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Work in progress on the Azimuth Obelisk sculpture has taken a new direction and I have abandoned the idea of casting the obelisk in aerated concrete. I also have new dimensions to work with having found an interesting article on the historic dimensions of obelisks with the advice that ‘designs that have too large a gap in scaling between elements will lack hierarchical cooperation and lead to a sense of emotional unrest‘.

Looking at layering of sedimentary rock holding memory of magnetic field information I am aiming to make the sculpture from layered paper to echo the effect of strata, using unwanted old work on paper as well as other paper that would otherwise be discarded. It has been satisfying tearing down old prints that were languishing in plan chests and old work from foundation courses and art classes. It even has an obelisk within the obelisk. I am collecting donations from everyone I know who works with paper as I have estimated I need about 8,000 sheets to reach a height of over 2m.

Work in progress on The Breath of Stars cosmic ray interactive work is still pending. After spending hours formatting and loading the raspberry pi with the video files of cosmic trail starbursts I heard from Jamie the programmer that .avi files are not going to work and these might need converting to WebM files which might not be easy. Hoping to find a solution to this soon.

Great fun greenscreen filming slime for Belly of a Rock – a video sculpture partly inspired by the Cosmicomics story The Spiral and partly inspired by paleomagnetism where magnetic minerals in rocks can archive a record of the direction and intensity of the magnetic field when they form.

“I began to give off excretions which took on a curving shape all around” The Spiral, Italo Calvino

“..I accompanied the effort of making the shell with the effort of thinking I was making something, that is anything: that is, I thought of all the things it would be possible to make. So it wasn’t even a monotonous task, because the effort of thinking which accompanied it spread towards countless types of thoughts which spread, each one, towards countless types of actions that might each serve to make countless things, and making each of these things was implicit in making the shell grow, turn after turn…” Italo Calvino The Spiral

Fabulous shells lent to me by my neighbour for spiralling inspiration. The size of them not easily appreciated in these images. They are huge. I have no idea how old the molluscs that made these could be.

Other work in progress is towards using the small monitors bought as a good deal on eBay set in a circle displaying video dissected into twelfths. Testing ideas with kaleidoscopic images from soap bubble videos and relying on technical help from next door getting the monitors to work

Delighted to be invited to join Sandra Crisp and Jockel Liess for an exciting moving image event. Each artist has a unique approach to film incorporating the study of form, surface and location. DM for an invitation.

Sandra Crisp: E_Life uses 3D generated animation to present a digital environment populated with intensely textured and dynamic geometry.

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.

My work Aóratos (new edit for this event) transports the viewer between everyday locations and terrains visually transformed via the use of an endoscope, a microscope, and cameras launched in a high-altitude balloon.

Paused to see the wonderful World Time Linear Clock at Piccadilly Circus Underground Station built in the early1920s and recently refurbished.

The band of roman numerals scrolls West at the same relative speed as the earth rotates, completing a circuit in 24 hours.

“The clock by which we measure time on our watches and digital devices is very misleading; it is determined by the daily rotation of the Earth around its axis and its annual rotation around the sun. This astronomical time is linear and regular. But the actual clock by which we live our socioeconomic lives is an emergent phenomenon determined by the collective forces of social interaction: it is continually and systematically speeding up relative to objective astronomical time.”    Geoffrey West

I also did a little research to find out more about the Azimuth Mirror I was given as a present. An azimuth mirror is used for taking the bearings of terrestrial and celestial objects. An azimuth is defined, from any given observation point, as the angle between an object or point and a reference line, usually to true North, moving away from that reference line in a clockwise direction on a horizontal plane. Through the use of mirrors, lenses and prisms, the instrument allows both, the readings of the compass card, and the object to be seen at the same time and in the same direction. It is portable equipment which is placed over a magnetic or gyro compass to aid navigation using either a landmark, when the arrows would be pointed down, or from a celestial object when the arrow would be pointed up. The little glass circle was once a spirit level but that has dried up. The word azimuth is used in all European languages today, it originates from medieval Arabic meaning “the directions”.

Finally made it to meet the Go Stargazing Walton Astronomy Group at their monthly session. We found them on the green at Esher which has been recently over illuminated with bright LED streetlights by a thoughtless council ruining the skies for astronomical observation and disorientating local wildlife and plant life. The local MP Dominic Raab IS NOT A MEMBER of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dark Skies. Click on the link and ask your MP to join in protecting our dark skies.

When we look up to the heavens, we largely see the same view that captivated and inspired our ancestors. The constellations, the Milky Way, shooting stars, and the night sky are woven into the fabric of our society, cultures and religions. The night sky is one of the most inspirational views that our planet offers.

We are on the precipice of losing the night sky. Right now, SpaceX and other companies are planning to launch tens of thousands of bright satellites in orbit around the Earth.

There is an Avaaz petition at this link urging protection of the night skies.

Bringing back memories of the 2015 Nelly Ben Hayoun film Disaster Playground

….NASA celebrates a Smashing Success – A team of researchers confirmed that the DART spacecraft’s impact with Dimorphos successfully altered the moonlet’s orbit around its parent asteroid by 32 minutes – marking the first time humans have changed the trajectory of a celestial object in space.

To me this feels like a major historical event. What has this little nudge set in motion?

Exhibition visits

Expanded film at the BFI London Film festival.

