Archives for posts with tag: astronomy

After months of anticipation we finally crammed into the miners cage and made the 7 minute descent 1100m below ground to visit the Dark Matter Research Facility at Boulby Mine near Whitby on the dramatic north east coast.

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Led by astrophysicist Dr.Chamkaur Ghag and his colleagues Emma Meehan and Chris Toth we were transported to a hot and dusty world beyond the reach of cosmic rays and background radiation that would distract from the search for the illusive dark matter particles.

Kitted out in orange boiler suits, heavy boots, hard hats, safety goggles, ear defenders, shin pads and tool belt we were inducted into the safety procedures and alerted to the hazards of life underground. The most alarming was the  instruction on use of the self rescuer (a metal box containing breathing apparatus that converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide) ‘better to use in doubt than die in error’. Only three breathes of deadly carbon monoxide and you are unconscious, possibly dead.

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On descent there is a series of air locked passages to pass through, ears popping before stepping out into the vast network of tunnels that extends over thousands of kilometres under the sea. With our headlamps dimmed here is total darkness.

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We walk 20 minutes to visit the original research laboratory now being ripped diagonally in half by the slow liquid like movement of the salt walls sliding against a fault line.

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The floor and ceiling are ruptured and so the highly sensitive equipment is being moved to a new purpose built reinforced steel clad lab.

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From the abandoned clutter of past experiments we cross another grimy passage to enter the pristine white cavernous space of the new laboratories.

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Still in the process of being equipped and put into full use we can only see a small part of what will go on here.

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Behind the blank face of the technology in large metal containers sprouting many wires and screens with data passing across in repeating wavering lines is the ongoing hope to witness a tiny scintillation of light that can be identified as the result of a collision of a dark matter particle in the target matter of pure Xenon.

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The three hours underground pass very quickly as we are in constant awe at what we see and hear about the extraordinary past and present projects that take place in this hidden arena. 1605 dmboulby detector

Prohibited from taking anything battery powered below we rely on borrowing a lab camera to take a few snaps before we have to return to the lift shaft to be hauled back to the surface this time tightly packed amongst the silent salt dusted mine workers.

We returned to the surface exhausted and full of information to assimilate. The next stage is to let this experience feed into and stimulate new work engaging with ideas of charting the unknown and extending our vocabulary and ability to interact with the matter of our universe that at present we can only surmise about through theory.

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I was delighted to be asked to show work in Aether curated by Lumen at Imperial College London. Aether is a curatorial project, focused on the philosophical aspects of astronomy and space exploration. The participating artists explore phenomena existing in outer space  considering how “invisible” objects are made tangible in the fields of both art and astrophysics.

These pieces from the everydaymatters series were inspired by the discovery that we can only see less than 5% of the matter in the universe.  Sparked by an interest in aura of place and dreams of paradise this has expanded into a fascination with how we encounter the physical and the spiritual world and the unseen activity of matter in the universe. The images, from real locations called Paradise such as Paradise Industrial Estate, Hemel Hempstead are dissected into the proportions of dark energy, dark matter and the visible world that current science believes constitutes our universe.

I have been pursuing further investigations into matter as part of  The Matter of Objects collaboration with Medieval and Renaissance research historians. This project interested me as it combined an investigation into the physical matter of objects and also more intangible things such as agency of object. I thought the Medieval period would also be interesting as a time when science and religion clashed as being the source of truth. I was paired with PhD researcher Bruno Martinho based at the European University Institute in Florence. His work explores the consumption of non-European objects on the Iberian Peninsula during the second half of the sixteenth century. Something I had never considered. The object he chose for me to respond to was a C16th Fall-fronted cabinet probably made in Gujarat for a Portuguese merchant. This work has taken me in unexpected and new directions.

At first I thought I may only experience this object as a digital image so was pleased to discover it was at the V&A and I could visit it and get a sense of scale and materiality. The most striking thing about the cabinet are the patterns. I could see the incredible detail, the minute pieces and precision in the workmanship.

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I think it is hard to connect to an object when you can’t touch it. It’s tantalizing not being able to open the drawers – they are tied shut just in case you are tempted to try.  At least it’s not behind glass so you can get up close and sniff it. I learnt from Bruno about its heritage from a mixture of cultural traditions seen combined in the patterns (European, Islamic, Indian) and materials (tropical woods, ivory). These cabinets were highly sought after at the time, they were the latest must have item to show wealth and status. An object of beauty, rarity and symbolism; commissioned, bought, sold and smuggled. They became part of 16th Century life but not always in a good way. A play “The Avaricious Cabinet” written at the height of the cabinets popularity criticized the hoarding practices it encouraged in merchants that were causing stagnation of the Portuguese economy. It could be written today about the unpopularity of the avaricious banker who dodges his taxes and is more concerned with his own wealth than the welfare of society at large.

