“How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control.”  Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

At Hartland Magnetic Observatory and other magnetic observatories around the world solar activity is examined daily and forecasts are given if this is likely to have any geomagnetic effect on Earth. The main geomagnetic field is also constantly changing due to convection flows and waves in the Earth’s core. As this change cannot be predicted, uncertainty slowly increases over time.

Most of my work at the moment is towards the exhibition A Stone Sky, with Julie F. Hill at Thames-side Studios Gallery later in the year. Very excited to be working alongside Julie and to have space to be ambitious in scale.

The Absolute Hut installation, reimagining the magnetic observatory room, will be a combination of planning to build the structure and unpredictability through processes used for the surfaces. Measuring for the north facing wall to be built in sections for easier transportation. Testing scale and coverage of field contour shapes cut in copper with a plasma gun.

I am hoping the north wall structure can be made up soon and the boards attached. I will then keep it outside facing north until the exhibition in an attempt to grow some moss on its surface. I have only had some very small success so far growing moss, despite trying a new culture recipe and being very diligent misting every morning and evening.

The topological contours of suminagashi marbling, which also echo fluid magnetic field lines, have inspired me to experiment with this idea for The Absolute Hut roofing. I have bought a sumi ink stick in whiteish green, an ink grinding stone and some verdigris pigment from Cornelissen in preparation to try this idea out. In this process the magnetic field lines appear embedded into the fabric of the hut that monitors (senses) the emanations from the Earth’s core.

Through the north facing window of The Absolute Hut, The Azimuth Obelisk (Obelisk of sedimentary knowledge) will be viewed. The sculpture is formed by tearing, drilling and layering sheets of paper. As sedimentary rocks build over time, so the obelisk has a lot of time invested in its making and conceals the history of past events in the hidden layers of the recycled prints and drawings.

I am still working on etching the Directional Magnetic Steel pieces. It can be a frustrating process as some batches work well and some do not etch well at all but come out dull and patchy and I’m not sure why. My idea was to use these pieces to draw a line across the gallery floor signifying the westward drift of the magnetic field from geographical north but now I am thinking more about mapping out a spiral shape in shaped pieces to echo the rotation of the Earth’s molten core.

All information about the Earth’s core has come from studying seismic data, analysis of meteorites, lab experiments with temperature and pressure, and computer modelling. Seismometers convert vibrations due to seismic waves into electrical signals. The velocity and frequency of seismic waves changes with pressure, temperature, and rock composition. The discovery that Earth has a liquid layer beneath the crust and a solid inner core has come from detailed analysis of the different types of waves that pass through the body of the Earth. Looking at the composition of meteorites, fragments of asteroids, formed about the same time, and from about the same material, as Earth provides clues to what minerals the core might contain. Diamond anvil cells are instruments used to recreate the pressure existing deep inside the planet by squeezing materials between two diamonds surfaces. A combination of this data is used to in complex computer modelling programs resulting in detailed animations of the geodynamo, a process powered by the convection of heat in the outer core along with the rotation of the planet.

Also a few more layers of papier mâché have been applied to the sculpture that will house a screen with video for the work Belly of a Rock.

Other work in the research stage looks at the first use of a magnetic compass, the cardinal points of navigation and the compass predecessor the wind rose.

In classical antiquity, a time stretching from Homer to the early middle ages, geographic orientation usually referred to landmarks or astral phenomena to determine direction. Eos meaning dawn, and Hesperus, evening were named for sunrise and sunset with north (arctos) being marked by the constellation Ursa Major and later the Pole Star. The winds also became associated with direction, and named in accordance with their qualities such as hot and humid or cold and dry. In Greek mythology Astraeus, the god of dusk, and Eos, the goddess of dawn, gave birth to many sons of the twilight including the Anemoi, the four gods of the winds, each ascribed a cardinal direction. Boreas being the god of the cold north wind,  Notus the god of the hot south wind, Eurus from the east and gentle Zephyrus from the west.

The number of points on a wind rose began with the four cardinal points which were added to and refined over time. The winds were often given names that referred to a particular locality from where they seem to blow, so different places came up with various local names. Aristotle designed an asymmetrical 10 point wind rose which was later refigured by Timosthenes who is credited with inventing the system of twelve winds and using this more for navigation than for “the study of things high in the air.

Classical wind roses were eventually replaced by the modern compass rose during the middle ages.

The “Vatican table” is a marble Roman anemoscope dating from the 2nd or 3rd Century CE, held by the Vatican Museums. Usually an anemoscope would be topped with a weather vane. Divided into twelve equal sides, each one is inscribed with the names of the classical winds, both in Greek and in Latin. 

At a quantum scale, all matter is underpinned by uncertainty. My fascination with particle physics began from simply wondering what everything was made of when you looked really closely. I looked up ‘fundamental building blocks of the universe’ and was blown away by this mysterious other world, so far away in terms of scale I can comprehend, yet a part of me and everything I interact with.

Quanta is a discrete unit that cannot be divided. Quantum physics is the study of energy and matter at the most fundamental level. The chemical reactions in a birds eye that allow it to ‘see’ Earth’s magnetic field involves the quantum entanglement of radical pairs of electrons. These electrons are excited by light, particularly the blue of twilight.

Photography was the first available demonstration that light could indeed exert an action sufficient to cause changes in material bodies. William Henry Fox Talbot 

The subject of the photograph (the sun) has transcended the idea that a photograph is simple a representation of reality,  and has physically come through the lens and put it’s hand onto the final piece. Sunburn Chris McCaw

This month NASA announced a new planetary defence strategy to protect Earth from an asteroid impact. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) on 11th October 2022, changed the orbit of the Dimorphos Asteroid in the first full-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology.

This marks humanity’s first time purposely changing the motion of a celestial object.

“An asteroid impact with Earth has potential for catastrophic devastation, and it is also the only natural disaster humanity now has sufficient technology to completely prevent,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. First any potential collision objects must be identified. This will be the job of the Near Earth Object Surveyor, along with ground-based optical telescope capabilities, to find the still undiscovered population of asteroids and comets that could impact our planet.

A magnetometer is being sent on an eight year journey to Jupiter. It was launched this month from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) has magnetic and electric field sensors on the end of the magnetometer boom. The boom is folded in three parts and packed against the side of the spacecraft for launch. Once unfolded in space, the sensors will extend clear of the main body of the spacecraft, allowing very accurate measurements without magnetic interference from the spacecraft itself.

The boom’s instruments will measure Jupiter’s magnetic field, its interaction with the internal magnetic field of Ganymede, and will help study the subsurface oceans of the icy moons.

Ganymede is the only moon in the solar system known to have its own magnetic field. The magnetic field causes auroras, which are ribbons of glowing, hot, electrified gas, in regions circling the north and south poles of the moon. Because Ganymede is close to Jupiter, its magnetic field is embedded in, or lies within, Jupiter’s magnetic field.

The discovery of the moons orbiting Jupiter by Galileo Galilei in 1610 was the first time a moon was discovered orbiting a planet other than Earth. The discovery eventually led to the understanding that planets in our solar system orbit the Sun, instead of our solar system revolving around Earth.

