Archives for posts with tag: magnetic field

Lode – a way or path, a watercourse, a vein of metallic ore.

A lodestone is a naturally occurring magnet possibly created by a lightning strike. Early compasses were made of lodestone suspended on a cord.

Magnetite is a common mineral that has an attraction to a magnet but is not magnetic in itself.

The image shows magnetite, sold on eBay as a Lodestone though at £2 what did I expect.

Fluid activity hidden deep in the Earth’s interior can be visualised through plotting the magnetic field and its fluctuations.

The geomagnetic field, generated by the Earth’s molten core, varies through time; the magnetic poles migrate, go on excursions or reverse polarity. During these periods of flux the strength of the magnetic field changes and this phenomenon is recorded in archaeological artifacts, volcanic rocks, and sediments. The mineral deposits of stalactites store a paleomagnetic history of declination (the deviation of magnetic from geographic north).

Thinking about how magnetic pole reversals are stored in geology. I am modelling some paper clay rocks for future filming visualising the magnetic field using iron filings.

Early navigators using the compass around the 15th century became aware that geomagnetic north would roam position. In 1701 the first map charting the magnetic field declination was produced by British astronomer Edmund Halley.

In the 19th century the study of geomagnetism became one of many passions for explorer polymath Alexander von Humboldt who studied

“what keeps the innermost of the world together, how all is woven together”

and was the first to connect climate with interactions between atmosphere, oceans, land and plant ecology. From meticulous observations he noticed the Earth’s magnetic field intensity increases from the equator to the pole, and that it was also influenced by auroras and solar activity causing magnetic storms.

Magnetic observatories to monitor the Earth’s magnetic field were set up around the globe including one at Greenwich which had to relocate twice due to infrastructure interference (electric railways) and is now based in Devon with a permanent azimuth mark on a concrete obelisk viewed from the north window of the Absolute Hut. I wonder if it is possible to visit.

Magnetotactic bacteria align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate using nanoparticles of magnetite crystals covered in biological material called magnetosomes. Each nanoparticle is about 100,000 times smaller than a grain of rice. They are mostly found in water and sediment with little or no oxygen. It has been found that magnetosomes can be biodegraded (dissolved) in human stem cells losing magnetism at first but then reforming into human cells with magnetic sensitive qualities.

There is a daily variation in the magnetosphere caused by sunlight hitting the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere about 1000km up. The electrical conductivity of this layer is affected by the solar wind which pressures and squashes the field on the sunlit side while creating a magnetotail pluming from the dark side of the Earth.

Capturing garden activity through the solar cycle with a spycam.

The rotation of the Earth around its axis results in a molecular clock evolved by organisms in alignment with the solar cycle. The Earth’s magnetic field can influence animals’ circadian clocks, through the photoreceptor cryptochrome, which is activated by blue light.

I have recently acquired a drone and have been for a couple of practice flights in Richmond Park’s designated area taking along a few pentagon mirrors. Excited by the possibilities.

Up at 5am to see the tiny points of light that are Venus and Jupiter approaching their conjunction which they performed the following morning hidden by clouds

Research trip to RSPB Snettisham in North Norfolk to see the Whirling Wader Spectacle. The high spring tides push the birds from their feeding grounds on the mudflats of The Wash onto the lagoons of the reserve. The spectacle occurs when the tide is super high during daylight hours in early spring or late autumn when the birds are migrating to and from this site. It is surprising how fast the tide comes in. On arrival in the early evening the sea is a distant strip of light.

Suddenly the gullies are filling and the first murmurations of knots are forming low over the incoming water. The speed of the birds is extraordinary. I was totally ill equipped to capture the spectacle on video.

Fascinating research discussed in the webinar Scientific American live: Bird Migration and Song featuring Professor of Chemistry University of Oxford, Peter Hore, an expert on magnetoreception.

Radicals are molecules that contain an odd number of electrons and are therefore unstable. For most molecules the electrons are paired which cancels out the magnetic force. Birds use three different compasses to navigate across the globe; the sun, the stars and the magnetic field. The Artic tern makes the longest migratory journey, a staggering 25,000 miles.

The theory that birds may use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate began in the middle of the 19th century, but experiments in Germany with European Robins in the 1960s were the first to prove the connection. The Earth’s magnetic field is extremely weak so the mechanism that can detect this weak force must be very sensitive. Because free radicals are very unstable it doesn’t take much energy to have big effects. The particular cryptochrome molecule used is found in the retina of the eye with the photoreceptor cells. Blue light shined onto Cryptochrome 4 produces radical pairs which are sensitive to the magnetic field. It is excited by blue light but does not respond to red light. The molecules work like a pendant compass, distinguishing the direction of the magnetic field towards pole or equator. This feature arises from the spin direction of the free radical pairs. Both radicals may spin in the same direction or one may spin one way and the other the opposite. There is a lot of processing in the eye before a signal is sent to the brain to act upon.

It is possible birds form a visual perception of the magnetic field. The cone cells in the eye are used by day but may be taken over at night for navigation as this is when birds migrate. Light pollution and electromagnetic noise pollution such as AM radio masts can cause disorientation.

I still have questions about how the birds know where to head for. They may have a map but they still need a destination.

Stunning North Norfolk coastline. It’s so flat here that cliffs are unexpected. Hunstanton Beach was once under a tropical sea 108 million years ago when sea levels were 200m higher. Somewhere in these strata evidence of magnetic pole reversals will be stored.

So much to explore at the National Physical Laboratory Open Day but my favourite room was Magnetic Materials and Sensors. They don’t allow any photography so I can’t share some of the amazing experiments I saw but I have been able to recreate my favourite as it was also the simplest; a magnet dropped into a copper pipe creates an electric current as it falls which gently slows its progress through the tube. So cool. I will be filming this.

