Archives for posts with tag: magnetoreception

New work has been framed – these pieces consider the potential for the human eye to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field. Research shows birds have this capability activated by molecules in the retina of the eye when excited by blue light. The molecules produce radical pair electrons sensitive to the magnetic field and as these molecules are found within the photoreceptor cells it is possible birds may visualise the magnetic field lines to aid navigation. A similar molecule is also found in the human eye and I am speculating that this is a sense we may once have experienced and could tap into again. It is of course the brain that must receive a signal from the eye by which we see. Independently of the cryptochrome molecule, research monitoring alpha wave activity shows the human brain does appear to be sensitive to a magnetic field albeit unconsciously.

The Compass Eye Etching with chinagraph pencil, magnets, iron filings

Pole Receptor 2022 27 x 27 x 3 cm Etching, magnet and iron filings

Framework made a neat job of the frames enabling the magnets to be released to reset the iron filings if necessary. The Compass Eye doesn’t have glass and maybe that was a mistake but I prefer the thin frame.

Progress is being made on new work Breath of Stars. This will be a screen based work triggered by cosmic ray activity. Every time an event is registered by a photomultiplier attached to a 5cm square piece of plastic scintillator, a star burst video image will flash up on the screen. The size of the starburst will correspond to the energy of the particle that has just arrived from space. The starburst videos are made in Adobe After Effects using footage from my cloud chamber experiments.

I have got some help with coding from gaming programmer Jamie Howard so am not feeling so out of my depth in the python maze. One problem we may have though is the shortage of Raspberry Pi processors. It could be months before we are able to get one with a high enough spec to process the video layering. In the meantime I am testing ideas and creating video clips.

It was wonderful to see so many people visiting the first Open Studios at Thames-side since 2019 despite the rail strike difficulties that weekend. The Compass Eye was hanging in the Thames-side Gallery Studio Holders Showcase exhibition. Thank you to everyone who came to visit and found their way to my studio, it was great to discuss everything from Plato to Planck.

Super happy to have my video Cosmic Chiasmus: crossing the universe included in the May Fair Showreel screening at the very smart May Fair Theatre as part of Mayfair Art Weekend. The departure point for the curated selection was the word ‘PROCESS’, which was inspired by the video work by Wolf Vostell, Auto-Faber (1973). It was a great experience to see all the amazing nominated films and meet the selectors -Elisa Tosoni, Angel Leung and Eugene Macki and art weekend project manager Cheri Silver.

What a lovely write up in the Winchester School of Art Yearbook 2022 from one of the Fine Art students on the Images In The Making sessions that I ran.

I am delighted that my installation The Forms has been selected for exhibition in the splendid Wells Cathedral as part of Wells Art Contemporary 2022.

Twelve aluminium plates in the shape of pentagons that together make up the net of a dodecahedron have been deep etched with imagery taken from data visualisation of dark matter provided to me by KIPAC, Stanford University. The etching process used a screen printed sugar lift technique where the bite was allowed to penetrate completely through the plate leaving holes in some areas.

Excited to be selected for a satellite exhibition at the international print conference IMPACT12 to be installed at a former police station in Bristol. At a distance will be shown in The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity, 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).

Drawing on the physical language of print that embodies touch, separation and mirroring the semaphore flags in this work 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.

Out of Studio

Billed as an immersive experience like no other Dreamachine offers a unique journey into the potential of your mind. Stimulated by strobe lighting playing rhythms on your eyelids and spatial sound fed directly into your ears, your mind creates its own images behind closed eyes. Inspired by a 1959 invention from artist–inventor Brion Gysin it has been reimagined by Collective Act, in collaboration with Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury nominated composer Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers.

It was pretty amazing. From a deep orange glow of swirling matter kaleidoscopic shapes emerge with geometric patterns that form and explode into vibrant pulsating honeycomb structures. Felt sure I was seeing some of my recent work in there. Swept away on a tide of colour with a big smile it was like a roller coaster ride through the forming of a technicolour universe. Wonderful.

Interesting to read that the frequency range of light emitted by Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing. The pulsating light stimulates the optical nerve and alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. I have been looking at scientific research that explores a connection between the Earth’s magnetic field and human vision when stimulated by blue or polarised light depending on the orientation of the viewer. The human brain’s alpha waves can be seen to react to the local geomagnetic field. Some research correlates the nature of our dreams to magnetic field activity with calmer dreams resulting from high activity and more bizarre dreams when activity is low.