Gallery Visits

Peter Doig at The Courtauld. My highlights were the luminous moons, moon bathing and an etching of a cave.

Jitish Kallat Whorled (Here After Here After Here) at Somerset House had a romantic premise with a prosaic aesthetic. I love the concept and the theory and it’s certainly a jarring juxtaposition to be directed to celestial destinations by motorway signage. Routes through the work map circular movements through space and time. Is this the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?

Mike Nelson Extinction Beckons at Hayward Gallery.

The impact is in the SCALE. Punchdrunk meets abandoned engineering.

Nothing truly exists – except in relation to other things. Carlo Rovelli

Work in progress.

Building the azimuth obelisk made from layered re-cycled paper. This sculpture is a response to the concrete obelisk erected in 1955 at Hartland Magnetic Observatory as a permanent azimuth mark from which to measure the drift of Earth’s magnetic field. Deep time geology holds the sedimentary knowledge of magnetic activity, from the degrees of variation between the magnetic and geographic north pole to the cataclysmic impact of pole reversals.

Etching Directional Magnetic Steel to reveal the jigsaw pattern which comes from rolling single crystals of an iron silicon alloy into thin sheets to minimise magnetic losses for use in industry.

The copper sulphate etching process creates a very thin, fragile layer of shiny copper under the red residue

Magnetism embodies magical qualities which have fascinated humans since the first encounter with a lodestone. These rare and enigmatic fragments found scattered across the surface of the Earth are created when lightning chances to strike the mineral magnetite.

The Lodestone, from Plato to Kircher by D. W. Emerson lists various historical references to the lodestone. The writer concludes – Lodestone, being very unusual, greatly impressed previous generations. Despite its unattractive appearance it was an admired mineral type more precious than pearls, it was celebrated in persuasive Latin hexameters, it was an analogue for the power of deities, it took a witch to subdue it, it was deemed explicable by Epicurean atomic theory, it was involved in a rather tenuous argument for eternal punishment of wicked persons, it meant doom for unwary mariners, it furnished fodder for folk lore, it resided in the arsenal of the apothecary, it helped to demonstrate the earth’s magnetism, and it assisted navigation. What other mineral has such a record? The lodestone was quite a remarkable rock; it still is, and oddly, yet to be completely studied and documented.

Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24 – 79) :

What is more amazing (than this stone) or at least where
has nature shown greater devilry? She gave rocks a voice
answering, or rather answering back, to man. What is more
indolent than the inert character of stone? Yet nature has
endowed it with awareness and hooking hands. What is
more unyielding than the harshness of iron? On it nature
has bestowed feet and a mode of behaviour. For it is drawn
by the lodestone, and the all-subduing substance hastens to
something like a vacuum, and on its approach it leaps
towards the stone, is held and kept there by its embrace.

Claudius Claudianus (AD fl. 395):

There exists a stone called lodestone; discoloured, dingy,
nondescript. It does not lend distinction to the combed
locks of kings, nor to the fair necks of girls, nor does it
gleam on the showy clasps of sword belts. But in fact if
you pay due regard to the strange marvels of this dark rock
then it outshines elegant adornments and anything, on far
eastern shores, that the Indian looks for in the weed of the
Red Sea (i.e. pearls).

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430):

We recognise in the lodestone an extraordinary ability to
seize iron; I was much perturbed when I first saw it. The
reason is that I clearly saw an iron ring grabbed and held
up by the stone. … Who would not be amazed at this power
of the stone?

Generating a magnetic field.

The dynamo theory states that to generate a magnetic field, a body must rotate and have a fluid core with an internal energy supply that is able to conduct electricity and drive convection.  Earth fulfils all of these requirements. It rotates faster at the Equator than it does at the poles causing spiral convection currents in the liquid iron outer core which is an excellent electrical conductor, powered by the energy released as droplets of liquid iron in the outer core freeze onto the solid inner core.

Any variations in rotation, conductivity, and heat impact the magnetic field created.

Mars has a weak magnetic field as it has a totally solid core. Venus also has a weak magnetic field for although it has a liquid core it rotates too slowly to create convection currents.  Jupiter has the strongest magnetic field in the solar system, with a metallic liquid hydrogen core and fast rotation, it has a magnetosphere so large it begins to deflect the solar wind almost 3 million kilometres from its surface.

Highlights from a trip to Japan which offered many poetic and spiritual experiences.

Active sulphur vents of the North South Hakone volcano arc boundary dividing Japan into East and West….also used to cook eggs. The beautiful markings on the eggshell were gone the next day.

As Tristan Gooley says in The Natural Navigator, ‘There is a commonly held belief that “Moss grows on the north side of trees and buildings.” It does, sometimes, but will also grow on every other side. However, lots of satisfyingly north facing moss growth on the trees in this Tokyo park.

Moss tending in the rain, some splendid moss in the gardens of Kanazawa.

Inspiration for an absolute hut. The “Gassho-zukuri Village”, a World Heritage Site set in stunning mountain scenery, has more than 100 gassho-zukuri thatched rural buildings with wonderful steep pitched A-frame roofs.

To Discover the Meaning of Being Born as Human Beings. Higashi Honganji Temple

Moss heaven.

To visit Saihoji Kakedora Temple (the Moss Temple), you must send a postcard by mail to request a visit. On arrival, you spend time in the temple at a low table quietly copying sutras with a calligraphy pen to calm the mind before entering the garden.

The garden is built around the Ogonchi Pond shaped like the Chinese character, meaning heart and blanketed in over 120 species of moss.

master of persimmons

treetops are close to

Stormy Mountain

The poem stone tells the story of Kayori who had 40 persimmon trees in the garden laden with fruit which he intended to sell, but the night before they were to be picked a huge storm arose and in the morning not one persimmon was left on the trees. Kyorai was enlightened by this experience and called the hut Rakushisha – the cottage of the fallen persimmon.

Many famous haiku poets, disciples of Basho and including Basho himself, stayed here.

Home of the cloud dragon. Zen garden at Tenryu-Ji Temple, Kyoto.

The tour through the womb of the Zuigu-bosatsu. The darkness of the journey through the womb was absolute. The stone floor ice cold on bare feet. Rosary beads the size of grapefruits led a winding path to the softly lit zuigu stone and on to the light to be reborn. Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto

Kaname-ishi, keystone at Seikanji Temple, overlooking the city of Kyoto, spread like a fan before it, is believed to grant wishes if touched.

Rivers in the sky. Theories about crown shyness range from being caused by friction as new shoots are eroded in a windy forest to sensing the shadow or warmth of a neighbour.

Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja) was one of the sixteen arahats and is said to have excelled in the mastery of occult powers.

In Japanese mythology, the god of thunder arrived in Nara riding a white deer. The deer have lived here for centuries and are revered as emissaries of the gods of the Kasugataisha Shrine.

They have learnt to bow to be rewarded with special deer biscuits, which you can buy to feed them.