Framerate: Pulse of the Earth by ScanLAB Projects presents Destruction, extraction, habitation, construction, harvests, growth and erosion are presented as a shared immersive experience. The 3D time-lapse scans of British landscapes observe change on a scale impossible to see with traditional filmmaking techniques.

One of my favourites was Monoliths by Lucy Hammond, Hannah Davies, Asma Elbadawi and Carmen Marcus – we are shaped by the spaces that made us. Through footage shot in the north of England and personal narrative the women embody three monoliths – standing stones, whose symbolic power becomes increasingly important as the women talk.

Elizabeth Murton and Jane Glynn, explore the dynamics of time and movement in Fluid Time at The WaterMill, Mill Green Museum, Hatfield with live dance performance of Elizabeth Murton’s The Giant Weave from BEEE Creative full of joy and energy.

Libby Heaney in remiQXing still at Fiumano Clase. A solo presentation of video and physical works exploring the emerging field of quantum computing as both a subject and medium, turning the gallery space into the showroom of her fictional quantum computing company QX (Quantum eXperience). Some fabulous super shiny prints on mirrored dibond and ethereal prints direct to media on clear acrylic.

Transports of Delight at Danielle Arnaud curated by Edward Chell. In the 1830s, East London doctor and amateur naturalist Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward invented a sealed glass case, an ecosphere in which plants could survive heavily polluted air. Named after its inventor the Wardian case enabled the transport of plants by sea around the world and transformed global economies and environments, shaping the world we live in. Exhibition includes works by

Anna Barriball | Daphne Wright | David Cotterrell | Edward Chell | Gerard Ortín Castellví | Günther Herbst | Harun Morrison | Helen Maurer | Joseph Banks | Joy Gregory | Laure Prouvost | Lee Maelzer | Leelou Gordon-Fox | Maria Thereza Alves | Mariele Neudecker | Nick Laessing | Nils Norman | Owen Griffiths | Peter Hofer | Pia Östlund | Rosa Nguyen | Stephen Lee | Uriel Orlow |

ABSURD at OHSH Projects exploring the absurdity and strange rituals of our daily lives, the bizarreness of
which are brought to light when taken out of context. The institutions, structures and traditions we have built around ourselves and imbued with power and importance can highlight this most starkly; through religion, schooling, government, work and even our own homes. Curated by Henry Hussey and Sophia Olver. Exhibition includes works by Gillies Adamson Semple, Samuel Bassett, Jonny Briggs, Tom Bull, Ladina Clement, Janina Frye, Johnny Hogland, Mark Jackson, Lea Rose Kara, James Lomax, Hynek Martinec, Rasmus Nosstring and Lottie Stoddart.

Hypha Studios presents a showcase of some previously selected artists at the project space on Conduit Street. Hypha Studios matches artists with empty spaces across the UK. Artworks include those by Beverley Duckworth, Foka Wolf, Dion Kitson, Futures After and Josh Wright’s “Lost in a Just In time Supply Chain”, Anna Fearon, Tom Skipp, Molly Stredwick, Gabriela Pelczarska, Salvatore Pione.

Subatomic at The Science Gallery is a project by composer Christo Squier and experimental particle physicist Dr. Teppei Katori that looks at ways of interacting with cosmic rays, something I have been working on myself in the work The Breath of Stars for the last year or so. I was equally excited and anxious to see what they were presenting. They have created a particle shrine which takes data from the Super-Kamiokande observatory in Japan as well as live data from cosmic ray detectors to create a light and sound experience with vibrating mirrors. Rather jealous of the technical resources this project had access to.

There was also a performance of live music by a small orchestra responding in real time to data from the Super-Kamiokande observatory and compositions inspired by cosmic ray observation data.

A lot of the data used in the music responses and the particle shrine is publicly available data from the Super-Kamiokande observatory in Japan. I did notice that the cosmic watch detectors hooked up to the particle shrine are not set in coincidence mode to be sure it is cosmic particles that are being recorded. A lot of what Christo said during his presentation echoed how I feel about cosmic rays, the fact that they come from other galaxies and pass through us making that physical connection with outer space.

Sanctuary at The Swiss Church takes inspiration from the disparate and striking surrounding architecture, and the stories of people within the Covent Garden community, artists Ali Clarke and Gary Scholes have created a series of structures that symbolise individual sanctuaries. Amazing detail in some of the constructions, especially impressed with the scaffolding bolts.

Reading

Came across some great finds at the local Oxfam bookshop on mapping and magnetism and time, all interconnected.

I read Conquest of the Useless as I thought it might be relevant to research on exploration of the unknown. It was definitely a worthwhile read portraying the total dedication to following through a dream, the power of the creative urge. Watched the film Fitzcarraldo afterwards which although extraordinary doesn’t convey the true life drama and hardship recorded in the book experienced by the actors and film crew in telling the story.

Listening

BBC Radio 4 In our Time – The Earth’s Core. Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Earth’s solid inner core and liquid outer core, their structures and their impact on life on Earth.

Delighted to have my video installation At a Distance included in The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity  exhibition in the subterranean labyrinth of former police cells that is The Island Venue in Bristol. Curated by Sarah Strachan and Ayeshah Zolghadr. Exhibition Images by Steve Russell Studios.