The cabinet’s basic function was to store expensive objects, such as jewels or money, and important documents, like contracts or letters, and also all sorts of personal items such as lace and porcelain. There were antidotes against poison (like bezoar stones or unicorn horns), perfumes (made of musk extracted from Asian civet cats), coral (to make toothpaste), and also rosaries made of jet (that was believed to protect against melancholia). These appear as alchemical and mysterious objects today adding to the sense of mystique that surrounds the cabinet.  The warm tones, exotic aromas and smooth surfaces made using the cabinet an intimate and sensual experience.

The idea of using spices came from my conversation with Bruno about the aroma the cabinet would give off from the exotic woods it was made from and the smells it would absorb from its contents and surroundings. I thought of the mix of cultures that came together to produce this object, the markets of India and Spain and all those places in between. I made inks from ground spices and copperplate oils to fill the etching plates that would operate as markers of the route from Asia to Europe along the spice route.

I hoped that as the viewer leans in they will smell the spices and the colours would be natural and earthy like the materials used in the cabinet.

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I wanted to try and include something personal into the work about this particular cabinet but so much is a mystery. The V&A don’t hold a lot of information about its personal history. They sent me the purchase order and had a look to see if there were patterns inlaid inside the drawers – there are not. So the history of who this little cabinet belonged to and the items it stored seems lost. All that we know is it made the journey 500 years ago when navigating across the globe was reliant on reading the stars.

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containment –  60 x 60 cm,  screenprint on board, etched aluminium, spices

 

This one object that potentially holds so many other objects all with their own reasons for being, the trail is endless and diverse. After many weeks of conversation it was good to finally meet Bruno at the event at Queen Mary University and to see work produced by the other collaborators. Everyone felt it had been a worthwhile experience opening up new ways of thinking on both sides. The exhibition was then taken to the extraordinary setting of  Barts Pathology Museum where matter and objects have a very direct conversation.

1605 containment Barts Pathology Musuem

I went to the Materials Library for their Pigments, Paint, Print event.

1605 pigmentsThere were various minerals on hand that can be used to grind into pigments but we were only offered synthetic materials to make into ink and ready made inks to print with so wasn’t quite what I hope for but I did get to see aerogel.

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This was like looking at little pieces of sky or transluscent mini icebergs. Apparently NASA uses this – the lightest material on earth, to collect stardust in the tails of comets. It looks a bit like a very fine mesh yet is brittle and very fragile and also very expensive.

Helena Pritchard’s show Encounters at T.J. Boulting was a dialogue between materiality and light, the play of one off the other created in collaboration with Ilenia Bombardi.

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Mesh cloyed with plaster scattering light to create movement, light bouncing from projectors and splitting into spectrums.

Spencer Finch ‘The Opposite of Blindness’ at Lisson Gallery is also an investigation into light –  how it hits the back of our retina to burn images into our mind which hover beyond our ability to physically recreate them. What we see and what we imagine take place in the same arena.

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Spencer Finch Sunrise (Mars)

There are paintings made up of concentric dots that animate themselves as our restless eyes dance over their surface creating ever changing patterns

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Spencer Finch Sunflower (Bee’s View)

then as relief, soft grey fog to wade into. The paintings, like after burn on the retina, are pared back to leave just the essential essence that Finch wishes to convey.

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Spencer Finch Fog (Lake Wononscopomac)

Finch has taken light recordings from the Pathfinder unmanned mission to Mars and recreated the exact colour tone of a sunrise as would be experienced on the red planet.

Photographic images created from space agency data by Micheal Benson in Otherworlds: Visions of our solar system at The Natural History Museum  included one of the sun setting on Mars.

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Tracing space exploration from the first images in 1967 to the present day his aim is to create images as close as possible to what the human eye would see were we able to travel to the far reaches of the solar system.

1606 Francis Upritchard Orrery IV

Francis Upritchard Orrery IV

The speakers at Tate Talks New Materialisms: Reconfiguring the Object were considering how investigating materials can stimulate new ways of thinking. Francesco Manaconda gave an overview of his curatorial explorations into how materials can be presented in new ways by imagining viewing an exhibition from the perspective of an alien in Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art and Radical Nature which focused on our relationship with nature. Anne-Sophie Lehmann and Iris Van Der Tuin discussed the importance of material literacy and the exactitude required in differentiating between materials, matter, materiality and materialisms. It is important that if we are to understand the matter that surrounds us we must test the resistance of the materials we encounter.

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I have been looking at A History Of The World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton again, this time in connection with the work I am making as part of The Matter of Objects collaboration between artists and historians. The little fall front cabinet that I am responding to took the journey from India to Portugal around 500 years ago, possibly following the same route as the spice trade.