Going from Dreamachine to Libby Heaney’s quantum world of morphing fluid shapeshifting worlds The Evolution of Ent @Arebyte was a nice continuation of mind bending immersion.

Ent-er. Ent-anglements. Ent-ropy. Ent-wining. Ent- hralling. Ent-icing.

Looking at the potential futures created by quantum computing where the digital mode of binary gives way to superposition and quantum entanglement. Daniel Cavalcanti has provided a useful quantum glossary in the exhibition catalogue. Explaining superposition as like looking through a window and seeing outside and yourself reflected simultaneously, two configurations happening at the same time.

I was very excited to visit The World of Stonehenge at The British Museum to see the Nebra Sky Disc, having been introduced to the existence of this amazing object by archaeoastronomer Carolyn Kennett while on the Lizard Point Residency in 2019. Found by metal detectorists in Germany the gold used in this ancient map of the cosmos can be traced to Cornwall.

Carolyn explaining the history of this most ancient of cosmological objects.

The actual disc was much larger than I expected and almost translucently thin.

Six thousand years ago in the final 1,500 years of the stone age was the British Neolithic period. A time of stone axes for chopping. Woodlands cleared for farming. Stone held meaning. Offerings were made to spirits. Hundreds of stone and wooden circles were raised across the land. A cosmic inversion, connecting earth to sky. The first stones were brought to Stonehenge about 5000 years ago to create a burial ground which was transformed 500 years later into the symbolic site where the large sarsen stones were placed in alignment with the sun as it rises at midsummer solstice and sets in midwinter. Some astonishing objects in the exhibition, the power of the sun celebrated and reflected in gold.

I had high hopes for Our Time on Earth exhibition in the Barbican Curve – the aim was for technology to bring us closer to nature and highlight our place as one species among millions of others, striving to live together in a delicate balance. There was some enticing imagery and interesting ideas but as an experience it was tech overload, information overload all crammed into quite a tight space. Too much to take in and too removed from a lived time on Earth for me to engage and absorb anything meaningful.

Postwar Modern at the Barbican Gallery explores the art produced in Britain between 1945 and 1965 in the wake of a cataclysmic war. Including; Denis Williams Painting in Six Related Rhythms 1954; Eduardo Paolozzi Will Man Outgrow The Earth? collage form the series Bunk 1952/1971; the lovely Aphra Shemza’s grandfather Anwar Jalal Shemza painting fusing Western ideas of abstraction with Eastern influence and Gustav Metzger Liquid Crystal Environment  made using heat-sensitive liquid crystals that are placed between glass slides and inserted into projectors where they are are rotated to create movement within the liquid causing the crystals to change colour as they are heated and cooled.

I was fascinated to learn about the numbering system used by Cistercian Monks while visiting the impressive ruins of 12th century Cleeve Abbey in Somerset. A single cypher can represent numbers up to 9999.

The abbey church was destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution in 1536 but the cloister buildings, gatehouse, 15th century refectory and 13th century heraldic tiles survived destruction as they were being used as farm buildings at the time and it’s ancient tiled floor was protected from the elements by a cabbage 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.

92 Light Years is finally up on the wall in my studio. This work was inspired by a visit to the UCL Observatory at Mill Hill with Lumen Studios just before the pandemic. It then became a more poignant and personal piece for me thinking about time spent here on Earth and trying to relate that to the vastness of the cosmos.

The electromagnetic waves of radio and television signals can pierce the ionosphere and travel through space at the speed of light. HD 70642 is a star similar to our sun with a large companion planet that orbits in a circular motion very similar to how the planets orbit here in our solar system.  This means it is possible there maybe Earth-type planets orbiting further in.

This star is in the constellation of Puppis about 90 light years away. Early signals from Earth will just be reaching this distant solar system with a potential Earth like planet. The time it has taken the signals to reach this home from home is roughly the same as my Mother’s lifetime on Earth. 92 years measured in light.

Early TV signals were transmitted in a series of 30 lines to complete one image called a raster pattern. It is a systematic process of covering an area progressively, similar to how one’s gaze travels when reading lines of text. The signal is sent in fragments and must be interpreted on arrival to make sense of the message. The folded sections in this work emulate the raster pattern and are made from a combination of screen print on textile, dye sublimation print using images from the 1930’s and chinagraph pencil marking out the star chart – a bit like a lenticular image – you see the stars from one side and the fragmented signal from the other.

