured by putting an endoscope down rabbit holes looking for hidden root systems and a microscope was pushed into fibres and foam. The bare branches of trees reflect the branching decay of cosmic particles as they hit the atmosphere and break up.

Space travelers are subject to high levels of radiation from cosmic ray activity outside the protective magnetic field and atmosphere of Earth. As part of this project I worked with students Sena Harayama, Romain Clement De Givry and Medad Newman from Imperial College Space Society supervised by senior lecturer in spacecraft engineering Dr Aaron Knoll in an attempt to launch a cloud chamber in the payload of a high altitude balloon to view this activity.

The students had put a lot of effort into building a cloud chamber suitable to launch over 30km high into subzero temperatures with little air pressure.

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The final launch date pre-booked with the Civil Aviation Authority was upon us and so with just three days notice the team decided it must go ahead ready or not. Unfortunately the chamber had not been tested to see if it functioned on earth and during final assembly on the evening before the launch the chamber shattered.  Disappointed, the students worked into the night to make a substitute chamber.

I had been charged with making a connector out of garden hose, plumbers waste pipe, foam and sealant to pass helium from narrow cylinder pipe to wide mouth of balloon.

The launch took place on disused Oakley airfield kindly permitted by landowner Tom Baxter.

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The balloon reached an altitude of over 37 km and the payload was successfully recovered from a field of horses near Silverstone after an exciting car chase.

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During the violent launch the camera inside the payload to capture activity in the cloud chamber was knocked aside.

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All we have is a short clip before darkness descends and the experiment becomes part of that which is unseen.
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Risograph leaflet for visitors to the wormhole installation, expertly printed by Elliott Denny.

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In the Studio

Put The Forms (aluminium etched with dark matter visualisations) up for Open Studios at Thames-side Studios annual event which was buzzing this year with lots of workshops and activities and a festival feel flurry of food stalls.

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Meanwhile I was creating vibrant chemical landscapes ready to be encapsulated in screen printed tokens for the burning ritual to power the wormhole.

 

Out of the Studio

Carol Wyss hoping for rain to activate her enigmatic steel plates and reveal the codes within the bones in Coming Good: Come Hell or High Water an exhibition in St Johns Churchyard as part of Transforming Being Waterloo Festival.

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Insatiable Mind exhibition opened at Salisbury Arts Centre with space inspired food and a heartfelt speech from visual arts and exhibitions manager Mirka Golden-Hann who writes in the accompanying catalogue;

“I was driven by the overarching urge which is innate to humanity. The urge to break away, the urge to explore, the urge which would force a human to construct a spaceship and the urge of another human to step into it in order to walk on the Moon: the same compulsion behind the collective force to bring down the Berlin Wall and with it the Iron Curtain. It was the power of human curiosity and the dissatisfaction with the familiar that provided the basis for this exhibition.”

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The installation of my suspended sculpture Pentacoronae was surprisingly smooth considering the height of the supporting beams.

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There was a great team to help and although one or two anxious moments when hooks came away from loops it went up very well.

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This work was made to highlight the importance and need to preserve dark sky areas. As powerful technology opens new areas of the universe to our view, generating imagery we could never see with our naked eyes, we are drawn to experience space via mediated technologies. Our ancestors mapped the stars and drew shapes across the darkness which became familiar anchors for navigation, described mythological characters and foretold fortunes. Through this work the viewer is encouraged to seek darkness, stargaze, wonder, and map their own stories across the sky.

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I also had two concertina books installed in the gallery cabinet.

Making these books turned out to be quite a fiddly process.

For the book Unbound I used images from my cloud chamber printed on transparencies cut into pentagons. Cosmic Rays know no boundaries as they pass through us all the time. The twelve pentagons form a dodecahedron, the solid described by Plato as ‘the fifth construction, which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven.’

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In/Out expresses the energy and randomness of quantum fluctuation as particles pop in-and-out of existence in empty space. At this tiny scale the universe is mysterious and unpredictable.

I has thought I would draw the energy fields in white china-graph pencil but it turned out graphite looked much better

The bright spheres are four colour separation screen prints and act as a series of portals to alternative perspectives.

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It was great to meet some of the other artists in the show whose work was really interesting and beautiful.

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Eunmi Mimi Kim Me Time video installation which uses her own sensitivity to sensory overload to explore sensory deprivation and isolation.

 

 

Katayoun Dowlatshahi  presented work form her series Orbit looking at the former cold war secret rocket testing site West High Down on the Isle of Wight.

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Oksana Chepelyk Collider immersive film screening in the theatre. Throwing significant moments in history into the collider to see what future particles get thrown out.

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I have been meeting up with students Sena Harayama, Romain Clement De Givry and Medad Newman from Imperial College Space Society.

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Supervised by senior lecturer in spacecraft engineering Dr Aaron Knoll they are building a cloud chamber to withstand a journey to the edge of the atmosphere in the payload of a high-altitude balloon. The chamber must be able to withstand the low pressure at high altitude which might make it break apart.

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There needs to be a heat pad controlled by an Arduino processor to keep the batteries running to power the tracking device and cameras and maintain a suitable environment in the chamber to allow alcohol vapour to fall and create a cloud.

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A cloud chamber enables us to see ionising trails made by radioactive and charged particles. Cosmic particles continuously collide violently with the Earth’s atmosphere then break up and shower down upon us.

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Keeping the weight of components down is vital. The payload must not be over 2kg.

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We are hoping to capture cosmic ray activity on video as well as a view of Earth’s atmosphere as it blends from blue into the darkness of space. This footage will become part of the video installation I am creating for Continuum midsummer weekend at Allenheads Contemporary Arts.

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This new work Aóratos will be installed at Allenheads Blacksmith’s Forge.

Black holes were once thought to be pure science fiction but in recent decades scientists have discovered that these extraordinary objects exist throughout our universe in all shapes and sizes and this year astoundingly have even produced an image of one.

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Einstein’s theory of general relativity written in 1915 predicted the existence of black holes and is also consistent with the possibility of gravitational tunnels known as wormholes. It could be that there is a hidden web of planck scale wormholes linking all points in space. Theoretically, threaded through these tiny holes would be filaments of cosmic strings created in the primitive goo of early matter and flung across space when the universe burst into existence.

However, to traverse space by means of a wormhole would require vast amounts of negative energy, not something usually found on Earth yet in the current political climate in no short supply.

Making use of the Blacksmith’s hearth visitors will be invited to burn offerings of negative energy to power a ‘wormhole’.

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Special paper will be provided for people to write, draw or furiously scribble their own symbols of negative energy. These offerings will be burnt in the forge hearth releasing any pent-up negative energy to power the wormhole portal above.

I have been experimenting with chemicals to make the paper.

Really pleased with the results.

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It’s fine. I am sealing the chemicals inside two sheets of paper so no skin contact for visitors.

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In my search to discover how to make coloured fire I did make a visit to Davenports magic shop in a very unprepossessing but not uninhabited pedestrian subway. A dismal setting for a dismal shop where I got no help at all. Felt an absolute muggle.

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The risks and obstacles of entering a wormhole include creating enough negative energy to open the wormhole mouth wide enough to weaken the gravitational tidal forces which would rip travellers apart; keeping it from collapsing so travellers are not indefinitely trapped inside; exceeding the speed of light and avoiding incineration from deadly high radiation.

On Earth we are protected from radioactive particles by the atmosphere and the magnetic field.

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Aóratos translates as ‘unseen’. The videos in the installation will look at hidden landscapes and usually unseen perspectives. For research I have been exploring rabbit holes, bee holes, mice holes and abandoned tunnels with my endoscope camera.
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A fascinating dark world of root webs and filaments interconnecting tunnels.

 

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The reading group is persevering with Geoffrey West’s Scale despite the woolly editing and rambling digressions it does hold some interesting facts. I liked the section about turbulence. Fluid motion is chaotic and objects moving through water or air are subject to very different outcomes at different scales. Froude introduced a scaling methodology used in industry that has become increasingly sophisticated. Lord Raleigh emphasized the primary role of the ‘dimensionless’ number in scaling. This is a pure number such as pi which does not change depending on which unit of measurement is used, the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter is always the same. “Pi embodies the universal quality of ‘circleness'”

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Visited the impressive sphere Gaia by Luke Jerram in Salisbury Cathedral as part of Salisbury International Arts Festival. Stunning architecture.