Experiments with lenses. It’s often the way that having spent time on a proposal that doesn’t get accepted those ideas do not get wasted but ultimately feed into new work.

Testing ‘The Forms’ as a floor piece.

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 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.

Thanks to KIPAC Stanford University for the data visualisations.

Enjoyed a one day 3D Geometry class with Leila Dear at the Princes School of Traditional Arts. I gained so much from the RCA exchange week here that fed into my work for the past several years that I thought a refresher would be useful – and that was before I knew we would be making geometric bubbles. Irresistible.

Out of Studio

Reflections at Workplace Gallery

Sculpture by women artists Nicola Ellis, Hsi-Nong Huang, Patricia Ayres and Olivia Bax.

All works offer up a satisfying conjunction of materiality and form but especially loving Nicola’s ‘Quite a Structure’ which is like a slice of the Earth’s molten core.

HEAVEN NEITHER BURNING FARTHER at The Crypt, St. John on Bethnal Green

Erika Blumenfeld writes “The material comprising our bodies shares cosmic origins with the material comprising the planets, asteroids and comets in our solar system. Scientifically, this material, having derived from distant stars across time, threads back to the primordial material that emerged moments after our universe burst into being. Culturally, our star gazing has filled us with wonder across all civilizations, sparking art and architecture, philosophy and science, mythology, folklore as well as navigation and place-making”.

Visual journeys have been created using the archive, modern science, performative poetry, scanned glacier-ice sent by image transmission, laser-based mapping originally sourced from the Rosetta space mission, the use of historic adaptations, the layering of earthly minerals, and a hunt for asteroid fragments. Held in a crypt under-ground the exhibition takes a poignant look at the myth and science that surround comets, which in theory brought life to Earth but could also end it.

Artists: Julie F Hill, Leah Beeferman, Barry Stone, Pedro Torres, Fryd Frydendahl, Ports Bishop, Claudio Pogo & Magdalena Wysocka Curated by Lucy Helton

Fascinating and beautiful work in this subterranean gateway to the cosmos which rewards following up each artist’s research.

POST TOTEM at OHSH Projects pop up on Oxford Street, curated by Adam Dix and Dale Adcock.
I found the concept of this exhibition very appealing. Reaching back to what connects us. Some innate sense of the sacred.

‘Imagine an artist holding the metaphorical hand of an artist from the previous generation and that artist, doing the same, and so on, back through time, back 30 to 40 thousand years into the unimaginably distant past, when we made the great cave paintings of Lascaux and Maros-Pangkep karst. This imaginative exercise creates an image of an unbroken woven human connection, stretching back through time uniting, individuals into a group, linked by imagination, action and materials.’

Artists showing: Dale Adcock, Simon Burton, Adam Dix, Tim Ellis, Lisa Ivory, Simon Burton, Rachel Howard, Henry Hussey, Dean Melbourne, Yelena Popova, Chantal Powell, Joanna Rajkowska, Alexis Soul Gray, Suzanne Treister.

Seth Price – Art Is Not Human at Sadie Coles

An interesting entanglement of hand and digital process. Raw paintings are photographed and imported to a 3D digital space of geometric shapes, tubes and directional lighting. The effects are then exported and printed onto the original painting.

Melanie Manchot Alpine Diskomiks at Parafin.

Questioning the mediation of the mountain experience. A mountain skyline created from album covers and soundscape from the combined mix of recorded content. Imagine a steady build of music to accompany the climb to a dramatic mountain peak and the overwhelming crescendo as you reach that majestic summit of the sublime. Downstairs choreographed snowploughs score grooves in looping folkdance sequence.

This painting by Luchita Hurtado at Hauser and Wirth made me think of the practical demonstration by Brian Cox showing that in a vacuum a feather and a rock (bowling ball) would fall at the same speed.

 “The reason the bowling ball and the feather fall together is because they’re not falling. They are standing still. There is no force acting on them at all.”

“(Einstein) reasoned that if you couldn’t see the background, there would be no way of knowing that the ball and the feathers were accelerating toward the Earth.”

Larry Bell at Hauser and Wirth

‘Although we tend to think of glass as a window, it is a solid liquid that has at once three distinctive qualities: it reflects light, it absorbs light, and it transmits light all at the same time.’ Larry Bell

Everything is Made of Light at Bermondsey Project Space. The artists refer to Jacques Rancière, in his essay, Are Some Things Unrepresentable?, who scrutinizes the challenges faced by images in depicting the world around us.

Mark Kasumovic tackles the problem of trying to represent the invisible through a juxtaposition of images of spaces of discovery and text listing scientific non sequiturs. Mary O’Neill presents us with a world of fragments from which personal narratives must be assembled. Isabella Streffen’s work explores perception and the spaces between digital and emotional communication. Matthew Pell stretches time through capturing light in otherwise transient momentary events.

I felt very in tune with intent of the work here. Particularly Mark Kasumovic’s texts that felt like a snapshot of a research artist’s notebook. All those tantalising lines of enquiry. I liked the premise from Mary O’Neill of the introduction of creatures from the mundanity of an overlooked life, that when situated in a new context, conceive paradise.

Marcus Cope Silver Linings at Peer

Fabulous potent paintings of those vivid memories that are seared into the synapses from times of heightened emotions.

Beautiful and terrible.

Alice Bucknell Swamp City at Hoxton 253 Project Space

Like a dollop of dream topping on a large turd the work offers up a speculative future of luxury ecotourism as investment opportunity in the face of a climate crisis that feels almost inevitable.