This is a satellite exhibition of the International Printmaking Conference taking place at The Centre for Print Research, University of the West of England, Bristol. Motivated by the International Multidisciplinary Printmaking Conference IMPACT 12’s theme ‘Merging and Metamorphosis’, the exhibition aims to trace the metamorphosis of conversations between disciplines, seeking to reframe printmaking practice as a ‘site of interdisciplinarity’ and consider contemporary approaches to print as ‘a site of ambivalence, tension or a fertile ground for exploration and experimentation.’

Works include:

Valerie O’Regan, Vertical Landscape  Nicky Harwood Parachute  Åse Vikse The Sixteen  Hannah Robin Baker “In Conversation With…”  Heather Burwell Nostalgia Erika Cann Feldspar Score  Katy Drake Expose  Pauline Scott-Garrett An Almost Invisible Wound  Debby Lauder Fair, Fine, Brisk  Sarah Strachan The Security Dilemma  Lon Kirkop Ċella ta’ Wieħed  Rana Al Ogayyel Visual Sound and Hear the Print Judy Dibiase Trace  Laura Greenway Never Enough  Mick Paulusma Being There  A. Rosemary Watson line_space_form III.VII.I   Katherine Van Uytrecht Cellular Sound  Ayeshah Zolghadr Individuated Copy Series  Nicole Pietrantoni Still Life: Darwin’s Barberry  Simon Leahy-Clark Untitled  Cameron Lings Drawing: The Expanded Field  Mary Rouncefield Escape To Infinity  Jon Michaelides 16 x 64  Susan Eyre At a Distance  Corinna Reynolds Traces of Pathways Strachan + Zolghadr Boundary Objects  Heather Burwell Playing Games  Alexandra Sivov “Listen To Me!”  Joe Dean Southern Trains Loop  Corinna Reynolds Traces of Pathways  Daniel Bell Growing Blackness

At a Distance looks at remote methods of communication and relates this to the mysterious twinning of electrons in quantum entanglement where particles link in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast expanses. Einstein famously called this phenomenon ‘spooky action at a distance’. Filmed on 29th March 2019 in Cornwall as the iconic Lizard Lighthouse powers up its lamp, solitary figures using semaphore flags sign ‘We Are One’ out across the ocean in the hope the message will be echoed back. Drawing on the physical language of print that embodies touch, separation and mirroring the flags have been printed using hand painted dye sublimation inks applied via a heat press. This process transfers the ink from a paper matrix onto the substrate textile. The image passes momentarily across space in a dematerialized state as vapour before being reformed as its mirror opposite.

Research visit to Hartland Magnetic Observatory. I am very grateful to The British Geological Survey for allowing me access to the site and particularly to Tom who shared his knowledge and gave a fascinating tour of the observatory. He was a little perplexed by my request to see the obelisk with the azimuth mark determined by observations of Polaris as he thought this description was a slight exaggeration of what was actually present. The ‘obelisk’ is almost hidden in thick undergrowth and impenetrable woodland so this object, just glimpsed amongst the trees remains an enigma.

Hartland was established in 1955 and is part of a network of international observatories sharing information with governments and industry, the charts of the shifting magnetic field are also publicly available. The buildings are made of lime bricks and timber, with concrete flooring and roofing of copper.

The Earth’s magnetic field acts as a shield against potentially harmful charged particles from outer space. It is also holds clues to the planet’s deep interior and geological history which are inaccessible to direct observations.

Magnetic declination is the angular difference between magnetic north and geographical or true north for any point on the earth’s surface. The British astronomer Sir Edmund Halley was interested in the magnetic field and knew about declination based on the observations of sea captains and explorers in various parts of the world. He made two scientific voyages in the Atlantic Ocean as captain of the HMS Paramore between 1698 and 1700 when he charted declination in the Atlantic and from his observations published the first geomagnetic field map in 1701. His observations involved recording the position of celestial objects and the angular distance of the sun on the horizon.

I am intrigued to know what the middle species he encountered between a bird and a fish might be. Penguins with long swan necks?

Alexander von Humboldt determined that the magnetic field increased in intensity with distance from the equator based on magnetic field observations during his scientific journeys 250 years ago. He initiated coordinated observations across the globe and thus laid the foundation for international data exchange and collaboration.

Observation is essential to gain insight into the complexities of the geomagnetic field which is created by a combination of three separate fields. The main field is generated in the earth’s core, the second from electrical currents caused by solar weather as cosmic particles bounce off the Earth’s main field charging the surrounding ionosphere and thirdly from the magnetisation of the surrounding geology of the rocky mantle and crust.

The purpose of a magnetic observatory is to measure the size, direction and changes to the natural magnetic field at the surface of the earth. There is no clear separation between north and south currents at the equator as many diagrams suggest, everything just gets a bit muddled with tangled currents.

The fluctuations in the geomagnetic component fields occur over hugely different timescales, changing by the second as we orbit the sun, to the yearly drifting of magnetic poles and the millennia of deep geological time. To study these changes an observatory must make measurements at exactly the same point over a long period of time.

Activity in the ionosphere causes a compass needle to shift slightly throughout the day but these changes, although rapid, are very small, so the instruments measuring these fluctuations must be very sensitive and operate in an environment free from man made magnetic contamination which is why I was advised to park some way from the observatory.

Rapid changes in the geomagnetic field due to magnetic storms can impact navigation data which is particularly important for the oil industry that uses this data for accurate drilling references. Data monitoring solar variability can also help studies into the mechanisms of climate change. It has been noticed that the Sun’s coronal magnetic field has doubled over the last century and this may have an effect on cloud formation which has an impact on warming the planet.