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Extraordinary that this majestic building piercing the sky has the most shallow of foundations and unless they keep a regular check on the water level through a little door in the floor the weight of the spire would not only bend the supporting columns but might tumble down.

I was excited to find a dodecahedron at the pinnacle amongst platonic solids topping an elaborate tomb.

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Also the oldest working clock was fascinating to see

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“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”

― St. Augustine of Hippo

A happy return to Allenheads Contemporary Arts for Continuum research.

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It is a place which pulls you in like gravity or a magnetic field. It would be no surprise to find a wormhole portal here.

Joined by Annie Carpenter, Nicola Ellis and Robert Good we spent the time reading, walking, thinking and sharing ideas.

“The miners did not find the riches they hoped for and the tunnel never reached its destination…”

Theoretically it is possible that wormholes exist. Every point in spacetime could be connected by a hidden web of tiny wormholes left over from the beginning when the universe was turbulent and unformed. Should they be discovered, to open them and pass through would require a colossal amount of negative energy which we are unable to create with current technology. However, there is a lot of metaphysical negative energy around at the moment so maybe this could be used to power a wormhole.

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The Allenheads Blacksmith’s Forge seems a good place to open a wormhole portal. It is a place of high energy collisions and hot fusion.

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It is also home to a collection of local rocks and crystals which must surely offer some negative energy cleansing properties. For research imagery my glass sphere encapsulates and condenses its surroundings. If the image is made to spin fractals begin to appear.

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I also captured the landscape at speed as travel through the wormhole would exceed the speed of light.

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I probed the depths of rabbit holes with an endoscope camera and discovered alien landscapes and the hidden web of the interconnected root system.

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We made a site visit to Newcastle University to view the space that Allenheads Contemporary Arts will performatively occupy during The Late Shows

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As the project Continuum focuses on ideas around speculative fiction the newly installed Museum of Classic Sci-Fi in Allendale made an interesting day out with an impressive collection of artefacts and information.

Plasmaton:”ramdomly formed blobs of protein, wrought into being ‘psychokinetically’ …”

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The Cosmic Sublime exhibition presented by Lumen Studios opened at The Pie Factory in Margate. The concept of the sublime has long been associated to both fields of astronomy. Derived from the Latin “sublimis”, the sublime is translated as “set or raised aloft, high up”- etymologically the word “sublime” is very much linked to the space above our planet and to what may inhabit it.

I was pleased to show the video Soft Borders made with dance artist Paola Napolitano.

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The video speculates on the idea of a universe that is a finite shape but has no borders. If we were able to exit at one point we would immediately re-enter at another point. It also considers our body in a similar way with open borders for the unseen passage of cosmic rays and other particles.

Thanks to artist Rosie Reed Gold for some great photos of the show.

My wonderful optician John Rose spent some time scanning my iris for me.

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This is for work I am planning looking at the possibility that we retain some residual magnetoreceptor in our eyes that once enabled us to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. And other ideas.

In 2019 the Lizard is celebrating the 400 year anniversary of Sir John Killigrew’s building of the first lighthouse on Lizard Point in 1619. The lighthouse also has important links to the search for reliable Longitude measurement, with an assistant to the astronomer royal visiting the lighthouse at the time of the first Transit of Venus to record an accurate location for the Lizard Rocks.

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Following on from the Lizard Point Residency I have made a mock up to test the Fresnel lens projection work. A film exploring entanglement and communication across distances will be back projected onto the lens.

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Joined by Anne Krinsky and Carol Wyss, we made another site visit to St. Augustine’s Tower in Hackney and made some decisions about who would install where for our upcoming group show which will be titled Reading Stones.

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Reading Stones were the original tool for magnifying text, first made from polished glass or crystal in the 13th Century – the same era the tower was built.

I will be installing in the room that houses the clock mechanism. It is a wonderful animated machine. On the way home reading Carlo Ravelli’s book The Order of Time I came to the passages quoting from St. Augustine.

“It is within my mind then, that I measure time. I must not allow my mind to insist that time is something objective. When I measure time, I am measuring something in the present of my mind. Either this is time, or I have no idea what time is.”

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The British Library have released some excellent scans from their archives for free use.

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While in Suffolk visiting family I made a detour to Dunwich and found the tide clock has become redundant.

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Time and Tide wait for no man. The earliest known record is from St. Marher,  1225: “And te tide and te time þat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet.”

In my present, the ruins of Greyfriars Monastery at Dunwich where large chunks of the coastline have fallen into the sea.

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The last gravestone standing as the land crumbles

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In the studio –  Sugar lift for work looking at cycles and forces

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Copper sulphate etching

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Four colour separation screen-print

I made two pieces – one delicate etch, one fierce

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This is an amalgamation of images from the ruined Waverley Abbey and St. James Church Weybridge – not ruined in my present. Sanctified spaces drawing people to them who seek transformation. All matter becomes regenerated.

Out of  the studio…

Another Land at Kingston Museum, a showcase of experimental visualisations of place to draw links between creative practice and anthropology, archaeology, architecture and geography.

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Victoria Ahrens Lleva y Trae (2019) Exploring notions of the politics of place, resistance and ruin looking at the spaces between what we know and what we think we know about the world

 

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Matthew Flintham Nuclear Airspace  – The radial danger areas surrounding active nuclear power plants in the UK.

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I liked the collection of remote controls –  accidental installation

 

 

 

Anamorphic Waves at Ugly Duck.

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An exhibition exploring how digital interfaces and technological tools are reshaping our personal, professional and ecological relationships, and how they have modified our view of love, sexuality and gender.

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I liked this work looking at big data. I was intrigued how the multiple projections were installed, baffling as only two projectors in the room and neither seemed to be pointing in the right direction.

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Mesmerising images from Stuart Faromarz Batchelor who explained some of his methods working with oil paint and coding algorithms which respond to the brush strokes via a camera link at the latest Flux Social Event.

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Visceral and beautiful work at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, the exhibition presents a dialogue between oil paintings by Francis Bacon and Morphia, a series of works on paper by Ellen Gallagher.

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Great installation looking at the moon from an earthbound perspective from Shaney Barton. Anomalous Mass is showing at Allenheads Contemporary Arts Gallery as part of the Continuum series of events. Multiple screens show footage captured of the moon over a ten-month period with found dialogues on recent moon histories and projected near futures of the moon race and plans for human colonisation.

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Wonderful poetic visons, some realised some imaginary from Katie Paterson at Turner Contemporary with A place that exists only in moonlight.

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Like Paterson, JMW Turner was fascinated by the sublime wonder of nature, capturing the changing and atmospheric qualities of light, air and weather in his paintings, while also being deeply curious about science and the physical world. Paterson has selected a group of over 20 Turner watercolours and paintings to be interspersed with her works.

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Also on display were some of Caroline Herschel’s notebooks describing her extraordinary astronomical discoveries of comets made by patient observation.

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Great to be able to see the screening of Sarah Sparkes film Time You Need and her GHost Tunnel installation in The GHost Parlour at New Art Projects. The GHost Tunnel references portals, black holes and equates time travel with death as another dimension that we may enter.

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The film gently leads the viewer on a journey beyond the physical and explores the potential for consciousness to time-travel within the material limits of the human body.

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Sensory overload on the Lizard Point Artist Residency hosted by Mayes Creative and Lumen London. Serpentine rocks, wide horizons, sparkling sea, dark starry skies swept by the dazzling beam of Lizard Lighthouse.

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We are here to research the communication heritage of this dramatic coastline once plagued by shipwrecks and pirates.

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Rachel Holder from the National Trust guided us along the cliff path and told stories of the treacherous seas and lives lost on the hidden rocks. We heard about the history of Lizard Lighthouse and other methods of communication across distances.