Discovering the works of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican media artist exhibiting internationally with a background in physical chemistry who creates large scale interactive work exploring and exploiting human interaction with technology to create an impressive catalogue of works from tethering a blazing sun to a face briefly echoed in a wisp of cloud. I was drawn to his work Atmospheric Memory inspired by Charles Babbage’s philosophy.

Whilst the atmosphere we breathe is the ever-living witness of the sentiments we have uttered, the waters, and the more solid materials of the globe, bear equally enduring testimony of the acts we have committed. Charles Babbage

Gallery Visits

Undertow at Unit 1 Gallery a group show with a subtle and astute use of material, quietly smoldering with agency.

Artists: Alex Simpson, Alison Rees, Isobel Church, Lauren Ilsley, Nicholas Middleton, Sarah Wishart and Tana West.

‘Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.’ – Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 2004/2016

Michael Taylor The Last Man at Standpoint Gallery. I really loved this luminous body of work.

Richard Slee Sunlit Uplands at Hales Gallery was a wonderful conveyor belt parade of glistening mini utopias.

We can see no detail, we can see nothing definable and it is, I know, simply the sanguine necessity of our minds that makes us believe those uplands of the future are still more gracious and splendid than we can either hope or imagine.” 

The Discovery of the Future, H.G. Wells 1902

The quote “sunlit uplands” has been used as political ideology, as an assurance for better days to come most recently the phrase has been linked to the promises of Brexit, with politicians leaning on this rallying rhetoric.

George Henry Longly Microgravities at Nicoletti. I found the slick production values, very shiny like outsize circuit boards of these works exposing sci-fi cliché and subverting popular space movie tropes sat very close to the ideas they are parodying. Microgravity – ‘the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless’, according to NASA’s website – is responsible for metabolic and behavioural changes for space travelers. Some interesting theory behind this show about the human cost of living in space as our gut microbiome reacts to a weightless environment. I liked the reflection cast on the floor from the mirrored circle left exposed as a planet on the widescreen landscape.

On Failure group show at Soft Opening with Olivia Erlanger, Cash Frances, Jordan/Martin Hell, Kelsey Isaacs, Maren Karlson, Sam Lipp, Chris Lloyd and Narumi Nekpenekpen. While certain works function as indexes of failed attempts at control, others recognise the perceived failure of the human body, positing that from a spiritual perspective: if perfection is nonexistent, then failure is all we have, all that is real. One or two of the hanging pieces are reminiscent of the votive offerings at holy wells or the love lock bridges festooned with padlocks.

Bridget Smith Field Recordings at Frith Street Gallery. Natural material processes, simply presented. The weathering of bulrushes, the materiality of analogue photographic techniques such as ambrotypes and tintypes, the simplicity of a moon rising over the sea.

Daniel Shanken The Cascades at Stanley Picker Gallery. I was excited to see this show as the randomness within the work is derived from radioactive decay and I thought the title may refer to cascades of comic particles but perhaps it refers to cascades of data. The aesthetic was very game based and the randomness not explicit in origin. I liked the set up though with the projection onto the floor creating an abyss to gaze down into from an industrial style walkway.

David Blandy Atomic Light at John Hansard Gallery Southampton. Four films circumnavigating the fallout from the atomic bomb massacre at Hiroshima. The body of work is inspired by a family history, a grandfather, a prisoner of war in Singapore – held by the Japanese but felt himself saved by the detonation at Hiroshima. The golden hour light is so perfectly captured and reflected in The Edge of Forever which gives voice to the children, accusing, watchful and alone. This was filmed by his partner and features his own children. Soil, Sinew and Bone is a collaged documentary of archival material, mirrored so that the central area of the film takes on the shape of an a atomic bomb. In Sunspot two scientists, one in Japan, one at Mount Wilson Observatory are monitoring the activity of sunspots, the flares that can erupt and disrupt radio signals as the particle filled solar wind and magnetic turbulence blasts across the magnetosphere. The film Empire of the Swamp has a wonderful rich narration embodied in the voice of an ancient crocodile who remembers the mangrove swamps before the war and the arrival of the white man.

I enjoyed the Art Fictions podcast with guest Jennifer Higgie discussing her writing practice via the 2009 novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. I was then lucky to see Complicitie’s excellent interpretation of this novel on stage at the Barbican directed by Simon McBurney.

this is a tale about the cosmos, poetry, and the limitations and possibilities of activism.

Complicitie’s production employed the same blinding flash technique as Alfredo Jaar used in his work The Sound of Silence which I saw in 2006 and still remember vividly. Sitting in a dark space a story of one photograph, taken in Sudan 1993, is told in simple sentences on a large black screen. The photograph is shown momentarily before a blinding flash of light scores the retina. You are left blinking in the afterglow. The image won a Pulitzer Prize, but the South African photographer Kevin Carter committed suicide at 33 after struggling to come to terms with what he witnessed, and the public response for not having intervened to save the child’s life. In the novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Janina, the eccentric ‘older woman’ does not hold back from intervening when she sees injustice to any living thing. She is also vilified, but for showing compassion for the animals.

Alfredo Jaar 'The Sound of Silence'

I also dredged up the memory of having seen the film Spoor at the 2017 BFI LLF also based on this novel. Finally I have bought a copy of the novel. A circuitous route to the original text.

I am very much enjoying reading Rebecca Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Her writing is like a torchlight illuminating one idea after another, sweeping across a multitude of topics with an infectious energy to explore and experience the unknown.

How will you go about finding that thing, the nature of which is totally unknown to you? – Meno

Really pleased with the results I am getting from the new batch of directional magnetic steel sent from Union Steel Products. These are coming out better than in previous tests.

Norman P. Goss invented grain-orientated steel in 1934. It was produced through a two-stage cold rolling process with intermediate annealing between the cold rolling stages. Grain-oriented electrical steel enabled the development of highly efficient electrical machines, especially transformers. Today, the magnetic cores of all high-voltage high-power transformers are made of grain-oriented electrical steel. The strong preferred crystallographic orientation is known as a Goss texture.

When I receive the electrical steel it has a grey insulation coating which has been applied to both sides of the sheet to avoid eddy currents between the stacked sheets when used in a transformer core. I am removing this coating by sanding. I then etch the sheets in copper sulphate solution for 20 minutes. The plate must be dried very quickly when it is taken out of the etching bath. I then lightly polish and wax the surface. Some detail is lost quite quickly and areas can become muddy after etching so I still need to experiment a little more with alternative cleaning and sealing methods.

A previous batch had a different coating that proved impossible to remove cleanly even with the most extreme methods. This new batch has two different types of sheet which have a slightly different pattern to reveal. It is quite hard work but a fascinating material to experiment with.

I have been considering using the Directional Magnetic Steel Pieces in some form of suspended sculpture as movement causes the surface to catch the light revealing the patterned surface of this material. I might use it to mark the line of declination across the gallery floor from True North to Magnetic North at the time of installation.