Today at Hartland, the intensity and direction of the magnetic field is sampled using one manual and two automated instruments. A fluxgate magnetometer (variometer) is used to measure variations in the direction of the field every second. It has copper coils and three orthogonal sensors (measuring north, east and vertical). This instrument is extremely sensitive, mounted on a marble block on a pillar set into the bedrock to avoid tilting, it must be kept at a constant 23C temperature. It is housed in a special building with thermally insulated inner chambers within inner chambers, isolated in the dark, it is only visited once a year. We didn’t even walk too close to the building which appeared to have no door.

The second automated instrument is a proton precession magnetometer to measure the strength of the field. This also has its own building and new equipment is being tested here. As new instruments are introduced previously unseen minute fluctuations are revealed.

The manual instrument is a fluxgate theodolite housed in the Absolute Hut looking out of the North facing window. It sits on a lime brick and concrete pillar. This instrument has a magnetic sensor mounted on the non-magnetic telescope of the theodolite to detect when it is perpendicular to the magnetic field vector. True north is determined by reference to a fixed mark of known azimuth. This was the obelisk though today it is determined by GPS.

Absolute and variable measurements are combined to give a full record of the field.

It used to be that all the measurements were made by hand and this took time and skill to produce accurate results. The beautiful old instruments used still sit in the buildings at Hartland.

The Dye Coil measured the strength of the field in the vertical direction, using a coil that vibrates in the presence of a magnetic field as the sensing element. The Schuster-Smith magnetometer measured the strength of the field in the horizontal direction, using a magnet, a mirror and a light source to make a sensitive detector. The decinometer measured the angle between true and magnetic north using a freely suspended magnet and a theodolite to measure the angles. Three Danish LaCour variometers were kept in the recording house, each measuring the strength of the field, one for the north-south component, another for east-west and one for the vertical component of the field. All three used magnets attached to mirrors, which were free to rotate in the Earth’s magnetic field. A thin beam of light shone onto each mirror was reflected back onto a rotating drum covered in photographic paper. The drum driven by clockwork rotated once a day.

There are also three satellites which monitor the magnetic field from space (though these may only have about three more years of useful life). ESA’s ‘Swarm’ mission is dedicated to the study of the mysteries of the magnetic field which although invisible, together with electric currents in and around Earth, generates complex forces that have immeasurable impact on everyday life. 

Using measurements from ESA’s Earth Explorer Swarm mission, scientists have developed a new tool that links the strength and direction of the magnetic field to the flight paths of migrating birds. This new research means that the study of animal movement can now combine tracking data with geophysical information and lead to new insights on migration behaviour.

Hartland Observatory is situated on the dramatic North Devon Coast with stunning local geology. When the Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago from the collision, accretion and compression of matter it was rock all the way through. Heat from the massive violence of formation along with radioactive decay caused Earth to get hotter and hotter. After about 500 million years as a rocky lump it reached the melting point of iron. Known as the iron catastrophe this liquifying caused planetary differentiation to occur as lighter material rose to the surface becoming the mantle and crust while heavy metals sank to the core becoming the churning dynamo powering the magnetic field.

During my visit the weather was kind and so I was able to fly my drone around the cliffs and rocky bays. I am still terrified of disaster every time I take it out, compounded by almost getting caught out by the incoming tide but I did get some useful footage for my ‘Belly of a Rock’ video sculpture I am working on.

When night falls after a warm day at certain times of year bioluminescence can be experienced at high tide in Hartland Quay. A young woman, and her mother (who swims across the bay at night here regularly) invited us into the pitch darkness to see the green sparks fly as we splashed in the rising water. It was incredible to witness. Swimming in the water limbs are coated in a luminescent glow. I tried to film the flashes on my phone and thought I had been unsuccessful as what I captured appeared totally dark. However, back at home I tried pulling out what information there was on each frame and managed to get a film sequence that might not show exactly what I saw but has an essence of the experience.

Visit to The King’s Observatory built by George III for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769. This observation allowed measurement of the distance from Earth to the sun, later named as the astronomical unit at around 150 million kilometres (8.3 light minutes).

It is now a family home and so the decor although representative of Georgian taste does not reflect the working laboratory that it once was.

Fascinating to discover it was also the site of the meridian line marked true north-south by two obelisks either side of the west room which housed a tracking telescope. There is a third obelisk due south from the east room which housed a mural quadrant used to measure angles. It wasn’t possible to walk over to the obelisks as the Observatory is in the middle of a golf course now, but there is a path to them via the Old Deer Park which I will walk another day. An accurate clock here provided standard time to the government before the task was transferred to Greenwich Observatory.

In 1842 it was renamed Kew Observatory and taken over by The British Association for the Advancement of Science. The Meteorological Office was based here, making regular records of the weather from 1773 until 1980. It was also home to the National Physical Laboratory between 1900 and 1914 when scientific instruments were checked for accuracy and stamped with KO, a hallmark of excellence if they passed.

The two huts remaining in the grounds were used for meteorological and magnetic observations and are built with no nails which might interfere with the instruments used within.