Charlotte Johannesson Circuit at Hollybush Gardens.

“Nature speaks in symbols and signs.”

Evolution from weave to code and back again. Beautiful works full of metaphor and shared history.

Reading – Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Wall Kimmerer; reciprocity – don’t take more than you need and always give something back.

Mercurius Patrick Harpur; no easy route to the conjunction of soul, spirit and matter.

The big excitement this month was to get the cosmic ray detector assembled and working. It may not look very exciting to see an LED flash but knowing it was caused by a tiny traveller from outer space I do find quite something to acknowledge.

The detector uses a small slab of plastic scintillator as a detection medium and a silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) for light collection from charged particles as they pass through the scintillator. Flashing the plastic block with light from a UV torch causes a big scintillation burst.

The signal from the photomultiplier is sent to an Arduino microprocessor which measures the amplitude of the signal. The small OLED screen updates every second and an LED flashes every time an event is registered.

I have the skills and patience of ABL Circuits to thank for soldering the tiny SMT components to the PCB boards and then working out which part had the fault and replacing it so that the correct voltage was supplied to the SiPM PCB. It needed to read approximately +29.5 V as anything over 30 might damage the SiPM so it was a big relief when this was achieved.

Once I had the printed circuit boards assembled I could wrap the scintillator plastic in foil, apply optical gel and attach it to the SiPM and then wrap this in electrical tape to make it light tight. I had a little bit of soldering left to do myself and then it could be slotted together.

When I had both detectors working independently I could set them up in coincidence mode to differentiate cosmic rays from background radiation particles.

The top detector is reading all local background radiation and the bottom one is just recording cosmic rays. The lights flash in unison when a particle travels through the top and bottom detector at the same time. The top detector labelled ‘M’ I will call mother and the bottom ‘S’ I will call son, (not the historical terminology suggested).

The horizontal lines record the energy of that particle – look out for the WOW particles!

So happy to have got this far with the project, now for the difficult bit translating that signal into an action triggering an interactive artwork.

Not only can cosmic rays be observed using a cloud chamber but they also trigger the formation of everyday clouds.

The Solar Wind is made up mainly of hydrogen and helium ions (ions are the nucleus of atoms separated from their accompanying electrons) known as solar protons. Travelling at up to 5 million miles per hour, the solar wind carries a million tons of matter from the sun into space every second. When massive amounts of energy stored in the magnetic fields of the sun are suddenly released in a solar flare explosion the particles are accelerated to even greater speeds.

Coronal mass ejections fire off great clouds of hot gas and the explosions are so powerful that they also rip away knots of magnetism from the surface of the sun which are sent sweeping past Earth deflecting the path of cosmic rays that would otherwise strike our planet. This effect is called the Forbush Decrease where increased solar activity results in a reduction of cosmic rays coming from outside our solar system.

Cosmic rays are super-charged subatomic particles produced by exploding stars, black holes and other phenomena many times more violent than any solar flare explosion but one coronal mass ejection can reduce cosmic rays for a few weeks and continued solar activity can keep cosmic ray counts low for sustained periods of time.

The Sun’s magnetic field goes through a cycle where north and south poles switch places about every 11 years. It then takes another 11 years for the poles to flip back again. Sunspot activity caused by the magnetic field are affected by the solar cycle but it is hard to predict how active a cycle might be. Usually at the beginning of the cycle there are fewer sunspots causing eruptions which then increase over time reaching solar maximum in the middle of the solar cycle before gradually retuning to solar minimum before the cycle begins again. The first solar cycle to be recorded was in 1751 and we are currently in cycle 25 with peak activity expected in 2025.

Research at the Technical University of Denmark has shown that the number of comic rays reaching the Earth has a significant impact on the warming of the oceans. When solar explosions deflect the number of cosmic rays hitting our planet there is a shortage of small aerosols – the chemical specks in the air that grow until water vapour can condense on them to become the water droplets of low-level clouds. The aerosol robotic network AERONETT also noticed a slight change in the colour of sunlight during times of low cosmic ray activity and found that violet light from the Sun looked brighter than usual. They put this down to the shortage of small aerosols usually provided by the cosmic rays which scatter violet light as it passes through the air. Without the growing aerosols, low-altitude clouds begin disappearing about a week after a Forbush Decrease minimum of cosmic rays. The water remains in the atmosphere in vapour form, but unlike cloud droplets it does not get in the way of sunlight warming the ocean. During solar maximum events the decline in cosmic radiation and the loss of low cloud cover persists for long enough to warm the planet.

“The effect of the solar explosions on the Earth’s cloudiness is huge. A loss of clouds of 4 or 5 per cent may not sound very much, but it briefly increases the sunlight reaching the oceans by about 2 watt per square metre, and that’s equivalent to all the global warming during the 20th Century.” Henrik Svensmark DTU

I have been testing new configurations of magnets for a large etching/drawing work looking at magnetoreception.

Also testing ideas for a magnetoreception performance mask. It became clear I will have to be careful with the iron filings around the eyes.

I was excited by the results of testing chine collé under black etching ink. It’s very subtle but I didn’t think it would show at all so was surprised and plan to try this with other ideas.

Great to see the launch of Yinka Shonibare’s new project Guest Artist Space in Lagos – this will be an international space for knowledge exchange between established and emerging artists, it will have urban and rural elements and involve local people as well as visiting artists for a true cultural exchange.

A video which I was invited to contribute to along with many artists Guest Projects has supported in the past is currently being shown as part of The Whitechapel Gallery exhibition programme A Century of the Artist’s Studio – Link to video here.