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We visited Marconi’s radio station hut which was full of wonderful scientific equipment like spark transmitters and Morse code machines. In the early 1890s, Marconi began working on the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires. An early experiment was a storm alarm made up of a battery, a coherer (an early form of radio detector consisting of a glass tube loosely filled with metal filings whose bulk electrical resistance decreased in the presence of radio waves), and an electric bell, which went off when it picked up the radio waves generated by lightning.

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The message ‘WE ARE ONE’ was filmed on 29th March {non} Brexit Day signing with entanglement semaphore flags across the ocean

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The plan is to make a film exploring communication across distances, relating it to entanglement theory where two paired electrons mirror each other. This will then be back projected onto a frosted Fresnel lens as used by lighthouses.

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Joanna Mayes gave us a warm welcome to Cornwall on arrival as we witnessed the molten sun colour the whole sky before dropping out of sight.

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Sitting in the receding warm glow of the sunset we listened to the electromagnetic musical collaboration between sound artist Justin Wiggan and some house plants.

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The meteor viewing pod created by artists Andrew Bird and Christina Romero-Cross was installed in the YHA grounds where a series of Deep Time films commissioned by Mayes Creative were screened with the sequence to be controlled by a cosmic ray detector.

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Two Geiger counters with lead between them identify those particles coming from outer space.

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Astroarchaeologist Carolyn Kennett led us along a section of the Southwest Coast Path from Ruan Minor to Cadgwith via Poltesco Old Serpentine Works.

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Carleon Cove is full of Kennack gneiss, giant pebbles of pale pink granite and dark grey basalt banded together during enormous geological upheavals as the Lizard was thrust northwards and the melted rocks were fused together.

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Constant swirling sea sculpting

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organic micro rock constellations

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The Sky Disc of Nebra is a Bronze-age astronomical disc possibly used to determine the seasons for sowing and harvesting in the Halle area of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is the oldest depiction of the cosmos yet known from anywhere in the world. It was discovered in 1999 by metal detectorists working illegally who sold it onto the black market where  it was later recovered in a police sting operation. Analysis shows the gold and tin used in the disk were from the Carnon Valley in Cornwall. Evidence of ancient links between communities.

Digital StillCamera

Workshops during the residency included looking at found matter under the microscope

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A Chemigram workshop which involves painting various resist materials such as toothpaste, suncream and honey onto photographic paper before exposing to sunlight, fixing and developing.


Astrophotography; learning the camera settings to use to capture the extraordinarily starry night sky we were fortunate to experience. This shot was using bulb mode, focus infinity, 2.8 aperture, 3200 ISO, 30 sec exposure.

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We did have to try and escape the sweeping beam of the Lizard Lighthouse but for some shots the added exposure gave some interesting results.

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On the trip down to join the art and science Lizard Point artist residency we found ourselves serendipitously having a delicious afternoon tea at The Cornubian Arts & Science Trust (CAST)

The original Science and Art School was built in 1897 by Cornish philanthropist John Passmore Edwards at the request of local people.

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The disperse papers left over from making the entanglement semaphore flags have good wormhole portal potential

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Two great resources discovered:

Design Me print studio where I have tracked down a large format heat press available for open access.

Fat Llama a rental resource for practically anything and everything.

I rented an EF 100 f2.8 USM macro lens and set up a mini green screen in the studio. Apparently black tourmaline is good at cleansing negative energy so I sourced a pendant to use to create a hypnotic state of relaxation encouraging the release of negative energy to power the transformation wormhole. Have changed the chain to leather thong.

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Not sure what the backdrop will be yet. Also tested the movement of iron filings against the green screen.

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I made a frozen ice disk and tested back projecting particle trails onto it. This was tricky to film as rather slippy but I can see this could be a good effect showing the detail in the ice.

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Cosmic rays stain icey asteroids red.

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Tested filming the cloud chamber with the macro lens and although the depth of field maybe better because it’s such a small area in the viewfinder I didn’t capture many trails.

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I’m not sure the result was better.

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Got some good air turbulence though

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The plan here was to have dry ice vapour coming through the perforations

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I made a site visit in heavy rain to Salisbury Arts Centre

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I will be installing Pentacoronae hanging sculpture for the Insatiable Mind exhibition as part of Salisbury International Festival.

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It was great to meet everyone and hear about their ambitions for the space. Being an old Church the ceilings are very high. It’s going to be a challenge but they do have their own cherrypicker.

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In preparation for the launch of the high altitude balloon with a cloud chamber in the payload students from Imperial College Space Society experimented with the mini DIY Cloud Chamber kits I provided.

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They are testing outcomes to design a prototype chamber that can withstand low pressure at high altitude, also they must ensure the base plate is kept extremely cold to create the supersaturated environment but any batteries onboard are kept warm enough to function and that turbulence doesn’t cause a whirlpool effect in the cloud.

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It looks like we might be launching from an airfield near Oxford.

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The New Materialisms Reading Group I attend are currently reading Scale. Geoffrey West’s research centres on a quest to find unifying principles and patterns connecting everything, from cells and ecosystems to cities, social networks and businesses. Full of interesting facts about heartbeats and energy, lifespans and growth cycles.

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It has been alarming to read about the terrifying unpredictable phenomenon of exponential growth. At the beginning growth is slow, but this soon accelerates to such a rate that it becomes out of control, unstoppable and then collapses under its own weight.

I am also still trying to understand entropy as explained by Carlo Rovelli in The Order of Time. So, the universe began with low entropy and it has been increasing ever since, the past leaves traces in the present caused by the irreversible process of energy degrading into heat from which our brains create extensive maps of past events and this is what gives us the sensation of time passing.

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Out of Studio

A packed gallery for Ray Richardson‘s entertaining talk and screening of award winning Our Side of the Water at Thames-side Studios shows how much he is held in our mutual esteem.

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Fun night with Andy Holden at The Cinema Museum.

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Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape uses live green screen filming allowing the narrator to interact with clips from hundreds of cartoons. The film proposes the world is best understood as a cartoon through examining the formation of ‘laws’ within cartoons as a way of making sense of the world we inhabit, a space where anything could potentially happen.

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I joined some students from Imperial College Space Society and other High Altitude Balloon enthusiasts at Wormwood Scrubs for the launch of a couple of Pico balloons that they are testing tracking with the aim of making a complete circuit of Earth.

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Anxious moments as the balloon barely gains height but soon it has vanished from sight

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The next couple of hours are spent listening in for the tracker system transmissions which can drop in and out of range; travelling at something like 60metres/second both balloons made it to Belgium before the transmissions ceased.

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Work resulting from an unexpected encounter that demands attention in By The Way at Lewisham Art House had some ephemeral photopolymer etchings of found seashore plastic by Sam Hodge.

1903 Sam Hodge.jpg

I also liked this work by Mark Sowden who photographed found frames and then mounts the resulting image in the frame.

1903 Mark Sowden.jpg

Great show Undertow at Sluice HQ. When prevailing discourses tip towards hyperbole, generalisations or simplification, there is a need to swim against the current, to carve out a space that allows for ambiguity, correspondence and a quieter voice. In the employment of few words, a scale of action or use of minimal materials, understatement can be both a way of confronting moments of crisis, or of evading them.

Alex Simpson Scratching the surface    /    Lauren Ilsley Fluvial Additions

 

Time Tries All Things video installation at the Institute of Physics by Grace Weir explored time and our human relationship with it.

1903 Grace Weir Time Tries All Things

Two narrators consider time from different perspectives against the backdrop of a stone carver replicating a plaque, repeating time.

DAVID:
I think when people talk about time they often confuse two sorts of thing.
There is time itself and there is what’s called the arrow of time, which is
direction, and its perceived nature as a human being.

FAY:
Being or becoming is an ancient question.
Ever since we have records of people thinking about the world, in ancient
Greek philosophy for example, there have been people on both sides of
this debate.

The complete audio transcript is available here.

There is a very impressive diffusion Cloud Chamber in the foyer at The Institute of Physics. Lots of activity but it was hard to see the particle trails clearly through all the reflections. 1903 Diffusion cloud chamber

They also have a cosmic ray detector on the roof which has scintillator plates containing molecules of a substance which emit a tiny flash of light when they are hit by a high-energy particle.

