Archives for posts with tag: obelisk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking North.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A third research trip to Snettisham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallery Visits

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

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

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

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

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

Reading

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

Listening

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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001h49f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallery Visit

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

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

Listening

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

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

According to Laura the single universe theory is mathematically impossible.

Reading

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

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

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

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

Fungal lives are lived in a flood of sensory information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition visits

Expanded film at the BFI London Film festival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading

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

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

Listening

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

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

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

Works include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work in Progress

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

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

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

Out of Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.