Francis Ronalds, director at Kew Observatory from 1842, invented several camera designs subsequently used in both weather forecasting and in understanding the perennial perturbations in terrestrial magnetism. Photography was used early on in its development for use in scientific investigations. Ronalds’ first instrument captured observations from his atmospheric electricity apparatus. He went on to record atmospheric pressure and temperature using the same method and had soon extended his approach to geomagnetism. His magnetographs “established the standard technique employed for magnetic observatory recording worldwide for more than a century” – Encyclopedia of Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism.

In 1908 the geomagnetic instruments were relocated to the magnetic observatory established at Eskdalemuir in Scotland to undertake magnetic work for which Kew was no longer suitable after the advent of electrification in London led to interference with their operations.

Ronalds had also established an atmospheric electricity observing system at Kew with a long copper rod protruding through the cupola dome of the observatory connected to electrometers and electrographs to manually record the data.

Lord Kelvin later installed an updated electrical observation system and CTR Wilson (the inventor of the cloud chamber) set up a secondary system using different principles which has been useful in historical air pollution research.

I am extremely grateful to Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford Peter Hore for spending time chatting on zoom with me about his fascinating research into the ability of birds to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field.  There is a link to a YouTube lecture by Peter on Radical pair mechanism of magnetoreception here.

Research confirms there is a chemical reaction in the bird’s eye sensitive to magnetic fields as weak as that of the Earth. This happens in an array of reactant molecules which can be changed into extremely short lived radical pairs which are magnetically sensitive. The reaction in the molecules to produce radical pairs is triggered by light from the sun or stars. It is thought that this chemical compass is sensitive to direction not intensity of the field and may use the energy from blue/green photons to power this reaction. During this reaction, as the bird changes direction, some radical pairs perform one way and others another creating difference across the array of molecules which is detected by the bird.

My question to Peter was to ask for his thoughts on whether a bird’s ability to ‘see’ the magnetic field manifests itself visually and if he has any understanding of what the bird experiences. He had to confess that how this sense is experienced by birds is not known but he had done some speculative modelling with a PhD student representing the field as fluctuating visual contour lines mapped over the landscape.

The birds eye is very complex and so there is still a lot to be learned about how this ability functions. Bird’s retinas have rods that are sensitive to light intensity and cones sensitive to red, blue and green wavelengths of light like us but they are also sensitive to ultra violet light. There are also double cones in the bird’s eye and their function is not clear, it could be that these are seconded for magnetic reception at night when they are not active.

Often birds fly high above the clouds when migrating and starlight appears to be enough to trigger the reaction in the molecules. In normal sight chemical messages are sent from the retina to visual processing centres within the central nervous system via ganglion cells. There are many of these ganglion cells in the birds eye and it may be they send the information bypassing any rods or cones. Studies on the retina show a reaction to the magnetic field when blue light is present but the activity has not been traced from the retina to a specific part of the brain yet which might determine if this sensitivity does manifest itself visually.

It is very difficult to imagine a sense we do not have.

Learning the migratory route and destination is vital to birds survival in many cases. Often the young bird will have to undertake the first migratory journey on its own, its parents having left earlier. These instinctive instructions for the journey are passed on from one generation to the next. The genetic instructions are quite broad, leading to a large designated destination zone which could be within a 200 mile radius. However, when returning, along with the hereditary instinct using the stars and sun to navigate the birds also have learnt the magnetic map and can return to the exact spot they left as a fledgling. Young birds in a planetarium will follow the stars if they are rotating correctly.

Peter is a chemist so his interest is in the chemical reactions of the radical pairs but he is part of a wider research group that also looks at this behaviour in bats and fish.

I also asked his thoughts on the human capacity to sense the magnetic field. Unfortunately, although we have cryptochromes in many of our cells we do not have the particular molecule Riboflavin which is the one activated by blue light to become magnetically sensitive. Whether we once had this molecule and lost it or birds evolved this molecule separate to our evolution is not understood but he did believe current research on human brain alpha wave activity in response to the magnetic field might throw up some interesting ideas to look at. A speculative approach to gaining sensitivity to the magnetic field may be by transplanting a tiny compass as used in a mobile phone onto the body, setting it to vibrate when pointing north. The body may ‘learn’ to recognise north in this way.

Listening to The Life Scientific with guest David Eagleman has shed further light on what might be possible as his research shows the human brain can be trained to receive input from alternative sources, for example learning to hear through the skin. He believes it will be perfectly possible for us to experience new senses in the future, including magnetoreception.

Work in Progress

I have been scouring the internet for tips on casting a concrete obelisk and getting an idea of the dimensions. I am thinking about using aerated concrete, for lightness but also to give an appearance of the texture of volcanic rock.

Chemical conversation tests for the video sculpture Belly of a Rock inspired by Italo Calvino The Spiral in The Complete Cosmicomics. “The water was a source of information, reliable and precise [ ] full of substances and sensations and stimuli”

I have been testing paper clay recipes and shapes for the video sculpture Belly of a Rock which will be somewhere between a rock and a mollusc.

Out of Studio

Visit to Richard Saltoun Gallery to see Haptic Vision a retrospective of artists Jo Bruton and Rosa Lee working in the 1980’s and 90’s creating paintings that encourage the eye to wander across a richly textured surface of optical illusions. “The necessity of ‘making’, of being within that space as a primary concern, where the Subject is nearby and woven into the repetitions and patterns of everyday life.” – Jo Bruton, 2022

Eternally Yours at Somerset House reflects upon the hope and healing which can be found in the memories and stories that everyday objects hold in our lives. The repair becomes a shared experience expanding the idea of bonding to include the emotional connection.