1903 scintillating sea.JPG

 

The latest ACA Project Continuum  is launched and I am looking forward to contributing to the programme with some new work exploring the activity of cosmic rays at the edge of the earths atmosphere. I have had two productive meetings with the Imperial College Space Society and the project to launch a high altitude balloon with a cloud chamber in the payload is underway. The first tasks are to make contact with the Civil Aviation Authority ahead of requesting flight permissions and researching how to safely transport helium to the prospective launch site.

1902 DIY mini cloud chamber

The team have been issued with their own mini cloud chamber kit to test and use as a basis for designing the prototype for launch which must be able to function in low air pressure and turbulence.

There was a fantastic turnout to Culture Lab. Newcastle University for the first Continuum event in an inspiring season of art, science and speculative fiction taking place at Allenheads, Hexham and Newcastle. So happy to be involved in this new project.

1902 Continuum Launch

We heard from Minna Långström about her latest film The Other Side of Mars and her installation Photons from Mars which explore how we see Mars through the mediated eyes of technology.

1902 Continuum launch Minna Langstrom

Robert Good analysed what happens at the intersection of art and science, concluding that insight comes from multiple perspectives working together.

1902 Continuum Launch Robert Good

Pippa Goldschmidt read from her texts The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space and Falling Sky highlighting the emotional and lived experience of the scientists who square up to the big questions in astronomy. She has fascinating first hand knowledge of the political sensitivities surrounding studying the stars when visiting observatories such as in the Chilean Atacama Desert when the nation is undergoing a military coup.

1902 The Falling Sky - Pippa Goldschmidt

Chris Welch professor of space engineering from The International Space University gave a lively account of Space Travel. Fact and Fiction; current technology, theoretical technology and science fiction technology. Sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the other.

1902 Continuum Launch Chris Welch

He also kindly allowed us to handle a mini rocket smuggled in from Strasbourg

1902 Continuum Launch mini rocket

The artist Nahum relayed a beautiful story of the moon landings from the moon’s perspective written by an 11 year old refugee girl and punctuated by real magic. This originated from his work giving refugee children a sense of belonging by imagining looking back at earth from space to see that we are all human on one tiny planet. In other work aiming to democratise space travel he hypnotised his audience in order to prompt false memories of visiting the moon into their minds.

1902 Continuum Launch Nahum assited by Minna Langstrom

John Bowers and Tim Shaw ended the evening with mesmeric visualisation and acoustics extrapolated from electromagnetic waves generated by meteors, minerals and mystical phenomenon.

1902 Continuum Launch John Bowers

It was a quick visit to Allenheads this time but Annie Carpenter, Nicola Ellis, Robert Good and myself can look forward to an upcoming week of research and stories around the fire as a prelude to making new work for the project.

1806 fire

Delighted that my work Pentacoronae has been selected for the exhibition Insatiable Mind which is part of the Salisbury International Arts Festival 2019. The festival will highlight the anniversaries of the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Moon Landing of 1969. The exhibition seeks to convey the notion of leaving behind the comforts of the familiar in order to discover the unknown.

Pentacoronae encourages the viewer to seek darkness, stargaze, wonder and map their own stories across the sky.

1902 Pentacoronae photo John Hooper

Maybe I should take my cloud chamber with me to Salisbury just to make sure that clean up of radioactive material was as successful as they claim.

1711 cosmic trail

More exciting news is that Carol Wyss, Anne Krinsky and myself have been awarded a two week takeover of Hackney’s oldest building, St. Augustine’s Tower.

1902 St Augustines Tower 2

The tower is the last remains of the original church built in the late 13th century.

1902 St Augustines Tower 1

Our proposal is for an exhibition of site-specific new works made in response to St. Augustine’s Tower and the historic role of spires as a symbolic connection between earth, mortals and the heavens.

1902 St Augustines Tower

There are four floors connected by a narrow stone spiral staircase.

1902 St Augustines Tower roof

It has an amazing clock dating from about 1580; the pendulum case is on the first floor, the clock on the second and the bell on the third floor.

1902 St Augustines Tower 3

Drawing on our individual interests in geology (Anne Krinsky), anatomy (Carol Wyss) and cosmology (Susan Eyre) we will curate the exhibition with the intent of sparking a dialogue between works installed to convey a cohesive exploration of materiality, the passage of time and wider philosophical issues evoked by these relationships.

1902 St Augustines Tower graveyard

 

The New Materialisms Reading group I attend have been reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It is extraordinary to discover how trees communicate and consider the slow time at which they operate and the age and extent of the largest known living organism, the fungi web. I also have a whole new raft of guilt to contend with.

1902 branch partile decay.jpg

I am also out collecting images of bare branches that resonate with the idea of particle decay.

1901 Cosmic ray decay

1902 disperse prep

In the studio painting ‘entanglement’ in disperse inks to heat press for the semaphore flags ready for the Lizard Point Residency. Semaphore = information at a distance, entanglement = spooky action at a distance (according to Einstein)

 

 

 

 

Out of the Studio….

Called at SPACE to see Anna Chrystal Stephens’ show Anorak. A derogatory term for an obsessive but maybe it’s a necessary trait if you are to survive in alternative social possibilities. Either that or develop superpowers.

1902 Anna Chrystal Stephens

I joined Robert Good at the opening of Word Bank of Lost Dialects at The Word National Centre for the Written Word, South Tyneside. Word Bank of Lost Dialects created by Jane Glennie and Robert Good is a fascinating documentation of the thousands of North East dialect words donated by visitors to The Word’s original Lost Dialects exhibition.

Also opening at The Word was Cracked! Secret Codes and Communication, with a very useful semaphore flag chart – just what I needed for the work I am planning for the upcoming Lizard Point Residency. In 2019 the Lizard is celebrating the 400 year anniversary of Sir John Killigrew’s building of the first lighthouse on Lizard Point in 1619. The subsequent lighthouse also has important links to the search for reliable Longitude measurement, with an assistant to the astronomer royal visiting the lighthouse at the time of the first Transit of Venus to record an accurate location for the Lizard Rocks. The world famous Goonhilly also celebrates the 50 year anniversary of their transmission of the first lunar landings. We will also be visiting wireless and semaphore stations along the Lizard coastal path, considering the Scilly Isles 30 miles out to sea and the important prehistoric menhirs offering ‘beacons’ for travel & procession across the land.

1902 Cracking Codes (1).jpg

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at The British Library was full of ancient treasures from the Library’s own collection, including the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, the Domesday Book and Codex Amiatinus, a giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716, returning to England for the first time in 1300 years. A surprising number of books in flourishing scripts, illuminated, illustrated and bound in sculpted covers. However I found it very frustrating to be presented with so many undecipherable pages and envied those muttering in Latin or Old English who could gain some insight. More translations please. Possibly you had to buy the catalogue to learn more.

1902 Marvels-of-the-East-from-a-collection-of-geographical-astronomical-and-other-texts_credit-British-Library-.jpg

Inspired by the legend of How Raven Stole the Sun and brought light to the world Joana Escoval’s  The Sun Lovers at Tenderpixel dazzled with an overload of fluorescent tubes.

1902 Joana Escoval 2

Especially blinding when visiting at the twilight hour. The story and further daydreams  were reduced to minimalist gestures in gold wire, feathers and blasted rock.

To celebrate Chinese New Year of the pig the mass underground car park takeover Four legs good, two legs bad (a quote from George Orwell’s prescient 1945 book Animal Farm)was heavily porcine in theme with a weirdly anarchic yet delineated curation. Pick of the show was Carol Wyss and Anne Leigniel.

Some interesting work in Critical Matter at the reduced RCA Dyson Gallery from Rosanna Dean, Victoria Mihatovic, Susie Olczak and Samuel Padfield. Looking at the very current theme of entanglement of materials in the web of life in reference to the philosophy of  Henri Bergson who wrote Matter and Memory in 1896 which argued against memory as a purely physical embodiment.