Thinking about moving sculptures –

Imagine holding Einstein’s attention for the forty minutes it takes your work to revolve. A Universe by Alexander Calder 1934, painted iron pipe, steel wire, motor, and wood with string. One of the first artists to explore kinetic and motor driven sculpture, expanding drawing into 3D and painting into motion. A nice intro to Calder from 2016 – The Universe of Alexander Calder with Dara Ó Briain.

Work continues on the Azimuth Obelisk with the construction of the metal frame to support the structure and hold the layered paper sheets. Thanks to Giles Corby of the London Sculpture Workshop for getting to grips with my diagrams and welding the frame. The frame is made in three interlocking parts to distribute the weight and make for easier storage and transportation. This sculpture is a response to the concrete obelisk erected in 1955 at Hartland Magnetic Observatory, near the site’s northern boundary as a permanent azimuth mark. It is viewed via a theodolite through a window in the north wall of the Absolute Hut, its azimuth being 11º27’54” E of N and marks the point from which the magnetic north pole is tracked as it drifts westwards.

The British Bryological Society celebrates its centenary this year, promoting the study of mosses and liverworts. I have been searching their website for clues on growing moss. Most of the information is on the identification of mosses but I did find a useful downloadable pdf of The Moss Growers Handbook by Michael Fletcher. No mention of liquidising moss with yoghurt as a starter culture though.

Gathering moss, liquidising with yoghurt and painting on to reclaimed old boards.

I made a rough model of The Absolute Hut to work out how many boards I will need for the north facing wall to try and grow moss on. I like that it turned out looking like a bird house as inside will be video exploring the magnetoreception of birds. This work is a reimagining of the Absolute Hut at Hartland Magnetic Observatory where monitoring of the Earth’s magnetic field takes place.

Some speculation on human magnetoreception:

Neurons send information electrochemically around the body. The signals they send are called action potentials which is a temporary shift from negative to positive within the cell caused by certain ions entering the cell. Research has proven that some animals can sense the magnetic field via cryptochrome molecules in the retina which trigger action potentials. New studies have been carried out looking at iron particles (Fe3O4) found in the brain using supersensitive magnetic sensors to read the brain’s magnetic field. Receptor cells containing crystals of magnetite could register changes in magnetic fields and report this information to the brain.  

One study suggests that it could be possible for the magnetic field in one animal’s brain to transmit information to another animal’s brain by triggering action potentials creating the same thoughts and emotions. There have been experiments with rats and fruit bats which claim brain to brain communication has occurred. Alpha waves in the human brain have been shown to respond to magnetic fields. Alpha waves are always present, but are more prominent when at rest. The experiment, carried out at Caltech, mimicked how a person might experience the Earth’s magnetic field when turning their head. 

Maybe putting our heads together can exchange thoughts telepathically.

I have taken the contour lines from a publicly available World Magnetic Model Field Map as a framework for layering in the video work on bird magnetoreception.

An early frosty morning captured the sun melting the ice on the lens of the spy cam in the garden.

I have built the protective box frame for the monitor that will be inside the mollusc/rock sculpture Belly of a Rock. Thanks to Pete next door for cutting the wood for me. I plan to build the shape up with mesh covered in paper clay. I have had the idea to make small circular paper clay clumps with swirls of crushed shell on each one and build the form up from these. I have been given a lot of oyster shells and have collected mussel shells which I have tested crushing with a pestle and mortar.

The drift of the magnetic North pole was first recorded in 1831 and historically would wander between 0–15 km a year but since the 1990’s it has sped up to drift 50–60 km a year. Tracking changes in the magnetic field can tell researchers how the iron in Earth’s core moves.

Earth’s magnetic field is created in the swirling outer core. Magnetism in the outer core is about fifty times stronger than it is on the rocky surface of the Earth. At the centre of the Earth is the inner core which is divided into eastern and western hemispheres. In the inner core, the temperature is so high, materials lose their permanent magnetic properties as the atoms are so thermally excited they can no longer align to a magnetic point. This is known as the Curie temperature.

The hemispheres of the inner core have distinct crystalline structures and the western hemisphere seems to be crystallizing rapidly whereas the eastern hemisphere may actually be melting.  Geoscientists have also recently discovered that the inner core has an inner core. A radical geologic change about 500 million years ago may have caused this inner inner core to develop. Here the crystals are oriented east-west instead of north-south and are not aligned with either Earth’s rotational axis or magnetic field. The inner inner core crystals may have a completely different structure to the hexagonal close-packed (HCP) phase of iron that is stable only at extremely high pressure and so may exist at a different phase.

ESA’s three-satellite Swarm mission was launched in 2013 to monitor Earth’s magnetic field by measuring magnetic signals from Earth’s core, the crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere. Using data from the Swarm mission, scientists have discovered energy generated by electrically-charged particles in the solar wind, which can be disruptive to communication systems, flows asymmetrically into Earth’s atmosphere towards the magnetic north pole more than towards the magnetic south pole. They have also discovered a completely new type of magnetic wave that sweeps across the outermost part of Earth’s outer core every seven years. These magnetic waves are likely to be triggered by disturbances deep within the Earth’s fluid core. Research suggests that other such waves are likely to exist, probably with longer periods.

Geomagnetic jerks are sudden powerful waves that occur about every three to 12 years and are not consistent across the globe. It seems these jerks originate from rising blobs of molten matter that form in the planet’s core up to twenty five years before the related jerk takes place. The current findings from Swarm are part of a long-term project to predict the evolution of the geomagnetic field over the coming decades.

Polarised light is when the waves of electric and magnetic fields vibrate preferentially in certain directions. This can happen when light bounces off a reflective surface like a mirror or the sea. It can also happen in space as starlight travels through gas and dust clouds. Polarisation carries a wealth of information about what happened along a light ray’s path and astronomers can study the physical processes that caused the polarisation.

The Milky Way is filled with a mixture of gas and dust from which stars are born. Cosmic dust grains are almost always spinning rapidly, tens of millions of times per second, due to collisions with photons and rapidly moving atoms. The spinning dust grains become aligned to the direction of the magnetic field. They emit light at very long wavelengths from the infrared to the microwave domain which comes out vibrating parallel to the longest axis of the grain, making the light polarised.

Visualisation of data from ESA’s Planck satellite shows the interaction between interstellar dust in the Milky Way and the structure of our Galaxy’s magnetic field. Polarisation-sensitive detectors were able to capture the data as interstellar dust grains tend to align their longest axis at right angles to the direction of the magnetic field resulting in light emitted by clouds of gas and dust being partly ‘polarised’. Researchers are using the polarised light from interstellar dust to reconstruct the Galaxy’s magnetic field and study its role in galaxy evolution and star formation. From this data it can be seen that across the galactic plane there is a strong regular pattern but in some areas there are tangled features where the local magnetic field is particularly disorganised.

New images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope show star formation, gas, and dust in nearby galaxies with unprecedented resolution at infrared wavelengths. NGC 1433 is a barred spiral galaxy with a particularly bright core surrounded by double star forming rings. For the first time, in Webb’s infrared images, scientists can see cavernous bubbles of gas where forming stars have released energy into their surrounding environment.