I really liked the DIY sensors and data gathering device created by Superflux. Re-imagining technology as a useful tool for communities to gather and share information on the environment, monitor local air pollution and be active in creating a just and equitable society.

New River Folk is the outcome of an Engine House Residency by Laura Copsey and Philip Crewe at the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration about to be developed at New River Head, Clerkenwell. This site was part of an artificial watercourse opened in 1613 to supply water to London at first through overground wooden pipes. When more pressure was needed a six-sail windmill pumped water from the site. After storm damage to the windmill in 1720 horses were harnessed to turn the wheel and power the pump. The round base of the windmill remains, and is the oldest construction of its kind in central London. The artists drew on local history around the site, creating an archeology expanding on the lives of Mole Catcher William ‘Mollitrappe’ Smythe, Well-Keeper Black Mary Woolaston and Tankard-Bearer Joan Starkey. They also collaborated with the river itself to create 16mm film imagery and recordings.

I was fascinated by the crystals that had formed on the bricks in the old windmill. The salt crystal growing experiment I set up while planning an exhibition proposal is still sitting in my studio – if it is still growing it is doing so very slowly, the initial growth was surprisingly fast.

Reimagining Joya is an exhibition at Thames-side Gallery inspired by the experiences and artistic responses of a group of artists who have all participated in Joya: Art + Ecology / AiR residency. The curators, Olga Suchanova, Tere Chad and Barbara Slavikova, have selected a body of works which explore the way we inhabit, survey, feel, and relate to the natural landscape and its living creatures.

Cornelia Parker at Tate Britain. Simple materials, deconstructed and presented immaculately. I was in awe of the invisible framing of her linen squares and wire grids where the objects appear held against the glass as if by magic. Many works are born in violence, condense violence into form or render it impotent. These include Bullet Drawings using lead from bullets melted down and drawn into wire; shotgun sawn off by criminals sawn up by police; handgun used by criminals precipitated to rust by science engineers. Gentler work included the back of button cards appearing as coded messages or star charts – something I was very familiar with as a child growing up in a village drapers shop.

Forest: Wake this Ground at The Arnolfini, Bristol showing works by Rodrigo Arteaga, Mark Garry, Alma Heikkilä, Eva Jospin, Jumana Manna, Zakiya Mckenzie, David Nash, Maria Nepomuceno, John Newling, Rose Nguyen, Ben Rivers, Ai Weiwei, and Hildegard Westerkamp.

Rodrigo Arteaga burned drawing series Monocultures and Fallen Tree documenting the radical change in the forest floor and threatened indigenous species.

John Newling extracts of soil form his own garden reveals a surprising diversity of minerals in the many colours of the balls and cores. The Night Books burning forests, made from pulped textscoal dust and crushed charcoal worryingly notes that the work physically released carbon through the process of making. The vertical strata reminds me of the cliffs at Hartland Bay.

Ai Weiwei cast from the ancient and endangered Pequi Vinagreiro tree (found in the Bahian rainforest), reflect both the uprootedness of arboreal species and the displacement of people.

Ben Rivers film Look Then Below shot beneath the Mendip hills and ancient woodland in Somerset, imagines a dystopian but seductive future.

Eva Jospin Forêt Palatine, made from recycled cardboard, at once evokes folklore and decay. I liked the surface texture which in parts almost looked volcanic.

Paths of Resistance by Tracy Hill is a site-specific fabric installation in response to magnetic fields measured in the space at Arnolfini as part of the IMPACT 12 programme of events. The work explores the hidden energies that shape our experience of the world.

Delighted to announce At a Distance has been selected for The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity exhibition at the Island Venue, Bridewell St, Bristol.

The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity is an exhibition which seeks to reframe printmaking as a site of interdisciplinarity – a testing ground for ‘The important work…done at the surfaces between adjacent disciplines’ (Carter, 1998). Motivated by the International Multidisciplinary Printmaking Conference IMPACT 12’s theme ‘Merging and Metamorphosis’, the exhibition aims to trace the metamorphosis of conversations between disciplines. Installed at a former police station in Bristol, the Island Venue hosts art works in an outdoor courtyard, police cells and subterranean motor vehicle storage area.  The hybrid exhibition includes works of differing materials, scale and dimensions across installation, sculpture, sound, moving image, digital and post-digital media.  Curated by Sarah Strachan and Ayeshah Zolghadr.

At a Distance looks at remote methods of communication and relates this to the mysterious twinning of electrons in quantum entanglement where particles link in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast expanses. Einstein famously called this phenomenon ‘spooky action at a distance’. Filmed in Cornwall on 29th March 2019 (the first date when Brexit was supposed to happen) as the iconic Lizard Lighthouse powers up its lamp, solitary figures using semaphore flags sign ‘We Are One’ out across the ocean in the hope the message will be echoed back. Drawing on the physical language of print that embodies touch, separation and mirroring the flags have been printed using hand painted dye sublimation inks applied via a heat press. This process transfers the ink from a paper matrix onto the substrate textile. The image passes momentarily across space in a dematerialized state as vapour before being reformed as its mirror opposite.

In the studio I have been performing some more test etchings of the directional magnetic steel samples. Copper sulphate seems to give a better result than Nitric Acid. I have managed to gently polish the surface with Brasso without losing the crystal pattern and I gave it a coat of clear lacquer as it seems to rust easily. I am enjoying the excavation process.