Flux Social presenters this month were Adam John Williams // a.k.a Chemical Adam, Adeline Rozario from Tinderdust, and Sofi Lee-Henson. Another interesting evening and good to talk to Adam about his use of the cloud chamber to translate the randomness of radioactive decay into music.

I joined Walking as Material led by Lily German who took us through the city down to the shores of the Thames and up onto the walkways and bridges, stopping to look at the fabric of London and consider its past and the changing materials that make up its surfaces. Also the amount of sewage that must be dealt with.

1902 mattering walk bridge pillars1902 mattering walk steps down1902 mattering walk chains1902 mattering walk wall1902 mattering walk london stone

We ended the walk at Matter(ing), an exhibition investigating ides of materiality and the outcome of enabling materials to drive the creation of work at Platform Southwark from artists Abigail Brothers, Lily German and Sebastian Sochan.

Enjoyed the connections made by Zach Blas in his performance lecture Metric Mysticism at Edel Assanti. Tracing the use of the crystal ball from John Dee via Derek Jarman, David Bowie’s Labyrinth, Lord of the Rings, Saudi Arabia’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology to Palantir Technologies, a private American software company that specializes in big data analytics. Prophecies of a society controlled by the media and the police appear fulfilled.

1902 Zach Blas metric mystics

Treated to a personal private view of Draft at The Hospital Club by Mary Yacoob. Strong work held it’s own amongst the plush velvet sofas and hand embellished wallpaper.

1902 Mary Yacoob

 

Work in progress experimenting with ideas for some new video pieces that will develop from my collaboration with the high altitude balloon student society at Imperial College London and participation in the Continuum residency at Allenheads Contemporary Arts.

We will be attempting to launch a cloud chamber into space and film the outcome. 1803 filming cloud chamber (1)

 

It will be interesting to see how much cosmic ray activity we can record at high altitude. This is where protons emitted from the sun or distant galaxies crash into the Earth’s atmosphere and break apart.

1901 Cosmic ray decay.jpg

There may be other methods of recording we can try such as stacked layers of very thin plastic sheet which are ionised as the particle passes through and can later be etched to show the resulting track.

On Earth we are also protected from cosmic rays (which are high energy radiation) by the Earth’s magnetic field which is caused by the spinning molten iron core setting up convection currents in a geodynamo process.

1901 gyroscope

I am exploring magnetism and its powers. To be drawn to some powerful source. To fall into a black hole. I am trying ideas of a portal that offers transformation. This is also about returning to Allenheads, being drawn back. A black hole transforms matter, a wormhole deals with exotic matter.

 

Theoretically, to pass through a wormhole you need negative energy.

‘Negative energy is a concept used in physics to explain the nature of certain fields, including the gravitational field and various quantum field effects. In more speculative theories, negative energy is involved in wormholes which may allow for time travel and warp drives for faster-than-light space travel.’

So a portal that transports or transforms you (matter) could channel any ‘negative energy’ present and this could be dissipated by using black tourmaline which is supposed to clear negative energy. This could be the fuel to ignite the process.

I have a obtained a small two way mirror to test for the portal interface so the viewer can witness their own transformation.

1901 two way mirror

This could involve the vital fluids of Animal Magnetism or suggestion therapy of Mesmerism/ Hypnotism.

1901 iron filing tests (3)

 

Magnetoreception is the detection of a magnetic field by an organism. We have a protein (a crytochrome) in the human eye which could serve this function of navigation.

1604 vision

How can we be equipped for physical or subconscious navigation/transformation?

I will be looking at tracking the electromagnetic field, sending messages and reading codes for new work to be made responding to this years incredible communications double anniversary, for Lizard Lighthouse (400 years) and Goonhilly Earth Station (50 years: transmission of the first lunar landings). I am excited to have been offered a place on the Lizard Point Residency run in partnership with Mayes Creative, Lumen London and the National Trust.  We will be visiting wireless and semaphore stations along the Lizard coastal path, considering the Scilly Isles 30 miles out to sea and the important prehistoric menhirs offering ‘beacons’ for travel & procession across the land.

I have a lovely frosted glass Fresnel lens (as used in lighthouses) to experiment with.

1901 fresnel lens

 

With the prospect of using more technology in my work I spent an intense weekend with Aphra Shemza and Jamie Howard at Ugly Duck learning a quick guide to interactive light art. Had a chance to program an Arduino, solder it to a PCB and connect up individually programmable LED’s to respond to sound with variable colour and brightness. Also first time soldering which was very satisfying.

Not sure how I will cope when I start my own project but at least I know what an Arduino looks like now and some of its possibilities. Also it’s good to know Aphra and Jamie do offer support consultation.

I followed this up joining a Flux event hosted by Maria Almena, Oliver Gingrich and Aphra Shemza at The Library where a diverse mix of artists, musicians and various tech geeks from the creative media arts community come together monthly to network and share crits.  Was fun and welcoming.

Out of the Studio..

The Alicja Kwade installation in Space Shifters at Hayward Gallery was clever

and of course I liked Helen Pashgian’s resin spheres

I do like shiny things and reflective surfaces but this show was overload and works became just that – light entertainment.

Pierre Huyghe Uumwelt at The Serpentine Gallery was not so light and felt a bit like being stranded under medication in some apocalyptic lost outpost trying to make sense of incoherent images morphing into something almost but not quite recognisable.

1901 pierre huyghe (2)

The walls were sanded to reveal layers like the dissections of the brain that was scanned to produce the data used to try and build an image from the electrical impulses.

19010 pierre huyghe (3)

The dust filled the air, purposefully bred flies swarmed in vain to escape leaving little corpses on the floor.

1901 pierre huyghe (1)

Francis Upritchard Wetwang Slack at the Barbican Curve. Gorgeous glazes and uncanny mystics.

1901 francis upritchard 3

Left unsure if this was archaeology or evolution.

Attended the talks accompanying In the Dark curated by Genetic Moo, a London Group event at The Cello Factory.

1901 Into The Dark.jpg

Talks by Nick Lambert and Sean Clark from the Computer Arts Society who are celebrating their 50th year anniversary this year, and Jack Addis from the Lumen Prize. Artists discussed their practices and Tim Pickup and Nicola Schauerman from Genetic Moo talked about the challenges of working in the dark when overspill of light from other peoples work reduces the impact of all works.

Tim was wishing for a bulb that emits darkness. I remember Cham telling us about the photomultiplier tubes in the dark matter detector at Boulby Underground Laboratory which he said were in effect reverse lightbulbs, in that they absorb photons rather than emit them.

Made use of a free ticket to London Art Fair, Brockett Gallery had managed to shake of the fair vibe in their installation and I was glad to discover the 1974 film Space Is The Place in the Art Projects Screening Room.

1901 art fair john coney 1974

Presumed lost in space Sun Ra returns to do battle, outwit the white NASA scientists and transport the black race to a new planet in outer space.

Also good to see Thom Bridge’s intriguing self portrait of himself and his twin Theo One Ear Both Eyes which was a requirement of their visa application photograph. Shown so you can’t see both portraits at the same time unlike below. Which is Thom?

Thoughtful and prescient video based work looking at natural selection/personal choice from David Blandy and Larry Achiampong in Genetic Automata at Arts Catalyst. What colour skin would you choose? How far back do we reach for our identity? What can I claim as my own? Net migration google map was fascinating to watch.

Where are those phrenology bumps developing on our contemporary skulls?

1901 larry achiampong and david blandy 3

Falling Stars/Stelle Cadenti exhibition at The Crypt Gallery was a display of work created in response to last years Lumen Atina Residency where the group experiences local astronomical sights and dark skies.

Of Stars & Chasms at ArtHouse1 showing stellar work from Julie F. Hill bringing the astronomical sublime to a bodily encounter.

1901 Julie F Hill (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– A half of the celestial sphere, the sky.

1811 Cape Foulwind

Exciting news for the New Year. Allenheads Contemporary Arts has been awarded Arts Council funding for the next phase of Beyond, launching as Continuum, ACA will be working with curator Rob Le Frenais.1812 observatoryI am delighted to be part of this new interdisciplinary programme of contemporary art which aims to connect the arts and sciences via the conduit of speculative literature and science fiction.
1812 Cloud Chamber

Also, thanks to the support of Senior Lecturer in Spacecraft Engineering, Aaron Knoll, at Imperial College London I have been offered the opportunity to work with a small team of students to realise the launch of a high altitude balloon with an aim to film a cloud chamber at the edge of the atmosphere where protons crash and decay. If successful, it could be the first time cosmic particles have been filmed in a cloud chamber at 30km altitude.