The Observable Universe 2018 by Pablo Carlos Budasi. The furthest we can see is the faint glow from the cosmic microwave background emitted 13.8 billion years ago.

From Earth we become the centre of the eye that gazes out but we have no idea of the full size of the universe or if we are embedded in a multiverse.

The unobservable universe makes up the vast majority, around 95% of the universe. Zero, a symbol to mark nothing, sits on the boundary between absence and presence indicating what might have been or might come to be. Where we thought there was nothing we have found so much.

Gallery Visits

Preconscious Landscape at Exposed Arts Projects – an interesting space for arts based research projects. Artists: Lynne Abrahamson, Gabriele Beveridge, Matilde Cerruti Quara, Konstantinos Giotis, Sotiris Gonis, Ramona Güntert, Raksha Patel, Hamish Pearch, Anna Perach, Chantal Powell, Candida Powell-Williams, Paloma Proudfoot, Aziza Shadenova, Holly Stevenson, Maro Theodorou, Adia Wahid & Meng Zhou all grapple with an unresolvable psychoanalytic question: what does it mean for the conscious mind to try to understand its own preconsciousness?

Richard Mosse Broken Spectre at 180 The Strand. Seventy minutes of emotionally uncomfortable yet beautifully riveting viewing. Endless overwhelming destruction. Burnt forest. Subterranean fires. Intensive cattle farming. Aggressive gold mining. Wide wide screen images that slip between dreamlike garish colour and chilling monochrome with a soundtrack that sounds like the forest itself crying. The brutal disrespect for the land, the non-human and the people of the Amazon rainforest captured in heartbreaking detail as it slips through our fingers. Having been looking at moss recently the large photographic works at the entrance to the film come across very moss like and emphasises the micro and macro nature of the world.

Cable Depot presents Insert Coin, a project by Bob Bicknell-Knight exploring predatory monetisation practices within video games, specifically loot boxes, and the ongoing insertion of gambling mechanics into virtual experiences. Tapping into our desires and the addictive thrill of winning Bob Bicknell-Knight invites us across the digital divide into a luminous world of pixels and 3D printing. I was delighted to win an island. Here everything is free so there is no uncertainty and debt to mar the experience.

As our physical lives are becoming increasingly gamified the game industry has, for almost twenty years, been inserting ways of gambling real world money into video games. From purchasing extra lives to play another level in Candy Crush to buying new cosmetic options for your guns in Call of Duty, spending money within video games has become increasingly prevalent.

One of the most prevalent and destructive forms of monetization are loot boxes, consumable virtual items that are bought within video games which can be redeemed to receive a randomised selection of further virtual items, ranging from simple customization options for a player’s avatar or character to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armour. As the items are randomised players have previously spent thousands of pounds attempting to gain specific products in different games. As these gambling mechanics have become more prevalent, with considerable harm being done to young people and players with gambling addictions, loot boxes are now illegal in several countries, whereas recently the UK government decided that loot boxes will not be regulated under betting laws.

Champs Noir curated by Simon Leahy-Clark at Terrace Gallery. A carefully chosen collection of works in black from a great catalogue of artists. Featuring: Michael Ashcroft, Bensley and Dipre, Diane Bielik, Andy Black, Cedric Christie, Gemma Cosse, Graham Crowley, A Ee, Nicky Hodge, Mandy Hudson, Michael Kaul, Sarah Ken, Sharon Leahy-Clark, Simon Leahy-Clark, Graham Lister, Brendan Lyons, Alistair MacKillop, Mutalib Man, Enzo Marr, Donna Mclean, Neil Metzner, Jane Millar, Josh Mitchell, Jost Munster, Stephen Palmer, Kasper Pincis, Andrew Seto, Peter Suchi, Sally Taylor, Chris Tosic, Mark Wainwright & Tom Wilmott. Selected image: Jane Millar: Test Bed, ceramic media, 12cm diameter, 2019.

Julie F Hill Earth, Water, Night at The Stone Space

We so often look out at the night sky forgetting it is gazing back at us.

‘… The [pool] is the very eye of the landscape, the reflection in water the first view that the universe has of itself …’ —Gaston Bachelard,

Holding the poetic and alchemical in contrast to the objective and scientific, astronomical data of deep space folds into Earth’s deep time. Light and shadow gather in pools of water, forming images that suggest consciousness is a fundamental property of all matter.

Beautiful and contemplative works capturing the milkyness of the Milky Way caught in the folds of the night sky; distorted reflections rippling across dark pools; illusory depths oscillating between dimensions.

Sam Williams Deep in The Eye and The Belly (Part One) at San Mei Gallery. It was a busy night at the opening and I didn’t take any photos. There was a large projection on one wall and two other films showing on monitors with headphones. The work describes stories of cetacean bodies, interlacing actual historical events with speculative narratives. The camp narration of the main film deliberately jars with the emotive subject matter, but is given context through the supporting films as the protagonist who features across each film is seen reclining wearing feathers and glittery regalia speaking in long drawn and world weary sentences or lamenting the loss of the whale in absurd song from the vantage of a lighthouse.

Reverse Parking at Thames-side Gallery curated by Peter Lamb and Katie Pratt.

Reverse Parking presents seven artists (Gordon Cheung, Will Cruickshank, Cristallina Fischetti, Oona Grimes, Paul Hosking, Peter Lamb and Katie Pratt) whose work explores the duality of reality and the technological sublime. A bold and vibrant show. Good to see some large work from Oona Grimes and to chat with her in the gallery; her battle scenes encompassing battles down the ages coincidentally emerged at the onset of war in Ukraine. Also interesting to hear Katy Pratt discuss her language of abstract painting on the excellent Art Fictions podcast.

…not necessarily in the right order at Stephen Lawrence Gallery takes a playful cue from the Morecambe and Wise sketch with special guest Andre Previn which is embedded in British cultural history. Work from the featured artists (Carol Wyss, Dominic Murcott, Graeme Miller, Dirty Electronics and Dushume) overlaps and layers through still image, sound and projection. Exhibited is the third iteration of Carol Wyss’s giant etchings that expose the inner recesses of the human skull. Here they are made luminous and their sculpted landscapes all the more surreal by the animated light sequences traversing their surfaces.


Not observant enough to realise I bought the pocket guide version of The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley I ended up with an unembellished rather prosaic read with lots of facts and charts and possibly useful information that requires a large investment of dedication to the cause to learn many of these techniques. What was amusing though was finding the section headed Mosses and Lichens opens with the paragraph –

‘There is a commonly held belief that “Moss grows on the north side of trees and buildings.” It does, sometimes, but will also grow on every other side.

He goes on to say that moss doesn’t care about direction, but it does care about moisture. So in the northern hemisphere the side away from the sun is preferred by moss as it retains moisture for longer. Gradient is also important to prevent run off of water. I have tried to prop my planks at as low an angle as possible in the side passage but may need to find somewhere I can lie them down more.

I am enjoying dipping in to Florian Freistetter’s A History of the Universe in 100 Stars. No longer a swathe of uniform twinkling points of light but each star has its own character and story. It starts with 100 stories but we can extrapolate that to consider each of the many billion stars as individuals.