I am so grateful to Yinka Shonibare for his generosity and genuine interest in emerging and early career artists and awarding Laboratory of Dark Matters a month long residency that enabled us to achieve so much in 2017 including developing and running my first Cloud Chamber Workshops.

Exhibition Visits –

Gala Porras-Kim at Gasworks Out of an instance of expiration comes a perennial showing.

This wonderful exhibition is playful yet thoughtful, giving voice to the spirits of displaced, forgotten or overlooked fragments of history that have been institutionalised. The artworks suggest ways improve the material and spiritual conditions of artefacts stored in archaeological collections around the world such as re-aligning the sarcophagus or offering an awakening deity a more familiar prospect than the modern museum room in which it finds itself. Porras-Kim gives equal value to the dust gathering from artefacts stored in the back rooms of institutions and invites the spirits to communicate in the swirling patterns of marbling inks.

San Mei Gallery showing Laila Majid and Louis Blue Newby – not yet

Walls smeared with slime green are hung with prints on aluminium that shimmer in the low light setting with video morphing of a bubbling concoction of swamp things.

Noémie Goudal –  Post Atlantica at Edel Assanti

Luscious imagery dissecting the impact of deep time on landscape and climate.  

Berndnaut Smilde – Momentum at Ronchini Gallery

I was hoping to see a cloud produced in the gallery but had to settle for the documentation of previous clouds created in various locations presented in the Nimbus photography series. Apparently the artist very rarely makes this work as performance.

Shuster + Moseley – do not be afraid of the brilliant lights at Gallery Rosenfeld

Light bling of refraction and reflection when photons travel through a glass medium splitting and bouncing in reminder of its own physical presence

Also at Gallery Rosenfeld, Bongsu Park – in dreams we gather

Dreamscapes undulating through the darkness, echoing active brainwaves producing light within our sleeping skulls.

Rivane Neuenschwander Commonplace 1999 in Tate Tanks

Talcum powder is brushed into rectangular shapes on the floor, being remade every time it is exhibited. Simple gestures turn the stuff of everyday life into something unfamiliar and poetic.

James Freeman Gallery – Juliette Losq and Stuart Sandford in Elysian Fields

Interesting pairing of decay and perceived perfection.

Paintings rather than the layered installations I admire from Juliette Losq here. Delicate pale light seeping through these landscapes caught in the haze of a slow and gentle decomposition.

A close encounter with a full size Narcissus is only available through scanning a QR code to be experienced via the screen. Only his small pornworld counterparts were present, cast from the idealism of the digital realm into bronze.

Haig Aivazian All of your stars are but dust on my shoes at The Showroom

Two very moving films looking at light and fire, primordial gifts and how they are used for power and control.

Geo-poetic is a great description of how these films traverse history and borders exposing who decides what is seen and what is not and who holds the flaming torch over the touch paper.

Portals at Lisson Gallery curated by Ossian Ward

Images include Susan Hiller, Ryan Gander, Rodney Graham, Shirazeh Houshiary, John Latham, Mary Corse and Sean Scully.

A mixed offering of thresholds to alternative spaces, visible, conceptual, mythical or speculative.

Richenda Court Glass Town at The Muse at 269

Luminous work reflecting a fragile crystalline world

Good to see Lisa Pettibone’s suspended sculpture Instrument of Thought – A meditation on Matter and Light. The physics of the cosmos held in delicate balance as mirrored surfaces, crystals and rocks interplay hinting at ideas such as gravity, dark matter and the speed of light.

On Hannah Arendt: The Conquest of Space at Richard Saltoun with works by Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Elaine Reichek and Carey Young considering the question Has man’s conquest of space increased or diminished his stature?

The question is central to Arendt’s essay written in 1963 which rings alarm bells on the direction science and technology may be leading the human experience. The possible future Arendt foresaw of a world remade by the curiosity of the human race but transformed into somewhere unrecognisable to the humanist where even the scientist loses some essence of human nature as the world is described in a mathematical language that cannot be experienced with human senses may be bearing down upon us.

Lots to think about from this encounter. I think writing when she did, when the first man in space was quite recent history and before the internet, her concerns about a loss of what it is to be human, driven by technology effecting every part of our lives until there is no part left that hasn’t or isn’t in some way remade by humans was very prescient. I wonder how she would feel today as we rush into space like never before and not so much for exploration as exploitation. Arendt described herself as “a kind of phenomenologist” which I understand as looking at things purely as they appear to us without trying to explain why or how and accept meaning that comes from direct sensory experience. Works of art can act as mediators between the consciousnesses of the author and the reader as a direct attempt to communicate the experience of being human and the world around. Phenomenologists are interested in the way we come to share similar understanding of the world a collective subconscious or implicit agreement about how the world looks, sometimes referred to as the life-world.

An introduction to the essay link here presented by Roger Berkowitz, director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. Science transforms what it means to be human although we are still bound to our earthly bodies and subject to fate and fortune. Science does not give a human experience of the world, it confounds common sense. If our growth in understanding can only be expressed in mathematical terms then we have lost rather than gained a way of describing our world experience. Human thinking comes from metaphors and our thoughts are earthly, if we are taken off planet then the Earth becomes an object not our home.

Secret of Lightness at Parafin

Aimée Parrott, Andrew Pierre Hart, Tim Head, Andrea Heller, Laurence Kavanagh

Beautiful selection of works curated by Louisa Hunt that reflect the premise of Calvino’s text to pull against what holds us down and make a creative leap opening onto a new perspective.

‘Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of the present and future…’

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium: Lightness (1985)

Of the Surface of Things at Alison Jacques showing works by Maria Bartuszová, Sheila Hicks, Hannah Wilke, Erika Verzutti.