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I have been looking at maps created around that time and reading about Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius both renowned cosmographers. I particularly like Ortelius view of his atlas as the Theatre of the World – ‘a place for viewing a spectacle’. Maps present a creative version of a reality we think we know but transform it into something different. Both men expressed a cosmographical philosophy of peace and harmony and hoped their world maps would give mankind pause for thought much as the 1968 earthrise image embodies.

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Ortelius added the quote from Seneca to his maps –

‘Is this that pinpoint which is divided by sword and fire among so many nations?  How ridiculous are the boundaries of mortals.’

And from Cicero –

‘what can seem of moment in human occurrences to a man who keeps all eternity before his eyes and knows the vastness of the universe?’

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Another point of reference for me is the astrolabe, a complex and beautiful instrument used by early astronomers and cosmographers to determine time and the movement of celestial objects.

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I have been making ‘markers’ from aluminium. The shapes and patterns relate to those on the cabinet and the materiality of the etched metal which will be filled with ink and spices relates to the objects kept in the drawers of the cabinet and the trade that circulated the wealth of the merchants who owned these exotic objects.

I screen printed sugar lift solution onto the aluminium shapes before coating with stop out.

These are etched and then inked up with spices and will be laid out in a sequence that follows the route from India to the Iberian Peninsula and ultimately London where this little cabinet now sits in the V&A.

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I am in love with this Boyd and Evans lithograph. I was very jealous of the lady who bought a copy from our RCA stand at Christies Multiplied print fair.

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Boyd and Evans Insignificance

I went to hear them talk about their practice at Flowers Gallery where they had an exhibition of panoramic photographs in Overland. These vast moody skies, rocky barren vistas and abandoned structures are a record to their travels across the American South-West.

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Boyd and Evans Benton Springs, California

Inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu the latest production from Simon McBurney’s Complicite  is an extraordinary journey in consciousness, questioning reality and its constructs.

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The Encounter tells the story of a National Geographic photographer, Loren McIntyre who in 1969 found himself adrift among the Mayoruna people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. Following his desire to discover and record he enters uncharted jungle putting himself at the mercy of the people he was trying to capture on film. He develops a close relationship with the head tribesman and shaman he calls Barnacle and begins to feel they are communicating through thought as they share no common language. The old language is not something you learn it is something you remember.

The tribe are on the move. Distraught at the impact of the sacking of resources of the forest and diseases introduced by outsiders they are heading back to the beginning.

In order to return to a time before the bad things happened they must destroy all their possessions that are holding them in the present. Everything is thrown onto massive bonfires. The journalist is  distraught as he fears the ritual will involve death but the chief is calm, he doesn’t worry what time is, he is just concerned with what he can do with it.

The beginning lies at the inception of time but is also everywhere at once. Going back to the beginning is not really a return, but rather a form of exiting from history proper, into the mythical time of renewal.

There is a powerful message here about matter and its hold on us and our experience of history. The concepts that these shaman were expressing are the same as the problems physicists struggle over today – what is the present?  ‘Time sits at the centre of the tangle of problems raised by the intersection of gravity, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics.’ – Carlo Rovelli

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In the audience we are wearing headphones, the sound of the forest is all around, voices appear in our head, just as they did for Loren, beautifully demonstrated by the use of binaural speakers. Reality is an illusion, all our constructs are fictions and exist only in our imagination.

Creating the sort of places where the Mayoruna people might live…Dean Melbourne paints the places where myth still lives deep in the forests. Shadowy figures, totems and ritual mingle in thick glutinous surfaces.

His exhibition This Myth at Coates and Scarrry’s gallery invites you to step into a sensual and primordial world.

Hilma af Klint was also making connections with the spiritual world. Her public face during her lifetime was of a figurative painter but in the late 1880’s she began painting in secret and created a huge body of work that explored her private interests in the nature of the universe and the relationship between matter and the spiritual. Believing that perfect unity was lost at the point of creation she sought to reconnect the dualities that had arisen from the primordial chaos. Entering Painting the Unseen at The Serpentine Gallery I was immediately awed by the three large works The Paintings For The Temple.

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Inspired by the experiments with séances and automatic drawing that she engaged with as part of a small group of women artists she called The Five (De Fem) she felt herself led by a spirit counsel. Motifs and symbols appear in her paintings that she then interrogates for meaning.

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Her use of colour allows for contemplation in works that have a calm sensuality.

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Her notebooks reflect her dedication to her continuing search for meaning within matter and the extent of the work she produced which  is all the more remarkable for her desire to keep her spiritual work hidden until 20 years after her death. Did she believe the world wasn’t ready for her questions, let’s hope she is pleased with the attention it is getting a hundred years on.