In Our Time – Superconductivity Excellent guest speakers (Nigel Hussey, Professor of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Bristol; Suchitra Sebastian, Professor of Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge; Stephen Blundell, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford) on this podcast. Superconductivity was a surprising discovery in 1911 by the Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes who found that when he lowered the temperature of mercury close to absolute zero and ran an electrical current through it, there was no resistance to the current. Many other materials have also been found to share this property when cooled to a pivotal temperature when the material suddenly enters a different phase and behaves in a completely different way. As water moves from solid to liquid to gas at different temperatures so metals can move between solid, liquid and superconductor. Further research found that a superconductor also expels magnetic fields and this has been exploited in the making of MRI scanners and to speed particles through the Large Hadron Collider.

I also enjoyed hearing how, what were once impossible numbers, called imaginary numbers by Descartes, have turned out to be fundamental and integral to explaining oscillations and the sort of wave like structures in the universe that we encounter when diving into a quantum world.

The Curious cases of Rutherford and Fry – The impossible number

Super happy with the beautiful box, with walnut burr veneer, made by the skilled hands of Bruce Watson to house my cosmic ray detectors for cosmically interactive work The Breath of Stars. Bruce has a workshop opposite my studio at Thames-side Studios. The attention to detail is immaculate.

The Breath of Stars is a digital video work activated in real time by the passage of cosmic particles travelling from distant galaxies. These subatomic visitors from outer space are created during super nova explosions or by phenomena we are yet to discover.

Work in progress continues with tearing down paper squares for the Azimuth Obelisk.

Single vertical forms embody a primitive power. Etymologically, an obelisk should be made from a single quarried stone. To quarry one enormous piece of rock without it fracturing required power and money. To erect it required complex engineering skills. Since the first obelisks were raised in Egypt, often in gateway pairs with gilded tips for the sun god Re to anoint, they have escaped the confines of their original meaning. Originally a motif of immortality and communion between heaven and earth, its phallic symbolism has been co-opted by many nations, institutions and companies for its crude assertion of male power. Mystics shape crystals into obelisks as symbols of pent up negative energy in need of release. Perhaps the many memorials to the dead, marked by an obelisk usually cast in concrete, attempt to embrace the notion of immortality through remembrance in those carved names.

I don’t know why an obelisk was chosen as the azimuth marker at Hartland Magnetic Observatory. It’s hard to establish its actual shape as it can barely be seen now through the woods. Perhaps one day I will go back with binoculars.

I have imagined my obelisk sculpture as sedimentary rock with the layers holding clues to the fluctuations of the Earth’s magnetic field it stands as constant sentinel to. Made from recycled prints it is also a memorial to all the images buried in its form.

Looking North.

After unsuccessfully trying RHS Wisley for a book or advice on growing moss I have got some guides from the Field Studies Council. Hopefully these will help me choose the sort of moss that will be appropriate to use for the north wall of the Absolute Hut Installation. I am also beginning to collect wood to grow the moss on. The exhibition is several months away but I think it can take a while for moss to get established. The advice seems to be to liquidise some moss with yoghurt and spread it on the surface you want it to grow on.

The geographic north pole lies in the middle of the Arctic Ocean covered in shifting sea ice where the sun rises and sets only once per year. All lines of longitude converge here and hence all time zones. It is known as true north to distinguish it from the magnetic north pole.

However, as the Earth’s axis of rotation wobbles slightly in an irregular circle called the Chandler wobble this pole is not fixed. Where Earth’s rotational axis meets its surface is known as the instantaneous north pole and the north pole of balance, lies at the centre of this circle. The celestial north pole is where the axis line of the Earth extends into the night sky.

The magnetic north pole is where the planet’s magnetic field is vertical and a compass needle here would dip and try to point straight down – hence its other name: the magnetic dip pole.

The north geomagnetic pole is the northern dipole of the planet. When looked at from space the Earth may look like a bar magnet with two dipoles, but the geomagnetic poles are an approximation arrived at by reducing Earth’s complex and varied magnetic field to that of a simple bar magnet. The north dip pole lies in Northern Canada, the northern dipole is roughly off the northwest coast of Greenland.

The magnetic field lines of the Earth flow from south to north magnetic pole which is the opposite of a bar magnet where the lines flow north to south.  The north magnetic dip pole is where the earth’s magnetic field lines pull toward the planet, acting like the south pole of a bar magnet. The north pole of a bar magnet is attracted to the magnetic north pole of the Earth, not resisted as two north poles on magnets repel one another.

The extraordinary paintings in the Lascaux Caves of southwestern France may include representations of constellations and therefore be the earliest star maps dating back to nearly twenty thousand years ago. The dots set around an Aurochs eye in the Hall of Bulls may be the Hyades star cluster around the star Aldebaran as the eye of Taurus. Other dots are similar in configuration to the Pleiades. Now sealed off from the contamination of human breath the public can visit a replica site to gain a sensory experience of the scale and artistry. Painted on to the wall of the shaft is a bull, a strange bird-man and a mysterious bird on a stick. which according to Dr Rappenglueck, form a map of the sky with the eyes of the bull, birdman and bird representing the three prominent stars Vega, Deneb and Altair. Around 17,000 years ago, this region of sky would never have set below the horizon and would have been especially prominent at the start of spring.

The Pleiades visible to the naked eye from almost anywhere on Earth appear as a small asterism of six or seven stars. At a distance of about 444 light years, it is among the nearest star clusters to Earth. Chased by Orion the seven sisters were transformed by Zeus and flung into the sky to escape the hunter. Through a lens, we can now see there are a lot more sisters drifting through a cloud of interstellar dust which scatters the light into a misty blue cloak. Image by Emil Ivanov.

A third research trip to Snettisham.

This time I shared the experience with good friends Ruth and Odile and we joined an RSPB group visit which allowed parking nearer the viewing site avoiding the usual long walk in the dark. The drive along the narrow potholed track, with no headlights which would alarm the birds, is a challenge and I was grateful for another car who had visited before leading the way. It was a chilling -7 at 7am making it difficult to use the camera with frozen fingers.

Eventually the sun cut through the low mist giving us stunningly beautiful skies to watch the skeins of pink footed geese leave their roost to go in search of sugar beet fields.

Having spent the night on the mudflats to avoid predators they leave at dawn in family groups. If there is a bright moon shining, they might not return from the feeding grounds at night as they can see if there is any danger approaching.

Before leaving Norfolk we visited Welney Wetland Centre, Britain’s largest area of seasonally-flooded land and the setting for mass winter gatherings of many thousands of wild ducks, geese and swans. Each winter thousands of Bewick’s and whooper swans make their winter migration to the UK, to escape colder countries.

They have popular swan feeding sessions and talks about the site and the work they do to protect the wildlife here such as liaising with the electric companies to hang reflectors on the overhead cables to make them more visible to flying birds.

Walking around the frozen fens reminded me of the James Turrell installations of diffuse light that makes it hard for the eye to focus.