Spending so much time thinking about the intangible it was refreshing to be exposed to some raw materials.

The curator refers to the 1919 poem ‘Of the Surface of Things’ of Wallace Stevens and the untethering of the imagination when exposed to the particularities of reality in simplified raw form.

In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
        hills and a cloud. 

The fascinating and perilous journeys made by migrating birds has been a natural wonder for centuries with the first records of this phenomena made more than 3,000 years ago. The innate knowledge of migratory birds is mentioned in Job and Jeremiah and the ancient Greek writers Homer, Hesiod and Aristotle noted their passage.

Sensing the Earth’s magnetic field allows birds and other animals to determine their approximate position on the Earth. Research looking at how birds navigate over vast distances has shown many species are able to sense the compass direction of the Earth’s magnetic field and process this information. Non-migratory birds also have this ability using magnetoreception to orientate themselves in a local sense to map habitat.

There are two basic mechanisms involving magnetism used by animals; one method uses the iron based mineral magnetite found in the body’s cells and the other involves a protein found in the eye which is sensitive to light of different colours and intensities.

In plants and some animals, the light sensitive cryptochrome molecules are also involved in the control of the body’s circadian rhythms by tracking the difference between night and day. They can be found in cell nuclei of mammals and in the retina of several bird species. Ilia Solov’yov from the University of Southern Denmark has found the particular structure of cryptochrome Cry4 is unique and when light hits Cry4 cryptochromes in the eye of a migrating bird, they undergo chemical reactions that are influenced by the direction of Earth’s magnetic field, providing a signal of the bird’s orientation.

This light sensitive magnetic compass used by birds is affected by the polarisation direction of light. This was discovered by Rachel Muheim in a study where zebra finches were set the task of finding food in a maze. The birds were only able to use their magnetic compass when the direction of the polarised light was parallel to the magnetic field, when the polarised light was perpendicular to the magnetic field the birds became completely disorientated.

Researchers have put forward a theory that polarised light at sunrise and sunset accentuates the magnetic field at times when birds are ready to migrate or roost but in the middle of the day when the polarised light is approximately perpendicular to the magnetic field and less visible to them they can rely on sight to hunt and spot predators.

Magnetite is the most magnetic of Earth’s naturally-occurring minerals and microscopic particles are found in the cells of animals. Unlike the cryptochrome protein found in the eye and used by birds to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field, a magnetite-based magnetic sense does not need light to function.

Mole rats navigate their tunnels using this method which works like an internal compass. Birds also use this mechanism based on magnetite as an additional method to determine their position.

Sensing Earth’s geomagnetism is a functional ability seen in many creatures from bacteria and birds to turtles and bats. It is an evolutionary advantage to be able to orientate and navigate. Joseph Kirschvink and researchers at Caltech have completed experiments testing the human capacity to sense the magnetic field. Volunteers inside a chamber shielded from electromagnetic interference were subjected to an altered magnetic field while their brainwaves were monitored. The team found clear evidence that the subjects’ alpha brain waves were effected suggesting a rudimentary magnetic “sense”. The scientists believe that cells containing crystals of magnetite could register changes in magnetic fields and report this information to the brain. It is already known that magnetotactic bacteria have structures containing nanoscale magnetite crystals called magnetosomes that act as biological compasses, allowing the bacteria to navigate.

This research suggests that human alpha brainwaves react to a changing magnetic field. Alpha waves are always present, but are more prominent when in a relaxed and idle state of mind. Noticing a dip in the amplitude of the alpha waves would indicate the neurons in the brain becoming engaged in a task. The experiment was conducted to mimic how the Earth’s magnetic field would be experienced by the brain. The laboratory field was similar in strength to the Earth’s and the researchers moved it slowly to simulate how the field would change when turning one’s head. 

More experiments with iron filings, etchings and magnets.

Large etching on steel plate and small polymer etching.

Also some green screen filming towards the video work I am creating on this subject.

While back in the print studio I made some more prints of the mossy forest and added a little burst of colour.

A little progress with building the cosmic ray detector. I have drilled the holes in the plastic scintillator which was quite stressful as the project notes say it is easy to break. I did a test first in acrylic to gauge the size of the drill bit needed. The scintillator turned out to be much softer though and so I am hoping the holes are not too big now. I sent the Printed Circuit Board off to get the components soldered. I really wanted to do the soldering myself but am glad I went for help as there have been some issues with getting the voltage correct for the connection to the SiPM PCB.

I was lucky to grab a bargain box of Super 8 filming kit though haven’t had time yet to explore this fully and see if I can work out how to operate everything.

Out of studio

A visit to APT Gallery to see Periastra curated by Paul Malone looking at methodologies of curiosity within the fields of art and astrophysics.

I really like the presentation by Nicola Rae of a collection of fireball videos collected by the meteor watch group UKMON

I was excited to meet John Berman who was showing a muon detector he had built. He has used a Geiger Müller (GM) tube, for his detector which can be bought as a kit . A GM tube will detect alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays and Cosmic Muons. It can be adapted to run in coincidence mode – this is when two or more tubes are connected and only when all tubes register a particle passing through at the same time can it be certain it is a cosmic particle and not background radiation. There is some downtime in a GM tube after each ionisation is recorded so it is possible not all particles are registered. When a particle passes through the tube the LED’s will flash.

I am continuing to look at research showing it may be possible that humans retain some residual magnetoreceptor in our eyes that once allowed us to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. We know animals and birds have this ability and current studies suggest that some people do indeed perceive magnetic fields, albeit unconsciously.

I dropped some iron filings into a little water which evaporated leaving a pleasing deposit. I wanted to see if the filings lose their magnetism once oxidized and how the rusted filings would sit on the iris image.