The pattern comes from rolling single crystals of an iron silicon alloy into thin sheets to minimise magnetic losses for use in transformers.

There is a link here to quite a cool video showing magnetic wall domain movement with a magneto-optical sensor.

Back in the belly of a rock video editing the footage of iron filings movement over rock like surfaces.

Magnetic field reversals are stored in ancient volcanic and sedimentary rocks. The North and South Pole flip at irregular intervals but average about every 300,000 years. The last one was around 780,000 years ago. During a magnetic field reversal, which can take thousands of years, the magnetic field becomes twisted and tangled, and magnetic poles may appear in unexpected places.

Today the Earth is divided into the super hot inner core, the molten outer core, the mantle, and the thin crust.

When the Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago from the collision, accretion and compression of matter it was rock all the way through. Heat from the massive violence of formation and radioactive decay caused the planet to get hotter and hotter. After about 500 million years of heating up it finally reached the melting point of iron. Known as the iron catastrophe this liquifying caused planetary differentiation to occur as lighter material rose to the surface becoming the mantle and crust whereas the heavy metals like iron and nickel fell towards the centre becoming the core. This molten mass also contains elements that dissolve in iron such as gold, platinum, and cobalt along with around 90% of the Earth’s sulphur.

Earth’s main geomagnetic field is constantly changing due to convection flows and waves in the Earth’s core. As this change cannot entirely be predicted, uncertainty slowly increases over time. This fluctuation is monitored using The World Magnetic Model jointly developed by the National Centres for Environmental Information and the British Geological Survey. This is the standard model used by the U.S. and U.K. governments and international organizations for navigation, attitude and heading referencing systems using the geomagnetic field.

Took an early morning drive out to Wilder’s Folly. Built in 1769 by Reverend Henry Wilder as a love token for his fiancée Joan Thoyts – it could be seen from both their residencies. First drone flight over a building and over trees. White doves are now resident and thankfully didn’t seem bothered by the drone.

Such a brilliant day meeting and trying to photograph the beautiful birds of prey at Coda Falconry under the expert guidance of Elliot. Lots of advice on hand just need faster reflexes and possibly a mirrorless camera.

Birds appear to be 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.

Gallery Visits

The extraordinary Joe Banks Disinformation The Rapture Live optokinetic video and sound installation at Cable Depot. A special experience to witness this work which has a heady mix of spirituality and mortality. The human voice stretched to primordial sounds as the flesh transcends its halo of fire.

Wellcome Collection Rooted Beings

A look at the symbiotic relationship between plants, fungi and humans. The exhibition takes on the entanglement of colonial violence, indigenous knowledge and wildness. How different the world would be if we were also autotrophic. Patricia Domínguez holographic sculptures were fascinating – these are four blades of programmable LED lights spinning at speed to create an image. It was very effective. I was also intrigued by the material construction of the Vegetal Matrix exhibition stands which did look a bit like volcanic stone in the low light though they were listed as MDF with acrylic, so a sort of textured paint.

Wellcome Collection Being Human

Yinka Shonibare’s Refugee Astronaut“The refugee astronaut is the reverse of the colonial instinct of the astronaut – someone who is going out to conquer the world. What you have here is a nomadic astronaut just trying to find somewhere that’s still habitable.” 

Wellcome Collection In the Air

The exhibition explores the relationship between the air and earth, from 3.5-billion-year-old fossilised bacteria that first introduced oxygen into the atmosphere to delicate porcelain sculptures of the glaciers that provide a record of the air and our impact on it. 

Stromatolites 350m years old – these are fossilised microbial reefs formed in shallow waters from blue-green algae. These cyanobacteria were some of the earliest life forms and their photosynthesis helped produce the oxygen to support the development of other life forms.

International Airspace David Rickard 2019

This work marks the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the Paris Convention which extended land rights upwards to create international airspaces. The vessel contains air collected from the 27 participating countries alongside photographs of where the air was captured.

Panoramic film installation Air Morphologies investigates the materiality and composition of air pollution particles, their causes, effects and morphological agency. The project addresses how art and aesthetics interact with toxic materials; what kind of stories might be deployed through digital technologies; and how geopolitics are located in atmospheric thinking and being. Air Morphologies was initiated during Matterlurgy’s residency on the Science Technology Society program at Delfina Foundation, London funded by Gaia Art Foundation.

Rachael Allain introduced me to the work of Perla Krauze at Cadogan Contemporary. Earthy work presented simply allowing the natural materials to resonate with their own history and materiality. Real volcanic rock rather than a simulation.

“Using graphite frottages from stones and pavements and engraved volcanic rocks from El Pedregal, her paintings are abstract topographies and mappings. Stone is a fundamental material in her practice; linked to memory and durability, it can also be transformed and eroded. The crosshatch patterns in her paintings derive from the lines made in stone cutting, emphasising the transformation of stone from raw material to art object. Described as ‘grayscale tone poems’, Krauze alters and arranges stones to make miniature landscapes, complete in themselves but still referencing their origins.”

Future shock reimagining our near future at 180 The Strand. An immersive dive into a fairground world of light and motion, entertaining with one or two that stood out beyond technical prowess.

My favourite has its roots in the fashion world. Ib Kamara’s stylish film The Queen is Coming, a collaboration with Abdel El Tayeb grabs attention with its sense of transfixing unease created by the film’s characters via their direct expressions and heightened breathing. Anxiety levels are high. Fantastic.