The light-sensitive molecules that allow perception of the Earth’s magnetic field, could also influence other responses such as control of circadian rhythms and tracking the difference between night and day. In birds, Cryptochrome molecules are located in photoreceptors in the eye and react to the Earth’s magnetic field when excited by blue light enabling orientation and navigation. Light sensitive molecules can also be found in cell nuclei and may influence physiological processes, such as fattening and migratory motivation, working as a trigger for changes in behaviour.

Light vibrates up and down as it travels in waves and these vibrations can be vertical, horizontal, or at any angle in between. The waves that make up sunlight are evenly distributed across all angles but polarised light is made up of waves with the vibrations at only one angle. Polarising lenses absorb horizontal light while letting through the vertical waves reducing the overall intensity of the light that passes through. Light also becomes partially polarized when it reflects at an angle from a surface such as when the sun is low in the sky. Research led by Rachel Muheim has shown that birds are better able to use their magnetic compass when the direction of polarised light exciting the cryptochrome molecules is parallel to the magnetic field. She suggests that it is more useful for birds to sense the magnetic field during sunrise and sunset for orientation to determine their direction before migrating or leaving the roost. In the middle of the day, when the polarised light is approximately perpendicular to the magnetic field, it can be an advantage that the magnetic field is less visible, so that it does not interfere at a time when visibility is important to locate food and to detect predators.

Gallery Visits

Sarah Kent and Claire Loussouam performance interacting with iterations of the work Graft at the finissage of Liz Elton’s Work in Progress residency at Fitzrovia Gallery. Great to see the gallery filled with these delicate wafting landscapes made from biodegradable materials and natural dyes.

Strange Clay at Hayward Gallery explores the possibilities of thinking through making.

The exhibition features works by Aaron Angell, Salvatore Arancio, Leilah Babirye, Jonathan Baldock, Lubna Chowdhary, Edmund de Waal, Emma Hart, Liu Jianhua, Rachel Kneebone, Serena Korda, Klara Kristalova, Beate Kuhn, Takuro Kuwata, Lindsey Mendick, Ron Nagle, Magdalene Odundo, Woody De Othello, Grayson Perry, Shahpour Pouyan, Ken Price, Brie Ruais, Betty Woodman and David Zink Yi.

Stand out favourites were the dark volcanic and glistening contrasting surfaces of Salvatore Arancio’s work and the extraordinary and impressive scale of the squid in a pool of corn syrup and Japanese ink by David Zink Yi

Abraham Kritzman A Hand Beneath The Hills at Danielle Arnaud. I was intrigued to visit to see the small pillar structures and the interesting use of ceramics. Kritzman doesn’t like to give a lot away about his work so impressions are not pre-directed. The camouflage paintwork on the sculptures, crenellations and frenetic lines in the prints had a war like ambience. The influences however appear to come from the insect world of metamorphism, burrowing and speed.


Being a Human by Charles Foster. I got this book as I thought it might offer some points for discussion at the upcoming debate Being Human in relation to the night sky to be held at Allenheads Contemporary Arts. Unfortunately it didn’t have any useful insights and was rather judgemental and smug despite some clever and comic attempts at self effacement. The sort of smugness that emanates from those of devout faith where the judgement is on those unfortunate enough not to share or even aspire to the same definitive experience as that of the author. It also has some of the smugness of the parent loudly interacting with their offspring in public to show off their parenting skills/precocious/cute child. I did appreciate it was well written and researched. Acres of endnotes and a huge reading list which could turn out to be useful. Some points were well made about the edge as the site of all change and the idea that what is imagined is no less real but the packaging just wasn’t for me.


The Magnetic Mystery – investigate the mysterious power of magnets, with the help of wizard-physicist Dr Felix Flicker and materials scientist Dr Anna Ploszajski.


Editing footage for the video Belly of a Rock which will be shown on an old monitor encased in a sculptural hybrid form relating to both mollusc and rock. The giant sea slug of the mollusc family, can derive directional cues from the magnetic field of the earth which is then modified in response to the lunar cycle. It orients its body between north and east prior to a full moon. In the slug’s nervous system, four particular neurons are stimulated by changes in the applied magnetic field, and two are inhibited by such changes suggesting that the animal uses its magnetic sense continuously to help it travel in a straight line.

The Earth can be divided into the inner core, the outer core, the mantle, and the thin crust. The outer core is about 1,367 miles thick and mostly composed of liquid iron and nickel. It is very malleable and in a state of violent convection. The churning liquid metal of the outer core creates and sustains Earth’s magnetic field. At the boundary between the inner and outer core temperatures can reach 6,000° C which is as hot as the surface of the sun. The inner core is a dense ball of mostly iron, but with a temperature above the melting point of iron, it is not liquid or even molten. Intense pressure from the rest of the planet and its atmosphere prevents the iron inner core from melting as the iron atoms are unable to move into a liquid state. It could be described as a plasma behaving as a solid. The inner core rotates eastward, like the surface of the planet, but it’s a little faster, making an extra rotation about every 1,000 years.  Geoscientists think that the iron crystals in the inner core align north-south, along with Earth’s axis of rotation and magnetic field and are arranged in a hexagonal close-packed pattern. The orientation of the crystal structure means that seismic waves travel faster when going north-south than when going east-west. Seismic waves travel four seconds faster pole-to-pole than through the Equator. 

The Earth is still cooling and as it does so, bits of the liquid outer core solidify or crystallize causing the solid inner core to grow by about a millimetre every year. The growth is not uniform, it is influenced by activity in the mantle and is more concentrated around regions where tectonic plates are slipping from the lithosphere into the mantle, drawing heat from the core and cooling the surrounding area. The crystallization process is very slow, and further slowed by the constant radioactive decay of Earth’s interior. Scientists estimate it would take about 91 billion years for the core to completely solidify but the sun will burn out in just 5 billion years. 

I have nervously passed the cosmic ray detectors over to programmer Jamie. It was hard to let them out of my sight after so much work to get them built but he can’t test the code he has written without them. The Breath of Stars directly interacts with cosmic rays in real time to trigger a digital reaction via a mini computer attached to a block of plastic scintillator and a sensitive photomultiplier. As each particle strikes the plastic scintillator its energy is recorded and a starburst image video relative to the energy released is projected, with the largest images representing the particles with the highest energy.

I am constructing an Obelisk sculpture in response to the concrete obelisk erected in 1955 at Hartland Magnetic Observatory, near the site’s northern boundary as a permanent azimuth mark. It is viewed via a theodolite through a window in the north wall of the Absolute Hut, its azimuth being 11º27’54” E of N and marks the point from which the magnetic north pole is tracked as it drifts westwards. Layers of torn recycled paper are stacked like sedimentary rock that holds clues to the Earth’s magnetic field reversals in its strata.

Copper contours of magnetic field lines have been lacquered to preserve the heat patina from plasma gun cutting. These shapes will be pinned to the north facing mossy wall of the Absolute Hut installation, a reimagining of the Absolute Hut at Hartland Magnetic Observatory. I will also employ a north facing window from which to observe the azimuth mark of the Obelisk sculpture.