I was invited by Luci Eldridge and Ian Dawson to present a talk and run a Cloud Chamber Workshop as part of the Images In The Making series, a Communities of Practice cross-years project at Winchester School of Art.

Images in the Making considers images in an expanded sense in terms of process, materiality, interaction, exploring how artworks evolve and come into being.

Images – be they human or machine – are entities that are made. They are drawn, sculpted, painted, mapped out, captured, rendered, visualised, spliced, amalgamated. Images in the Making considers images in the broadest sense, exploring them as fluid, dynamic entities that emerge and transform through making, unmaking, and remaking. Process is at the core of this project and we will think about ‘imaging’ as an unfolding activity, investigating how artworks change as they are made and circulated.

Writing the presentation allowed me to revisit and consider how I use process in a practice broadly to do with visualising the unseen.

As my starting point is often an unseen or maybe even an imagined object this might mean visualising a close approximation of something to open up the imagination to phenomena that is beyond our capability to visualise. This would include things like dark matter, higher dimensions in spacetime, or the aura of an object. Or it may be using technology to make visible something otherwise outside the limitations of our senses. Or a conflation of real and imagined such as seeing a galaxy in a frozen puddle.

In Patrick Harpur’s book The Philosophers’ Secret Fire – A History of the Imagination he talks about those inbetween spaces where things are not quite ‘there’ and not quite ‘not there’ which I think is an interesting space to look at when trying to bring the unseen out of the shadows. The book relates how myths have long been used to make sense of the world. For most of our evolution humans have believed in an otherworld of spirits – a metaphysical realm governed by archetypes. Daimons are given context in the book as elusive, contradictory, both material and immaterial concepts that still reside in our culture but are now so far removed from their personified shapes that we fail to recognise them.

All human experience is an edited account of full reality as neuroscientist Anil Seth tells us

“You’re locked inside a bony skull trying to figure what’s out there in the world. There’s no light inside the skull, there’s no sound either, all you’ve got to go on are streams of electrical impulses which are only indirectly related to things in the world, whatever they may be. Perception, figuring out what’s there has to be a process of informed guesswork”

 and then tangled with our reality according to Harpur

“…daimons inhabit another, often subterranean world which fleetingly interacts with ours. They are both material and immaterial, both there and not-there – often small, always elusive shape-shifters whose world is characterized by distortions of time and space and, above all, by an intrinsic uncertainty.

– the subatomic realm, like the unconscious, is where the daimons took refuge once they were outcast from their natural habitat.”

A few years ago when I was visiting and photographing streets and roads called Paradise trying to capture the aura of such a place I stopped to wonder what everything was made of. Did I need to look closer to find hidden patterns or clues in the everyday which might point to something sublime. This is when I turned to particle physics. I found the language to be quite like that of mythology, full of mysterious characters; the quarks, the muons, neutrinos. Characters governed by fundamental forces like the strong force and the weak force that are defined by their characteristics, just like the mythical gods. I also found the theories of particle physics to be as fantastical as the ancient tales where the laws of classical physics do not apply. I was amazed at the time to discover that most of the universe is hidden from us as mysterious dark matter and dark energy. 

To provide a relevant backdrop for the online presentation I set my dodecahedron sculpture Diazôgraphô by the window to light up the images of cosmic particle trails within. The dodecahedron is used here as a motif for the universe. The title translates from Greek as ‘to embroider’. Plato described the dodecahedron as ‘a fifth construction, which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven.’

The cloud chamber workshop gave students a chance to experience the otherworld of subatomic particles. Dark matter might be inaccessible to us but cosmic particles offer a more tangible contact  – although too small to see we can witness their effects through quite simple processes. In the chamber we see trails from naturally occurring background radiation as well as particles from outer space.

Out of the Studio

Not Painting at Copperfield

Inspired work by Nicola Ellis from Dead Powder series (first pic) in a show hitting the zeitgeist of rethink, repurpose the materials around us. Some beautiful and thoughtful work here much of which will confound you as to its material origins.

Darkness At Noon: Nigredo of a Pandemic at APT curated by Ruth Calland for Contemporary British Painting

Great to see some of Sarah Sparkes exquisite ghost painting series along with Chantal Powell’s alchemical totems and other works from 27 artists.

Alchemy is all about transformation from one state to another, the pursuit of a deeper truth as precious treasure. Alchemists were engaged in the Middle Ages with a physical process, trying to turn base materials into gold through a series of chemical processes, a metaphor for the transformation of the soul. There had to be a Nigredo, a dark night of the soul in order to purify it. Death and decay, destruction of the old to make way for the new, are both real and symbolic in these precarious times of ours. 

Bosco Sodi Totality at König London presents a grounded solar system we are able to walk amongst, surveying the raw materials of our creation. Heat, minerals and time. Very satisfying.

Tacita Dean – The Dante Project at Frith Street Gallery, Golden Square

Hell made heavenly in silvery surfaces, paradise emerges glimmering from the streets of LA.

Magical otherworlds. These stunning backdrops were created for the ballet based on Dante Alighieri’s 1320 narrative poem The Divine Comedy choreographed by Wayne McGregor at The Royal Opera House but can also transport you in their own right. I was lucky to also see them on stage. The sets progress from the monochrome backdrop of Inferno, through the luminous transitional state of Purgatorio into a circling colourfields of Paradiso.

The large-scale photographs printed as negatives are of Jacaranda Trees which bloom in hot climates when the entire foliage turns into purple blossoms. In negative the purple becomes an otherworldly green and the background streetscape is muted with white pencil. The monochrome photogravures of an inverted mountainous terrain in negative using silver ink reference Botticelli’s drawings which signify Dante and Virgil’s descent through the nine circles of hell.