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Good to see RCA printmaking alumni Wieland Payer’s work showing at The House of St. Barnabas with Man and Eve Gallery and to discover the beautiful work of Nadege Meriau. These artists both take you to another world that is just a step from reality and intriguing for that mix of the familiar with the strange.

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Wieland Payer DRIFT   Photo: Herbert Boswank

 

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Nadage Meriau Grotto

The cosmonaut exhibition at the science museum was a window to the world of space exploration. The risks and competition in the race to be the first. The wonderful graphics that heralded a new era of exploration.

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The romantic quest going beyond the rugged landscapes and sublime vista of previous generations. What was most striking I think was how low tech it all looked and so cramped. The bravery and optimism of these people to get into something so small and basic to hurtle across space is to be admired.

cosmonaut. astronaut. nautilus.

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Alistair McDowall’s play X at the Royal Court is set in a future where four astronauts are stranded in their spaceship on Pluto.

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Unable to communicate with earth they await rescue that never arrives. It felt more reality TV show where four unredeemed characters are flung together for eternity than exploration of a new frontier for humankind as Pluto barely gets a mention and we suffer endless ranting as each character loses grip on reality before ending up in the freezer.

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Finally rescue did arrive, for the audience anyway in the form of Dr.Mike Goldsmith who gave a very informed post play talk about the possibilities and potential of Life on Pluto.

Astrophysicist Dr. Roberto Trotta was out campaigning for ‘Why Society Needs Astronomy and Cosmology’ with his Gresham Lecture at The Museum of London. He was making a case for public funding to support what is increasingly becoming big science big money projects that involve many hundreds of scientists across the world. Detectors and image capturing devices are scaling up and new sophisticated technology means the amount of data captured is beyond human undertaking to analyse and requires huge resources to process all the information. We can reach further and further out into the unknown searching for answers to the big questions of existence. This vastness is awe inspiring but also daunting and so he aims to bring the human scale back into space exploration and make accessible a world that is often described with unfamiliar and obtuse language. He has written a book ‘The Edge of the Sky’ using only the 1,000 most common English words. 1603 Trotta .jpgThis approach not only simplifies huge concepts for a younger audience but gives everyone a pause to think about language.  The tourist visiting new places may not have the word to describe an unfamiliar object and so must find a way to describe it using known language. This is an effective way of opening up new interpretations and perspectives and encouraging curiosity to discover and explore the unknown.

Moving in unknown territories borders are blurred. Julien Charriére has erased all borders in his installation We Are All Astronauts. Using an international sandpaper made from mineral samples taken from the member states of the United Nations he has carefully eroded any geopolitical demarcations mingling the dust of our homelands. We have the same origins and the same destiny.

1603 Julien Charriere We Are all Astronauts

His solo show at Parasol Unit For They That Sow the Wind was an eloquent exploration of our relationship to the world of matter, its exploitation and ultimately our insignificance in the wake of  our destruction.

Towers of salt bricks mined from the ‘lithium triangle’ in Bolivia sit in geometric patterns like the remnants of an ancient civilization.

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Julian Charriere Future Fossil Spaces

Structures break down.

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The haze of devastation burnt into the landscape; a legacy from 456 nuclear tests carried out by the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1989 in Kazakhstan.

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Julien Charriere Polygon

A solitary Charrière stands for all of us as he actively melts ice beneath his feet with a blowtorch.

1603 Julien Charriere The Blue Fossil Entropic Series

Julien Charriere The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories

It may be too late to protect the environment, now we must put our energy into creating protected environments.

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Julien Charriere Tropisme

Plant species around since the Cretaceous period are shock-frozen in liquid nitrogen and preserved in refrigerated containers. The ice patterns appearing over the inside glass of the vitrines cast beautiful veils that threaten to obscure our view. Nature is blocking us out.

It hardly seems any time since I was setting up our RCA interim show at Café gallery Projects and yet here I am visiting the current second years exhibition DIS PLAY having stepped on out into the wider world. This year because they have taken on so many more students the show was mixed across the years to balance numbers.

Great texture and pallid colour from Emma-Jane Whitton where the tight aqueous skin of the succulent makes haptic connections with the tight skin of the salami, bursting oozing and barely contained this structure is like plastic surgery in meltdown.

This work sat well next to Randy Bretzin’s assemblage of works relating to the body and its skin at the point of rupture.

Further body references from Fei Fei Yu whose casts in aluminium of Randy Bretzin’s head lay empty and shattered. No bodily fluids here just a bed of salt left like the residue from some alchemical reduction experiment.

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The body and psyche exposed. Nothing like descending the spiral stairs to the museum at The Last Tuesday Society for a delve into the realm of mortality, sex and the fabulous.