A second research visit to RSPB Snettisham, this time to see the pink footed geese (which over winter on the mudflats here) leave their roost at dawn to fly to the fields to feed.

The walk from the car park to the viewing area is over 2km and takes about half an hour to walk. Setting out before first light the weather felt promising but just as I erected the camera tripod the rain came down hard and didn’t stop for the rest of the morning.

Made a second attempt the next morning leaving a little earlier and although it remained dry there was heavy fog over the sea. Not great for filming with my very basic kit but very atmospheric to experience as the geese emerged from the sea mists.

The noise they make is incredible, a constant chattering building to a crescendo of honking calls as they rise from the water and swarm across the sky in their hundreds. They come in waves but look like particles. At one point what sounded like a few gunshots fired out across the bay in the distant darkness. This sudden disturbance set off a slow deep rumble which drew closer accompanied by a low dark cloud growing heavily stronger building and rising as a huge tidal wave of geese rose simultaneously into the sky in panicked disarray. Extraordinary to witness.

Birds are able to “see” Earth’s magnetic field lines and use that information for navigation. Their compass ability comes from a quantum effect in radical pairs, formed photochemically in the eyes. This light sensitive magnetic compass used by birds is affected by the polarisation direction of light. Exposure to blue light excites an electron, which causes the formation of a radical-pair whose electrons are quantum entangled, enabling the precision needed for magnetoreception.

In chemistry a radical is an unpaired electron which is can be highly chemically reactive. In the radical pair mechanism a pair of electrons with opposite spins have a chemical bond. Light can cause the electrons to change spin direction which can break the bond giving the electron a chance to react with other molecules. In magnetoreception two cryptochrome molecules, found in the rod cells in the eyes of birds, each with unpaired electrons, exist in states either with their spin axes in the same direction, or in opposite directions, oscillating rapidly between the two states. That oscillation is extremely sensitive and can detect the weak magnetic field of the Earth. Birds then move their heads to read the spin of the molecules and therefore detect the orientation of the magnetic field.

While in North Norfolk staying in a beach chalet away from light pollution I was able to make a couple of short time lapse videos centering on Polaris.

Birds can detect the slow arc of the sun and the rotation of the constellations across the sky which is imperceptible to humans and allows migrating birds to orient themselves using celestial navigation as well as magnetoreception.

Birds are also able to detect rapid movement such as individual flashes or flickering of a fluorescent light which humans see as a continuous light. Hawks which pursue other birds through dense forests at high speeds, follow the movement of their prey while avoiding branches and other obstacles. To humans travelling at this speed, the fleeing prey, branches and obstacles would just be a blur.

Gallery Visit

Thames-side Gallery ‘The Accurate Perception Available When Our Eye Becomes Single’ is an immersive multi-screen installation evoking the emotional specifics of place (Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast) while exploring the elasticity of time and history. It is an audio-visual collaboration between Richard Ducker (video) and Ian Thompson (sound) with no linear narrative; sound and image are not synchronised, so each viewing is a unique experience. Sarah Sparkes also makes an enigmatic performative appearance both in the video and live in the gallery.

The crashing sea on shingle, open spaces and brutalist bunker architecture of Orford Ness are echoed in the gallery with audio pitched to envelop and resonate but not overwhelm. Nicely done.


I really enjoy the Inside Science podcasts with Gaia Vince and this one interviewing cosmologist and theoretical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton about finding evidence that supports her multiverse theory was particularly fascinating.

Multiverses, melting glaciers and what you can tell from the noise of someone peeing

According to Laura the single universe theory is mathematically impossible.


Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life. A remarkable reveal of an other world, so different yet so entwined with our own. Beautifully clear analogies help to bridge an understanding between human and fungi.

The ability to detect and respond to chemicals is a primordial sensory ability.

In humans when a molecule lands on our olfactory epithelium and binds to a receptor it causes nerves to fire triggering thoughts and emotional responses.

A mycelial network is one large chemically sensitive membrane: a molecule can bind to a receptor anywhere on its surface and trigger a signalling cascade that alters fungal behaviour.

Fungal lives are lived in a flood of sensory information.

They have light receptors, are sensitive to touch and it also looks like fungi may form fantastically complex networks of electrically excitable cells – a potential ‘fungal computer’ using electrical signalling as a basis for rapid communication and decision making which could learn and remember.

It was such a pleasure to show with Sandra Crisp and Jockel Liess at Saturation Point. We were very pleased with how our films worked together in Projected Topographies and reflected out into the night skies of London.

Sandra Crisp: E_Life uses 3D generated animation, presenting intensely textured and dynamic geometry sequenced over time.

Multiple constantly transforming organic forms, each originating from a simple 3D sphere are mapped with eclectic visuals such as emojis, fragmented images borrowed from 24-hour online rolling-news media and others downloaded via a search engine. Particle systems generate repeated, yet varied objects throughout the film which appear to have a life of their own. Overall suggesting the possibility of a simulated future/ nature.

Jockel Liess: Variations on a theme is a generative audiovisual system which starts from a point of fascination with the aesthetics of irregular organic patterns.

Visually as well as sonically the aesthetic of natural patterns thrives on their intrinsic imperfection which are never distributed even or orderly, are never replications of themselves. They are rather reoccurring variations that form a recognisable tapestry of familiarity across an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable structure. Prospering from the tension that arises between repetition and asymmetry, and playfully inhabit the border region between order and randomness.

Susan Eyre: Aóratos transports the viewer between everyday locations and terrains visually transformed via use of an endoscope, a microscope,and cameras launched in a high altitude balloon.

It is not impossible that wormholes exist in our universe.

Aóratos imagines journeying through hidden landscapes, distorted spacetime and alternative perspectives. Envisaging potential encounters with cosmic strings, space foam, primordial chemistry, radioactive particles and escaping gravity the work conjectures on the enduring allure of traversing a wormhole.

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  astoundingly have even produced images of them.

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.

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.

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.

The video work explores hidden landscapes, the distortion of space and the permeability of barriers such as force fields and human skin to the unseen particles that constantly teem at near light speed across the universe.

Edge of atmosphere footage was achieved with the help of Sena Harayama, Romain Clement De Givry and Medad Newman from Imperial College Space Society supervised by senior lecturer in spacecraft engineering Dr Aaron Knoll. We also had help from the UK High Altitude Society. My ambition was to film cosmic particles at the point where most of the activity of collisions takes place, about 15km up and so we launched a cloud chamber in the payload of a high-altitude balloon. Unfortunately the prepared chamber was broken the night before the launch and the replacement was not really adequate. Also due to a turbulent launch the camera inside the payload was knocked to one side so we were unable to film this cosmic activity but did get amazing footage above the clouds, gained a height of 35km and successfully retrieved the payload from a field of horses.

Space travellers can ‘see’ cosmic rays as they pass through the retina and cause the rods and cones to fire, triggering a flash of light that is really not there. The retina functions as a mini cloud chamber where the recording of a cosmic ray is displayed by a trail left in its wake.

Aóratos translates as ‘unseen’.