Tacita Dean Monet Hates Me at Frith Street Gallery, Soho Square

The importance of objective chance as a tool of research used as the basis to craft 50 objects inspired by the random choice of a box of artefacts at The Getty Research Centre, Los Angeles. The objects pertaining to ‘an exhibition in a box’ include ‘the forged signature of Christian Dotremont, a long-dead Belgian surrealist, on a postcard; a letterpress copy of Piet Mondrian’s carte de visite, hand-corrected by Dean to match a pencilled correction on the original; Fluxus artist George Brecht’s Stamp Out Stamping stamped on vintage index cards; a vinyl record of Dean reading a montage of text fragments collated from her working photocopies; and ‘a foot of feet’ – a foot-long strip of film made of sixteen frames of found images of feet. Object 1, is a small book which also acts as the key to the provenance and manufacture of the other 49 objects.’

The enigmatic painting I love Lord Pannick sits outside the viewing area for Pan Amicus, filmed in 16mm on the Getty Estate but transporting the viewer to a golden classical Arcadia littered with Greek and Roman objects and imbued with the spirit of Pan “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908).

Mixing It Up; Painting Today an exhibition of painting at the Hayward Gallery.

Charmaine Watkiss showing with Tiwani Contemporary at Cromwell Place.

Meet The Seed Keepers in Charmaine’s magical collection of works on paper. Powerful images brought to life with a luminous delicacy full of hidden symbolism waiting to be discovered.

Researching the medicinal and psychical capabilities of plants, Watkiss has personified a matrilineal pantheon of plant warriors safeguarding and facilitating cross-generational knowledge and empowerment.

We are made of carbon, it is the basic building block in virtually every cell in our body. Most of the carbon in the world is carbon-12 which contains six neutrons and six protons. However about 15 miles above our heads radioactive carbon-14 is formed as neutrons from cosmic rays interact with the atmosphere.

Protons and atomic nuclei created by events such as exploding stars speed across space and collide violently with the Earth’s atmosphere creating a chain reaction of cascading particles. Some of these tiny travellers may come from distant galaxies or be created by phenomena that we are yet to discover. Our body is continuously permeated at a subatomic scale by these particles fired into our world – an almost tangible contact with outer space.

Carbon-14 has six protons and eight neutrons and has a half-life of 5,730 years. This means that after 5,730 years dead matter which absorbed Carbon-14 when alive will contain half the amount it had when it died and after another 5,730 years that amount will have halved again. Radioactive decay is random but in a sample there are enough atoms to work out an average time it will take for the nucleus to lose the extra neutrons.

This radioactive carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by plants which are eaten by animals and humans.

Cosmic ray activity gives us carbon dating techniques.

I am working on a video, Cosmic Chiasmus, meaning crossing, which I was hoping would be part of Queens Hall Digital programme but now I am not sure they are going ahead with the commission.

Plant time lapse filming is fascinating to see how plants are so animated just at a different time scale to us. Also I have recently finished reading Richard Powers Overstory, a very powerful sobering read, which celebrates the slow yet socially active time of trees.

At Coniston. We are left to imagine the past majesty of this ancient giant which was lopped so it didn’t drop branches on the cars in the carpark.

Carbon dating is performed by measuring Carbon-14 in organic matter. Radiocarbon decays slowly while an organism is alive but is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.

When an organism dies no more Carbon-14 is absorbed and that which is present starts to decay at a constant rate.

By measuring the radioactivity of dead organic matter, the current carbon-14 content can be determined and the time of death established.

The oldest matter that can reliably be carbon dated is about 50,000 years old. Currently techniques are being refined as they have often relied on the assumption that Carbon-14 levels in the atmosphere are constant but they are not.

The burning of fossil fuels which have lost all their radiocarbon dilutes the amount of Carbon-14 with carbon dioxide and nuclear explosions add huge amounts of ‘bomb carbon’ to the atmosphere. During planetary magnetic field reversals more solar radiation cosmic rays enter the atmosphere producing more Carbon-14. Also the oceans suck up carbon circulating it for centuries.

There are a number of uncertainties for dating shell.

On the surface of the earth two to three Muons pass through your hand every second, underground this is reduced to about once a month.

I collected a selection of images from the 1930’s including some from family, including my Mum aged 3, which I have tinted blue and had printed on sublimation dye paper for transfer to the tiles making up the raster pattern in the work in progress 90 Light Years Home. FM radio and television signals can pierce the ionosphere and travel through space at the speed of light. The first signals will have travelled about 90 lightyears now to arrive at a solar system very similar to our own. Fragments travelling through space for light years with the potential for alien life to decipher.

While searching for images to use as fragments of our world as it appeared about 90 years ago in old National Geographic magazines I came across some articles about balloon voyages in the 1930’s to the stratosphere to record cosmic ray activity.

Intrepid explorers. These early explorations were innovative but also dangerous. In July 1934 a flight developed tears in the balloon fabric at about 57,000 feet and began to break apart, as it did so the hydrogen in the balloon exploded and the crew had to parachute to safety.

Physicist Victor Hess had already made a series of daring ascents in a balloon to take measurements of radiation in the atmosphere. In 1912 he made an ascent to 17,000 feet during a near-total eclipse of the Sun to determine if the source of the radiation was coming from the Sun and made the discovery that it had to be coming from further out in space.

The stratosphere balloon Explorer II was designed to carry heavy instruments for cosmic ray measurements to a height of 13 miles and more above sea level.