I have inherited a large number of lace and crocheted doilies from my Mother. A strange constellation may emerge.

In the studio I am continuing experimenting with magnets and iron filings while thinking about magnetoreception, methods of navigation and finding the way in the dark.

I have made a new etching of my iris which has been worked into with chinagraph pencil and will be used as background to film the movement of magnetised iron filings marching across the print. I am planning a moving image piece exploring magnetoreception along with a large mounted softground etching and a smaller photopolymer etching. I have tried some larger sized filings on the print which are darker but am not sure they are successful.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute investigating light-sensitive molecules that bacteria, plants and animals use to detect the Earth’s magnetic field have noted that in birds this molecule, located in the eyes, only reacts to the magnetic field if it is simultaneously stimulated by light. The researchers think that some mammals may also use this cryptochrome to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field as there is a correspondence between the blue cones in mammals and the blue to ultra violet sensitive cones in birds. It is therefore entirely possible that this cryptochrome molecule in mammals could also perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and be used for navigation and orientation.

I participated in an online residency @t.ransienttt via Instagram to share some of my work over the course of one week. TRANSIENT supports creatives who explore the relationship between Art & Technology and offers an accessible platform to showcase their work, as well as connecting with fellow, like-minded creatives from all over the world. 

My interests are broadly to do with visualising the unseen. Technology can assist in making something visible which is otherwise outside the limitations of our senses. I use the pioneering technology developed in the study of particle physics as part of my practice allowing us a glimpse into the world of subatomic particles.

Cosmic Chiasmus – This video gives a glimpse into the activity of subatomic particles fired into our world when cosmic rays strike the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. Particles created during super nova explosions or by phenomena we are yet to discover, travel from distant galaxies continuously passing through us. Some particles collide and silently interact with atoms and technology on Earth.

A cloud chamber enables us to see the trails made by cosmic particles as they collide with and pass through our world. It has been said that the cloud chamber might be the most important piece of experimental equipment in the history of particle physics.

Scales of Intangibility and soft borders were developed in a black velvet chamber built during a studio residency at Chisenhale Art Place.

Scales of Intangibility is an interactive life size cloud chamber installation. Visitors were invited to enter the chamber to ‘capture’ projections of cosmic particle trails onto hand held viewing screens.

The concept of a finite but borderless universe and the permeability of our own body is explored in the video soft borders. The work addresses cosmic and quantum phenomena that are beyond human scale and relate them back to the body’s sensory experience. I worked with dance artist Paola Napolitano who performed sequences of movements based on the geometries of the platonic solids as video of cosmic particle trails were projected onto her body. The movements relate to the system devised by choreographer Rudolf Laban who believed – 

‘What we cannot perceive with our senses, especially our fundamental sense of touch, remains unreal and its very existence is denied’

Theoretically it is possible that wormholes exist. Aóratos (which translates as Unseen) was a site specific participatory installation with fire and film presented at Allenheads Blacksmith’s Shop as part of the 2019 ACA project Continuum.

Visitors were invited to burn offerings of negative energy to power the ‘wormhole’. They were provided with special paper tokens to write on filled with chemicals that change colour when they burn. They could then pass through a portal to see a video installation showing alternative landscape perspectives and would exit via a different door having made a short journey, leaving feeling cleansed of negative thought. Imagery for the videos took reference from theories of cosmic strings, space foam and the idea of a web of tiny wormholes connecting all points in space. The processes used included putting an endoscope down rabbit holes, using a microscope over foam, fibres and skin, green screen filming magnetic fields, along with footage from a high altitude balloon flight.

Wormholes symbolise crossing improbable boundaries.

There are some cosmic particles which arrive on Earth with such high energies that it could be they come from other dimensions.

At a Distance was filmed at Lizard Point Lighthouse on 29th March 2019 – the first date the UK was supposed to leave the EU. Solitary figures using semaphore flags sign ‘We Are One’ out across the ocean hoping the message will be echoed back as in quantum entanglement theory where particles link in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast distances. This mysterious twinning of electrons is what Einstein famously called ‘spooky action at a distance’. The video also uses manipulated footage of Lizard Point Lighthouse lamp powering up for the night to employ another form of messaging over distance. The film is back projected onto a Fresnel lens, the type found in lighthouses to increase luminosity of the lamps beam.

I watched another excellent Laurie Anderson talk in the series Spending The War Without You, this one was titled Birds. All the talks have now been released on YouTube.