Aaron has previously launched a high altitude balloon with 12 GoPro cameras to capture 360 footage for a virtual reality experience VR2Space flight to the edge of the atmosphere.

1812 VR balloon experience

Video and data from this experiment undertaken with Imperial College will then feed into the work I will be making as part of Continuum.

I have been thinking about Vitruvian Man as a reference point for making video work with an aerialist and developing some sort of sequence based on this image which Leonardo da Vinci said was cosmography of the microcosm. He saw the workings of the human body as an analogy for the workings of the universe based on symmetry and proportion.

I was thinking of the aerial hoop but the Cyr wheel may work better as this is proportioned to the body of the user. It’s a starting point and I can look at the idea of scale and proportion in relation to the body and space. I came across all female Alula Cyr which have some inspiring work online.

1812 jessica ladley on cyr wheel

Thank you to Wuon-Gean Ho for a short article about my work Duodecimēns in the 2018 Autumn edition of Printmaking Today.

1710 screenprint on aluminium

1810 Printmaking Today

1806 Open Studios

Thames-side Open Studio

Other new work I am developing continues with the idea of the portal. Looking at sacred space as a portal into a spiritual realm promising some sort of transformation and relating this to the power of a black hole and its potential to transform or transport matter.

1811 sacred portal black hole

Popped in to Lumen Studios at St John’s Church Bethnal Green to see Cosmic Debris a durational choreographic installation created with things found on the streets. Aleksandra Borys and Marcio Kerber Canabarro were performing a gentle alignment of matter using incense, bells and ritualistic sequences incorporating balance as a key focus.

Went to Field/s One panel discussion and exhibition at SluiceHQ moderated by Thom Bridge who set up and coordinated this dynamic peer network group of 12 artists engaging in conversations about photography and its wider contexts presenting new works grounded in photography but also extending to video, performance and installation.

1811 FieldsONE exhibition

First images are arriving from the New Horizon flyby of Ultima Thule 6.5 billion km from Earth

1812 Ultima Thule

“We are in the midst of both an incredible and challenging space age. How can we harness the information, collected in silos, from the fields of cosmology and quantum physics to conceive of a more unified vision of how the universe (and us) are put together? Within science and culture – what new models of thought could we foster? How do creativity and consciousness fit into this emerging paradigm? How can we rethink our practices to swerve the impasse some are labelling a new ‘Dark Age’?…”

Following the above brief – London Laser Lab talk

Talks on the intersection of art, science and technology – LASER is a project of Leonardo® /ISAST (the International Society for Art, Science and Technology). London LASER is organised by Heather Barnett and students on the MA Art & Science at Central Saint Martins.

1811 laser lab panel

Re:Thinking Space panel discussion chaired by Nicola Triscott with Dr. Chamkaur Ghag, Dr. Ceri Brenner, Susan Eyre and Dr. Thomas Kitching

I have recently had the opportunity to visit the southern hemisphere. New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country. I am sure the dramatic geology and awe inspiring landscapes will have an impact on my practice. I finally caught a glimpse of the milky way when the clouds briefly parted during a 2am visit to Mt John Observatory. Underground rafting to see the glow worm caves at Charleston was a beautiful and surreal experience and the spectacular Lord of the Rings tour with Pete from Queenstown OFFROAD tours was an exciting adrenalin rush crashing wildly upstream or precariously navigating the winding and precipitous Skippers Canyon. I was even able to add another Paradise to my documentation archive.

1811 Charleston caverafting1811 Charleston glow worm caves1811 Franz Joseph Glacier1811 Punakaiki Pancake Rocks1812 Lake Mathesan forest1812 Lake Tekapo Mt John Observatory1812 Milford Sound1812 Paradise

 

 

 

Back in beautiful Northumberland for a Beyond gathering of artists at ACA who will be continuing in the open door residency as the project evolves into Continuum.

1810 ACA.jpg

Lots of particle trails were spotted during The Cloud Chamber Workshop. Thanks to the Institute of Physics for sponsoring this, Allenheads Contemporary Arts for hosting and the North Pennines Stargazing Festival for including it in their programme.

1810 cloud chamber workshop 1

A cloud chamber gives us a glimpse into the invisible world of particles produced in the radioactive decay of naturally occurring elements and those generated when cosmic rays strike the top of the Earth’s atmosphere.

1810 cloud chamber workshop 2

These particles pass though us continuously without our awareness. Witnessing this usually unseen activity can lead us to look beyond what our immediate senses tell us is there and consider the possibility of other intangible phenomena.

1810 Wilson's cloud chamber

The rather gorgeous original Cloud Chamber was invented by Scottish physicist Charles Wilson and he won the noble prize for it in 1927. It has been said that the cloud chamber might be the most important piece of experimental equipment in the history of particle physics. It was a chance discovery that made the study of particles possible.
Wilson was fascinated by clouds and was actually studying meteorology spending his time observing clouds at the top of Ben Nevis. He thought it might be easier to study them if he could build a device to create clouds in his laboratory. He also hoped to recreate the strange optical phenomena known as a Glory caused by light hitting clouds below the observer which he had experienced from his high vantage point on the mountain.

1810 A glory

It was Victor Hess who discovered cosmic rays and earnt the Nobel Prize for this in 1936. Scientists had been puzzled by the levels of ionizing radiation measured in the atmosphere using electroscopes. It was expected that radiation would decrease with distance from the earth but to test this Hess risked his life taking measurements at high altitudes in a balloon without oxygen tanks. He found that the radiation levels increased with altitude and concluded that there was radiation penetrating the atmosphere from outer space.

1810 Victor Hess balloon

Left over dry ice from the workshop gave us the opportunity to try freezing bubbles.

1810 freezing bubble

The workshop was followed by The Dark Side of the Universe talk from Dr. Pete Edwards. Our universe is filled with mysterious dark matter, whose gravity provides the cosmic glue that holds it all together, and dark energy, which is slowly tearing the universe apart.

1810 Pete Edwards Talk ACA

The finale of the Stargazing Festival was the screening of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi icon Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Good to revisit and think about how much more we know about the universe 41 years on.

1810 Close Encounters

This was preceded by an appropriate dinner courtesy of Alan Smith.

1810 Close Encounters dinner

I was invited as a guest speaker at London LASER Labs Re- Thinking Space at Central Saint Martins.

The session remit was

We are in the midst of both an incredible and challenging space age. How can we harness the information, collected in silo, from the fields of cosmology and quantum physics to conceive of a more unified vision of how the universe (and us) are put together? Within science and culture – what new models of thought could we foster? How do creativity and consciousness fit into this emerging paradigm? How can we rethink our practices to swerve the impasse some are labelling a new ‘Dark Age’?…

I was glad to arrive early to see the collection of meteorites Dr Natasha Almeida, Curator of Meteorites at the Natural History Museum had brought along for the Playlab hands on session. This included a spectacular slice of iron meteorite. Due to a long cooling period inside the parent asteroids the nickel and iron alloys crystallise then when polished and acid etched the classic Widmanstätten patterns of intersecting lines of lamellar kamacite, are visible. Also a tear drop of earth rock created when a meteorite struck the earth and the heat melted the rock which flew into the air and cooled into tear drops as it fell.

1810 meteorite collection.jpg

Other speakers at the event were Dr. Thomas Kitching a Cosmologist from Mullard Space Science Laboratory who is Science Co-Lead for the ESA’s Euclid Mission launching in 2021 to map the geometry of the Dark Universe by observing thousands of millions of galaxies.

1810 terra incognita.jpg

He told us how confidence in what the universe is made of has eroded over the centuries and perhaps dark matter and dark energy which make up what we call the dark universe should be renamed Materia Incognita.