Scientists designed a system of cosmic ray telescopes to record the numbers of cosmic rays coming in from several angles above the horizon. Most of the cosmic rays counted are secondary particles shot out from the atoms of the air by the primary rays entering and colliding from space. During this flight the height at which most secondary cosmic rays are produced was determined and the first records of bursts of energy from atom disruption by cosmic rays was made.

Also, the first track ever made directly in the emulsion of a photographic plate by an alpha-particle cosmic ray with enormous energy of 100,000,000 electron volts was achieved. Two boxes of photographic plates coated with special emulsion were wrapped in light tight paper and attached to the balloon gondola. When the plates were developed there were no visible images but when put under a microscope tracks could be seen where the particles had ploughed through the emulsion.

Early google earth. They also took the highest altitude photographs of the Earth ever made.

To record data they had a series of cameras set to take automatic photographs of the dials on the different apparatus.

Analysing air captured from the stratosphere.

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

It has been clearly demonstrated that birds are able to sense the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field and that they can use this information as part of a compass sense. It may be possible humans retain some residual magnetoreceptor in our eyes that once allowed us to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Current research suggests that some people do indeed perceive magnetic fields, albeit unconsciously.

Work in progress on navigation by magnetic receptors. Working on a soft ground etching of my iris with aquatint. Not sure yet if I will use the plate or the print in the final work which will have iron filings activated across the surface.

First components have arrived from America for my attempt to build my own cosmic ray detector to create an interactive artwork. The plastic block converts the energy of the charged particle passing through to a photon which can be read by a silicon photo-multiplier and the information fed to an Arduino processor. Daunting and exciting.

Visit to Sutton Hoo where the ever increasing accuracy of radio carbon dating has provided astonishing clues to the past history of this intriguing site. Archaeologists can determine the age of objects in decades as opposed to centuries.

Sutton Hoo is the site of two early medieval cemeteries dating from the 6th to 7th centuries near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, England. In 1939 landowner Mrs Edith Pretty asked local archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. Inside, he made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time.

Past, present and future finds. Ancient trees. Burials of Kings. Amazing sword of beaten twisted wrought iron and steel. Basil Brown’s star charts.

The agency and aura of objects was investigated with the intent to generate new relations between objects and their associations with the world around them in the beautiful group show Can We Ever Know The Meaning Of These Objects curated by Sarah Sparkes and Kevin Quigley at Gallery 46.

Eileen Agar Angel of Anarchy at Whitechapel Gallery exposing the subconscious entwined with the material of nature. Enjoyed the decomposition of space into lines like foliations and contour lines. Which angel would you choose? Anarchy or Mercy?

I joined a zoom presentation from Sophie Williamson on her current project undead matter which dips into the deep time entanglement of geological ancestry. Leaving a mark in the past as a way of communicating with the future and creating a lineage for ourselves. Eras mingle with each other as ancient footprints resurface, ice melts, secreted narratives emerge. The permafrost holds vast amounts of carbon. Whole forests.

Zircon crystal contains radioactive uranium with a half-life of 4.5 billion years, which makes it useful for dating extremely old materials much much older than those containing Carbon-14. These crystals may hold clues to the origin of life. The carbon necessary for life may have arrived here in space dust from outer space via asteroids or comets.

WHAT ON EARTH group show from artists including Victoria Ahrens, Melanie King and Diego Valente using photographic processes with an emphasis on the material environment, tactility and sustainability.

Michael Armitage – Paradise Edict at the Royal Academy. Digital images do not do justice to the glow and vibrancy of these paintings. Can feel the heat pulsating with unsettling shape-shifting undercurrents.

180 The Strand with Ryoji Ikeda’s digital showcase was an intense assault on the senses using light and sound as medium to create immersive experiences. Brightness is the number of photons per second hitting your eye. Pushing the limits of what our senses can tolerate.

Took a trip to the Lake District to visit Brantwood, John Ruskin’s beautiful home to see Carol Wyss The Mind Has Mountains and Crown of Creation installations. Having seen the work that went into the printing of the large etchings at Thames-side Print Studio it was wonderful to be able to see the work finally installed and step inside the mysterious depths of the human skull; a space echoed by the surrounding mountains. The light installation is suspended in the dark chill of the Ice House vault, viewed from the top of rugged steps carved into the rock. Here the fragility of the human skeleton fades and glows accompanied by an evocative soundscape made by Natasha Lohan capturing the echoing chamber and the water that courses through everything.

HD 70642 is a star about 95 light years away. It has roughly the same mass and radius as our sun. It has a companion planet that orbits in a circular motion very similar to how the planets orbit in our solar system. Waves like FM radio or television signals can pierce the ionosphere and travel through space at the speed of light. The first radio and TV signals from Earth will be reaching this solar system about now.

Family photo 1930 Kessingland Beach. It has taken almost the equivalent of my Mother’s lifetime for the early transmissions to reach this potential home from home.

Work in progress.

The work is based on the raster patterns of the first TV signals when images were transmitted in a series of lines. It is a systematic process of covering an area progressively, one line at a time. It is similar to how one’s gaze travels when one reads lines of text. The word raster comes from the Latin rastrum, meaning rake. Patterns of line. The signal is sent in fragments and must be interpreted on arrival to make sense of the message.

Also working on a short video – Cosmic Chiasmus, looking at the journey of cosmic rays from distant galaxies to our planet. Chiasmus comes from Greek meaning crossing, like in the letter X.

Cosmic rays, some travelling from other galaxies, pass through us and our world continuously, creating an almost tangible contact with outer space.

Some super high energy cosmic ray particles that arrive on Earth have 20 million times more energy than particle colliders can generate. They may come from distant galaxies or be created by phenomena that we are yet to discover.

They may come from other dimensions.