My interest in what we can and can’t see in our environment led me to think about the substance of matter.

1601 sphere

At the Shadow without Object symposium the idea of a dematerialized world and how we record it was raised in Duncan Wooldridge’s paper Some Notes on a New Realism: Relocating Representation in the Technical Image. Once when we learnt to negotiate our relationship with the world visibility equalled presence. When representing the world it was with graphite, paint, film and emulsions that were all material objects. Now the world has dematerialized. The digital image is not made or transposed in the same way. This opens up other ways of visualising the world. To visualise through transformation.

We can tap into new technologies to see things that previously were obscured from us.

1601 Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen

STSS-1 and Two Unidentified Spacecraft over Carson City (Space Tracking and Surveillance System; USA 205) C-Print

Trevor Paglen’s The Other Night Sky is a project to collect evidence of classified American satellites, space debris, and other obscure objects in orbit around the earth with the help of an international network of amateur satellite observers. The position and timing of overhead transits are calculated, observed and photographed with telescopes and large-format cameras and other imaging devices.

For what we can see we are dependent on photons bouncing off some matter and hitting a receptor, in our eyes or in our equipment. For what we can’t see we rely on recording some disruption in the path of those photons.

Erik Kessels work is a reminder of how dependent we are on the technical abilities of our eyes or equipment. In almost every picture #9 is a collection of found photographs of one family’s endearing attempts to photograph the family pet, a black Alsatian. Their camera’s limitations meant that the dog always appeared as a black featureless shape.

As technology advances we are able to record more accurately. But we still find instabilities, no process is error free.

Matter refuses to be reliable. Giacomo Raffaelli has been researching how weights and measures are standardised across the globe and presented his discoveries in a paper Non-standard Uncertainties: Experiments in Current Visual Conditions of the Kilogram Standards.

1601 Standard kg

In the late 1800’s identical cylinders were manufactured from Platinum Iridium and stored across the world encapsulated under three bell jars. These were to act as standard units of mass. Britain holds model no 18. Periodically these units are tested for mass and compared with those stored in other countries. Some have been found to be gaining mass at different rates to others. This is fascinating to think these sealed solid objects have all this activity going on that can’t be seen but becomes evident when measured. In response to this discovery the National Physical Laboratory is doing research to redefine the kilogram as a standard number of atoms.

Within their laboratories NPL hold a polished silicon crystal sphere – the most perfect sphere on earth.  Raffaelli wanted to relocate this seductive object from the laboratory where it functioned simply as a measure. The only way he would be allowed to achieve this reimagining would be via an image. First he tried green screen, then 3D imaging, then an optical scanner, then a nautical scanner in the dark and finally a laser scanner that detects points of volume but none of these technologies could capture the sphere.

1601 shadow without object

Giacomo Raffaelli With Relative Uncertainty

Hand crafted and hand polished to perfection this crystal ball completely resisted the process of digitization.

Reporters from The Londonist website had a similar problem ;

1601 John Dee at British Museum

John Dee’s mystical artefacts at the British Museum

At the front of the picture above, you can see Dee’s crystal ball. We tried several times to take a close-up shot, but neither of our cameras could get a sharp fix. It is obviously haunted.

The ability to focus is something Marco Maggi encourages in his installation Global Myopia II.  The ability to see from very close allows one to focus on what at a distant glance may be missed. At first the room might look empty.

1601 Uruguay (2)

Marco Maggi

Close up, a world in miniature appears in the form of grids and geometric shapes like paper circuitry which can read as encoded information, routes of transmission, architectural plans or space age archaeological sites.

1601 Uruguay (1)

Marco Maggi

Joseph Cornell was able to poetically record places he never visited. He was a collector of journeys captured in little boxes. I was very inspired by the Wanderlust exhibition at the Royal Academy having always been keen on small worlds to peer into.

1601 Jospeh Cornell A Parrot For Juan Gris

Joseph Cornell
A Parrot for Juan Gris

Constructed with found artefacts, maps and letters these enigmatic worlds are catalysts to the exotic, that which is always just out of reach.

1601 Joseph Cornell The Clockwork Utopia

Joseph Cornell Clockwork Utopia

On opening an atlas or looking at a map you must interpret the information and relate it to the world at large. Through her series Victory Atlas Elena Damiani aids us in those leaps we make in our minds to the tropical shores or glacial rocks which are signified by a few lines and coloured shapes. I found her work really interesting.

The group show COLLABORATORS 4 presented by Roaming Room at their current mews premises was a beautifully curated invitation to ponder materiality and the many ways we record the world and visualise our responses to it. Participating artists can be found here. I was particularly drawn to the small installation of Alexandra Hughes which beamed light through tiny images roughly embedded in clay portals.

1601 Roaming Room Alexandra Hughes

Alexandra Hughes East’s Blue Clayoto

I have always liked Ambrosine Allen’s intricate assemblages  constructed from slicing up national geographic publications.

1601 Ambrosine-Allen Retreating Glacier

Ambrosine Allen Retreating Glacier

The piece by Dunhill and O’Brien made me think of those first measurers that Raymond Williams writes about in his novel People of The Black Mountains who took a rod and every night went out to the hills to watch the rise and set of the moon.

1601 Dunhill-and-OBrien Stone Appreciation

Dunhill and O’Brien Stone Appreciation (Rostrevor)


First came the sound and the sign, then came the word – which turned into image and overtook the gaze. The sign, turned into figure, sought ways to become perpetual – quipus, incisions in clay boards, traces left by chisels on rocks, ink on papyrus or paper, then neon signs, LEDs, and many other technologies.  – Oscar Sotillo Meneses writing on the work of Argelia Bravo which celebrates the words, signs, gestures and poetry that interweave the historical evolution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela but can be recognised the world over.

1601 Venice venezuala