Dr Ceri Brenner is a plasma physicist and innovator at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory’s Central Laser Facility. She uses the most powerful lasers in the world to study what happens when extreme bursts of light come into contact with matter. She told us how firing these high energy lasers  through Tantalum a rare, blue-gray lustrous metal can produce high energy x-rays which can be used for imaging the container walls of  radioactive storage facilities to look for damage. The extreme physics she studies can also be applied to understanding supernova explosions in space or how we can ignite a star on earth for clean electricity generation.

1810 STFC laser lab

Apparently plasma accounts for 99% of the known matter in the Universe, it’s a soup of sub-atomic particles at temperatures way beyond what we usually experience on earth. This makes the stuff we interact with on a daily basis seem a really tiny portion if 99% of the 5% we know is also stuff beyond our realm of experience.

1810 plasma.jpg

Astrophysicist Dr Chamkaur Ghag was also there to talk about direct dark matter research and how extremely sensitive the detectors need to be. It was interesting to look at the progression of the different detectors from DRIFT to LUX increasing target capacity and homing in on areas of possibility where the illusive particles might be found.

Cham always gives insight into the importance of not just interrogating matter but putting scientific research into context. Asking why we are doing something, not just how. This fires his passion to address climate change and his involvement in the grassroots initiative from Particle Physicists European Strategy Update on Climate Change

1810 Paradise burning

PARADISE burning — More than 30,000 people fled for their lives as a late-season wildfire swept across this town in the Sierra foothills

Laser Lab Talks Re-Thinking Space was compered by Nicola Triscott, founding Artistic Director/CEO of Arts Catalyst who asked the panel some reaching questions about the future of physics and how we make a difference to the debate placing ourselves in control of our destiny. Questions from the floor addressed the public interface of science. Speaking in front of an audience is not something I find comfortable so my input to the panel was slim but hopefully I had aired some relevant points during my talk looking at the opposing scales of cosmology and quantum physics and how we might relate to these two spheres of knowledge, both beyond human scale and comprehension.

1802 frozen galaxy
The idea of a new dark age approaching addresses a fear that we no longer understand the world around us. We are subjected to too much information that we can no longer process. There is too much complexity, we don’t know where to turn for verification.
The knowledge of the way the world behaves built up over generations may no longer apply. The fear that we are losing connection to the world around us is in many ways a long standing one – we have always looked back to a time when we believed we lived in harmony with the natural world.  That something central to our lives has been lost.

 

1810 Bruegel Two Monkeys

Pieter Bruegel The Elder Two Monkeys 1592

I have seen some interesting exhibitions tracing the human experience through alienation, projection and what happens when different worlds collide.

Nicky Coutts excellent examination of interspecies dissonance Man Stupid at Danielle Arnaud. Koko the gorilla was born and raised in captivity. She was taught to sign and ultimately deliver a message in the role of ambassador on behalf of nature to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.

In Nicky’s drawings Koko has slipped away leaving just her skin as shadow.

1810 Nicky Coutts

The images read as an indecipherable code. The frustration at the divide between human and non human communication is held in these traces of gesture. We can look hard, make suggestions but will never know what is in the great ape’s mind. Drawn in blackest charcoal, rich and intense with a primeval, totemic aura they could be the props of the shaman hinting at another world that requires some rite of passage involving the returning to a world of raw visceral nature.

Oceania at The Royal Academy.

In 1768 James Cook set sail from Plymouth in the HMS Endeavour funded by the Royal Society to track the transit of Venus in Tahiti and explore the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

1810 Oceania RA Lisa Reihana 3.jpg

Lisa Reihana has created a large scale panaoramic video installation in Pursuit of Venus [infected] using the French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages De La Mer Pacifique as a backdrop to the complexities of cultural identity and colonisation depicting scenes of encounter between Europeans and Polynesians.

1810 Oceania RA 3

Much of the exhibition was uncomfortable viewing for although the catalogue emphasises that objects collected by Europeans were frequently given willingly I don’t feel confident there was equality in these ‘exchanges’.

1810 Oceania RA 5

1810 Oceania RA 7

1810 Oceania RA 1

That the objects still resonate with spiritual significance for some is evident by fresh offerings left around the galleries.

I had just finished reading the riveting Modern Gods by Nick Laird before visiting which raises the subject of proselytism and relevant contemporary issues on religious belief and cultural contamination drawing on events in Ulster and Papua New Guinea to highlight the fragility of social cohesion when faith and tribe are on the line.

 

Sarah Christie’s Library shown at Southwark Cathedral is an ongoing attempt to give voice to the individuals that make up the 48% and the opposing 52% trying to make sense of the divided society they find themselves a part of in post Brexit referendum Britain.

1810 Sarah Christie

In Ancient Greece, people voted by writing on ‘ostraca’ a broken piece of pottery. The public have been invited to select an ostracon – sherds made by hand from a hundred and fifty cast bowls – and offer their own words that break boundaries.

I enjoyed Alex Prager’s Face in the Crowd series at The Photographers Gallery.

1810 Alex Prager Face in the Crowd

The individual is picked out in the crowd and elevated from anonymity, but look at the crowd – these are not the grey masses we blend in with on the streets, at airport lounges and theatres. Each of these characters is chosen, placed and choreographed. The unnatural vibrancy and controlled demeanours give the scene an unsettling automaton quality.

1810 Alex Prager

Entertained by an evening exploring the darker past of the gothic extravaganza Strawberry Hill House.

Spirits invoked for Ghost Tide exhibition at Thames-side Gallery curated by Sarah Sparkes and Monica Bobinska.

1810 Laura Marker Ghost Tide

Laura Marker

1810 Mary Yacoob Ghost Tide

Mary Yacoob

I took part in the Hollow Bone Ceremony led by shaman Kate Walters who uses repetitive drumming to alter the brain waves to ‘theta’ waves to allow travel to either the Upper world or the Lower world to convene with the cosmos, nature and animal spirits and ask for guidance on behalf of the participant.

1810 hollow bone ceremony

Was it coincidence that my mind focused on an unexpected encounter with a deer in Grizedale Forest the previous week that after the 10 minutes of rhythmic trance Kate came back with a strong image of a large Moose or Stag whose energy and ferocity I needed to tap into.

1815 Grizedale Deer.jpg

Thanks to Jim Lloyd for highlighting this quote from Werner Heisenberg

“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning. “

 

New work pentacoronae installed at Grizedale Project Space for In Search of Darkness exhibition curated by art collective Lumen Studios.

1809 Pentacoronae

“Sky glow” is the yellow umbra leaching into the night sky from light polluting urban areas; obscuring our view of the constellations, shrinking our universe and severing our relationship to the stars.
Our ancestors mapped the stars and the shapes and patterns they drew across the darkness became familiar anchors for navigation; describing mythological characters; aligning celestial cycles with the fortunes of everyday life and revealing harbingers of portentous events. This rich history is being lost to a population bathed in the radiant intensity of artificial illumination.

1809 Pentacoronae 2
Light doesn’t always make things more visible. There are other ways to discover the mysteries of the universe and look beyond what our immediate senses tell us is there. Dark Matter is a significant component of the universe, yet we cannot see it. It doesn’t reflect or emit light and so scientists are finding other ways to detect it. In digital visualisations of Dark Matter, organic patterns emerge that could be the veins under our skin or the spreading branches of trees.

1809 Pentacoronae 1
As ever more powerful telescopes and data gathering equipment open new areas of the universe to our view, generating imagery we could never see with our naked eyes, we are drawn to experience space via mediated technologies. Dark sky areas such as Grizedale Forest are precious locations where we can still stargaze, wonder and map our own stories across the sky.