In Neo Surf a collaborative project between filmmaker Romain Gavras and music producer Surkin the sheer scale of the marble quarry landscape emphasised by lanky teens dancing on the cut blocks is extraordinary and brings home a kind of wild abandonment.

Vigil is an installation collaboration between Ruben Spini and musician Caterina Barbieri. A sunset projected onto suspended melting ice creates a fragmented mirror image across the floor while videos with slow-motion footage of levitating bodies, transcendent synths and haunting vocals add to the sense of a slow death drugged on beauty.

Vortex puffs out a smoke ring every so often which is quite fun. Created by Pablo Barquin and Anna Diaz.

Row by Tundra uses the same holographic projectors as I recently saw used by Patricia Domínguez in Rooted Beings. Here they are interpreting generative data from the 12 notes of the chromatic scale.

Other work at Future Shock includes Weirdcore’s lucid dreaming colourscape Subconscious, Lawrence Lek’s self-driving car animation Theta, Actual Objects mildly interactive installation Vicky, NonoTak’s Daydream V6, Ibby Njoya’s colour box experience named after his influential father Mustafa, Vanishing Point from UVA, Object Blue and Natalia Podgorska’s installation of a future where astrologically predicted personality traits are true in What Melissa Said, Ryoichi Kurokawa and the shifting planes of light Topologies by UVA,

In The Black Fantastic at the Hayward Gallery. New narratives of Black possibility embracing the fantastical not as escapism but as bursting from the constraints of a restrictive society.

The Soundsuits of Nick Cave made as a response to racist violence confer anonymity along with a shamanic power. What a great use of the lace doily. Inspiration for the many doilies I have inherited from my Mum.

Wangechi Mutu collages, Sentinel sculptures and film The End of Eating Everything (featuring Santigold) are drawn from folklore steeped in the grotesque and spectacular. Time to turn from gluttony to restoration.

Lina Iris Viktor sumptuous paintings and Diviner sculptures heavy with gold acting as a conduit between heaven and earth inspired by ancient Egyptian funerary traditions. Her dramatic use of rich glossy black signifies the ‘materia prima’ – from which all creation was formed. Fabulous to see The Watcher, The Listener, The Orator sculptures are hewn from volcanic rock. Black gold of the sun.

Hew Locke’s The Ambassadors, a procession in search of future lands carrying their precious history with them echoing down the ages to Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting of the same name made in times when colonial foundations were being laid.

Cauleen Smith created an intriguing installation Epistrophy which refers to a phrase in literature or music repeated for emphasis. Her archive of associations are elevated into cinematic stardom by a series of live feed CCTV cameras which relay the objects onto the big screens becoming larger than life.

Other vibrant works include those of Rashaad Newsome, Tabita Rezaire and Chris Offili.

Directed to The Swimmers Limb by an attendant who said rather harshly ‘there’s not much to see’ I visited Gallery 31 dedicated to the Somerset House Studio artists where Mani Kambo has designed a ‘psychedelic’ wallpaper on which hang prints by Tai Shani from her feminist mythology series. Pattern, symbols and ritual. Plenty to see.

Carol Wyss The Mind Has Mountains at The Swiss Church. Having seen this powerful work at Ruskin’s House on Coniston Water last year in a very different space – very like the inside of a skull, it was rewarding to be able to see it in a larger space with a little distance which brought alive the mountainscapes within us. A film of the very physical etching, printing and installation process made by Peter Bromley entitled  Carol Wyss – In Situ was screened to an amazed captivated audience.

Honoured to have The Forms installed in the magnificent Wells Cathedral as part of Wells Art Contemporary

The immutable truths Plato discovered in geometry belong to the realm of abstract thought and ideals he called The Forms. Twelve pentagons form a dodecahedron which Plato defined as ‘a fifth construction, which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven.’

Today it is dark matter that science believes holds the stars in the heavens. In visualisations of dark matter created from cosmological data provided to me by KIPAC Stanford University, we see familiar organic patterns emerge; the fronds of dark matter spanning between galaxies could be the spreading branches of trees or the veins under our skin.

In Plato’s the allegory of the cave, those in the cave mistake shadows thrown by the fire onto the cave wall as reality; in a similar way we are guessing what dark matter is from the shadows we see, such as gravitational lensing and galaxy rotation curves.

Thrilled with the location of my work in the Lady Chapel, interacting with the patterns and geometry of the Minton tiled floor.

Working on Breath of Stars – making a data base of video clips which will be accessed and play for 12 seconds every time a cosmic ray event is recorded by the detectors. The star bursts are made from cloud chamber footage. The size of the star burst will relate to the amplitude of the cosmic ray that hits the scintillator plastic. More energy = bigger starburst.

Testing testing. Running the cosmic ray detectors at my studio to see if I get similar results to at home and yes, seems fairly consistent. Maybe slightly more hits. Thinner roof!

Exciting developments in the acid room etching the directional magnetic steel sample I have been given. Trying to uncover the grain structure like a jigsaw pattern of this magical matter hidden under a grey coating. I had no luck trying to reveal the pattern just by sanding. I then tried sanding the coating away quite aggressively and etching in 1:4 nitric acid for 10 minutes. This did reveal the hidden structure but not very cleanly and weirdly sanding or polishing after etching made the pattern disappear again.