Out of the studio

LUX: New Wave of Contemporary Art at 180 The Stand.

Subterranean adventures with wow factor. Light as medium and not always light in content as these spectacles can sometimes feel to be.

Hito Steyerl This is the Future is a video installation where a woman prisoner searches for a garden she has has to hide in the future to protect it from discovery by the prison guards. It also features Power Plants which are digitally generated by neural network computer systems based on the human brain and designed to predict the next frame in the video (the future) and are inspired by ruderal species, plants that grow out of waste ground or disruption.

Es Devlin BLUESKYWHITE is an installation beginning with a walk through long red tunnel accompanied by voiced text from Byron’s 1816 poem Darkness. The poem was written after the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia 1815 which released so much debris into the atmosphere there was a perceptible dimming of the sun and drop in temperature of about 3 degrees. It is known as the year without summer. The tunnel leads to a viewing bench and screens where the blue sky turns white and then black. Current solar geoengineering models suggest that a haze of suspended particles in the atmosphere could reduce global warming but would also turn the blue sky white.

Cao Yuxi Shan Shui Paintings by AI uses deep network algorithms to learn from digital pixels of free hand oriental ink paintings on the web to produce unlimited simulations of landscape paintings combined with algorithms simulating the flow of water molecules creating a dynamic ever changing liquified landscape.

Cecelia Bengolea Favourite Positions is a 3D animation of the artist’s body liquified and melting, a body without boundaries where bodily fluids find new pathways and connections to synapses

Universal Everything Transfiguration – a figure keeps a steady pace in a continuous cycle of transformation, relentless unstoppable evolution through lava, rock, fur, water

Lux Carstens unicolor is a study in the psychology of colour perception and chromatics influenced by researchers, scientists and artists including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Hermann von Helmholtz, Werner Heisenberg, Wilhelm Ostwald, Eckhard Bending, Josef Albers and Johannes Iten.

a’strict Morando is an installation of two transparent OLED screens showing video using x-ray and time lapse techniques of peonies as they bloom and die. Peonies are a symbol of wealth and prosperity in Korea and a popular subject for paintings over many decades as well as being displayed at main life events such as births, marriages and funerals.

Flower Meadow a kinetic sculpture by Swiss studio for media architecture

a’strict Starry Beach – beauty and power as luminous waves crash all around and as in a dream we are immersed yet physically untouched

Black Corporeal (breathe) – creating a haunting soundtrack to the whole exhibition, a critical examination on the relationship between materiality and the black psyche by Julian Knxx. It explores the idea that our ability to breathe – an act that is challenged by everything from air pollution, stress, anxiety and societal prejudice – is more than our lung’s ability to take in air, but a reflection of the way we live individually and together.

Terrestrial Act III at Thames-side Gallery curated by Hot Desque with works by Sam Carvosso Anna Reading Davinia-Ann Robinson Hannah Rowan Harry Smithson Giorgio van Meerwijk. Hot Desque creates a future-past landscape through the theatrical presentation of six artists’ sculptures within a set. Initially presented on stage at the Theatre Royal Newcastle within an ornate yet empty theatre, now, dislodged in a new spacetime, the set has transformed over time.

Matter takes the stage choreographed by humans in an atmospheric alchemical collaboration.

In (Matters of the Soul) at ASC Gallery with work by Stephen Nelson, Jane Millar, Olly Fathers, James Tailor, Stephen Palmer, John Bunker and Lex Shute.

Does artwork have a soul?

21 grams was the disputed weight of a person’s soul as measured in Duncan MacDougals 1901 experiments on people before and after death. Certain work defies classification, playing with its own materiality and the illusion of what its seems to be. Other work plays with the legacy of the previous life represented in its material and the soulful spirit that could lie within.

Such an interesting concept explored in these works.

A Strange Kind of Knowing presented by Arusha Gallery and Haarlem Gallery at Noho Studios with works by Verity Birt, Holly Bynoe, Kristina Chan, Fourthland, Susan Hiller, Katja Hock, Coral Kindred-Boothby, Penny McCarthy, Kate McMillan, Aimée Parrott, Chantal Powell, Tai Shani and Eleanor May Watson. A Strange Kind of Knowing investigates phenomena such as the weather, the sea and sea caves, cloud formations and fire; lost knowledge and civilisations; and the natural and psychological cycles of transformation.

These works are pushing at the boundaries of an intuitive connection to the natural world brought to a more acute awareness during lockdown months.