1809 Grizedale Forest

Following on from the group residency earlier in the year we returned

1809 Forest WIP

with new work responding to the naturally dark skies of the Grizedale area  Maria Luigia Gioffre  – a re-tracing of the astral map of 7 July 2018

1809 Maria Luigia Gioffre credit John Hooper

Maria Luigia Gioffre Genealogy of an Asemantic Night – photo John Hooper

Eunjung Kim the journey of unseen travellers across time, memory, the cosmos

1809 eunjumg kim

Julie Hill-‘intimate immensity’ the milky way as bodily encounter

1809 Julie Hill credit John Hooper

Julie F. Hill Dark River photo John Hooper

Anthony Carr– circadian rhythms disrupted

1809 Anthony Carr credit John Hooper

Anthony Carr The Moon, Is The Only Light We’ll See photo John Hooper

Melanie King– ancient light captured

1809 Melanie King credit John Hooper

Melanie King Ancient Light, Grizedale Forest  photo John Hooper

Louise Beer— sounds of the tides slowed; an echo from 420 million years ago

1809 Louise Beer credit John Hooper

Louise Beer Beneath the Moon’s Gaze photo John Hooper

Rebecca Huxley— twilight transitions, a manifesto to darkness

1809 rebecca huxley

Rebecca Huxley 18 degrees below the Horizon 

Diego Valente— “Forests aren’t simply collections of trees….”

1809 Diego Valente

Diego Valente A Copy With No Original

and William Arnold – common lepidopteran misadventures in artificial light

1809 William Arnold 2

William Arnold Dark Spectacle

1809 project Space.jpg

I had the cloud chamber running at the opening event. Photo courtesy of Lumen

1809 Cloud Chamber demo

A cloud chamber gives us a glimpse into the invisible world of particles produced in the radioactive decay of naturally occurring elements and those generated when cosmic rays strike the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapour of pure alcohol sitting over dry ice. Charged particles passing through the chamber cause the vapour to condense resulting in tiny cascading trails. These particles pass though us continuously without our awareness. Witnessing this usually unseen activity can lead us to look beyond what our immediate senses tell us is there and consider the possibility of other intangible phenomena.

1809 Cloud Chamber demo 2

Finale! (another great shot from John Hooper)

1809 dry ice credit John Hooper

At the studio I am moving just across the corridor – mostly so I will have a window but I also gain more space which was great timing to lay out and assemble the suspended sculpture for Grizedale in an empty room.

1809 laying out

1809 assembling

So glad I spent time on careful packing for transporting

1809 preparing for install– getting it up on the scaffolding and hanging was not easy when only one person present has ladder training and therefore allowed at height due to local council health and safety directives.  Thankfully Sean took it in his stride.

1809 install angst

Out of the Studio
Holly Graham Sweet Swollen at Jerwood Project Space. The seductive title is evocative of succulent ripened fruit but also the tenderness of a bruise. This poignant work draws on the history of sugar as a luxury brought to our shores in the 18th century with the taint of colonial violence and the demeaning of those forced to produce treats for European palates. A series of sugar lift etchings depict hands in isolation, the gestures originating from the stylised ‘blackamoor’ figurines that ornament receptacles of the bitter sweet cargo.

1809 Holly Graham

Charmaine Watkiss showing beautiful ephemeral work at the MA Drawing Final Show at Wimbledon College of Art. A collision of then and now, displacement of body and soul, reaching back for symbols of meaning.

Highlights at this years New Scientist Live were talks from Jon Butterworth – Journeys into Particle Physics, Roberto Trotta – What Has Einstein ever done for you? and Dean Burnett – What makes your brain happy?

I came away thinking about what influences my perception of time and the chemicals that subtlety alter how I experience the world.

If you travel close to the speed of light, distances contract in your direction of motion, while time will dilate more and more the faster you move.  A muon lives: about 2.2 microseconds on average. The speed limit of the Universe = the speed of light. Something moving at the speed of light that only lives 2.2 microseconds, should make it only 0.66 kilometers before decaying. A muon has similar properties to an electron. However, it is 200 times heavier. Muons travel at approximately 98% of the speed of light. The closer you move to the speed of light, the slower your clock appears to run. Cosmic ray muons have such high energies that a journey which takes about 300 microseconds from our point-of-view only takes about 1 microsecond for the muon. Time dilation allows these particles to live.

1802 muon

I am beginning research for the High Altitude Balloon project. I need so much help! The good people of the HAB community are thankfully giving me lots of advice. One big concern is that the Allenheads Contemporary Arts potential launch site is high up and in the centre of a very narrow bit of the UK.  Wind makes for a difficult launch and could just take it straight out to sea.

1809 windy HAB.jpg

One of my first jobs is to check with the Civil Aviation Authority that the launch site is safe from their perspective.

18090 CAA.JPG

I want to film particularly at the altitude where peak cosmic ray activity takes place – this is where the secondary particles that we see in the cloud chamber are smashed into existence.  As the particle activity will be invisible I want to film the aesthetics of the curve of the earth and blue haze of the atmosphere bleeding into the blackness of space. I think my target height will be 30km.

1809 cosmic trails.jpg

Cosmic rays are mostly protons and atomic nuclei created in stars and super novae explosions or other unknown events.  Sometimes a rare one will arrive with unimaginably high energy. The first “Oh-My-God particle” was recorded in October 1991 and had an energy 40 million times greater than the Large Hadron Collider can generate with 100 quintillion the photon energy of visible light, it was travelling at 99.999 999 999 999 999 999 999 51% the speed of light. One of these could be passing through you right now.

 

I realised how much I have to learn about weather ballooning while attending the UK High Altitude Society Conference where I was kindly invited to give a short presentation about my hopes to launch my own balloon to film at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. It was also Helium’s birthday and a cake had been prepared to launch into near space.

1808 UKHAS Balloon launch cake

I found much of the language of the day to be beyond my knowledge with many of the enthusiasts also keen coders and electronic wizards.

1808 UKHAS Balloon launch 1

Still my presentation received a warm response and I am hoping I now have some contacts to call upon as I begin to get to grips with the logistics and add to my list of what is required.

1808 UKHAS Balloon launch

There was a particular enthusiasm to actually launch a cloud chamber. This could be a first if we manage to achieve such a venture.

1808 UKHAS Balloon launch 6.jpg

It is all a delicate balance of weight, helium and wind direction.

1808 UKHAS Balloon launch 4

Wonderful to see the launch.

1808 UKHAS Balloon launch 5

The really tricky bit is the tracking and retrieval. I’m not sure yet if they did get it back as I haven’t yet mastered navigating the websites let alone the skies.

In the studio

– work in progress for In Search of Darkness exhibition at Grizedale Project Space began with some tiny maquettes.

1808 pentagon layout

With valuable advice from John Purcell‘s team helping to choose suitable card I scaled up.

1808 pentacoronae wip 5

Added hand thrown acquatint etched starry skies

1808 pentacoronae wip 4

some screen printed dark matter visualisations and hand drawn star maps

1808 pentacoronae wip 3

folded with light pollution images printed on metallic c-type (from the print space)

1808 pentacoronae wip

and repeated 12 times to reflect the sides of a dodecahedron.

1808 pentacoronae wip 2

Out of the studio

– excellent afternoon spent captivated by Guy Oliver’s performative Songs of Eternal Praise for And You Thought I Was Bad at Zabludowicz Collection. Delivered in sermon style with attendant angelic voiced choir and backing musician; politics and pop culture collide in excruciating discord.

1808 Guy Oliver

Enjoyed Lee Bul’s exuberant mix of materials from the organic to the industrial and all encompassing diatribe on power, politics and the decay under the gloss of idealism at Hayward Gallery.

1808 Lee Bul 3

Lee Bul – Willing To Be Vulnerable

‘I’m fascinated by failures, as well as by the dreams that the dreamers knew could never materialize’  Lee Bul

1808 Lee Bul 2

Lee Bul Thaw (Takaki Masao)

changing landscapes – brutalist concrete edifices – impact of an individual – held in ice – history returning – climate change

1808 Lee Bul 1

Lee Bul Heaven and Earth

Dark depths of the psyche.

Came across this obelisk out in Wiltshire. It is rather stubby and further prevented from piercing the sky by the tree that has grown over the last 250 years to embrace it.

1808 Melksham obelisk

William Eyres – we almost share a name and do share a birth day and month. Born at the time when the Herschel brother and sister astronomers were discovering Uranus and its moons; the moons of Saturn, infrared radiation and performing deep sky surveys. You died just before electric light spread its glow into the night.
Dark skies were yours.