Archives for posts with tag: paper clay

I am very grateful to a-n The Artists Information Co for awarding me a professional practice and creative development bursary to expand on my research and respond to the many ways Earth’s magnetic field impacts life on earth. The award will be used for a research trip to the remote location of Eskdalemuir Magnetic Observatory and Kielder Dark Skies Observatory. Fingers crossed for an Aurora experience. I will also gain expert tuition in concrete casting and mould making from Anna Hughes and make use of the facilities at The London Sculpture Workshop.

Domain of the Devil Valley Master – work in progress. It is likely that compasses were first used in China to divine an alignment of order and harmony for important sites and rituals. Jade hunters discovered they could also help to keep them from getting lost long before Europeans used them for navigation. The first mention of a south-pointer is in a fourth-century BCE text – The Book of the Devil Valley Master, and it is this that I am referencing in the title of this sculpture. Other references in the work are the rotation of the Earth’s core and geological formations of polygonal prisms. A magnetic domain is a region within a magnetic material in which the individual magnetic strength and orientation of the atoms are aligned with one another and they point in the same direction. The work uses directional magnetic steel stripped of its industrial coating to reveal the jigsaw pattern which comes from rolling single crystals of an iron silicon alloy into thin sheets to minimise magnetic losses for use in industry. The sheets have been sanded, etched, guillotined, treated for rust and sealed.

The Earth’s core is made almost entirely of iron and nickel. Siderophiles are elements that form alloys easily with iron and are concentrated in the Earth’s core. When the Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago from the collision, accretion and compression of matter it was rock all the way through. Heat from the massive violence of formation and radioactive decay caused the planet to get hotter and hotter. After about 500 million years of heating up it finally reached the melting point of iron. As the iron liquified lighter material rose to the surface becoming the mantle and crust and the heavy metals like iron and nickel fell towards the centre becoming the core. The siderophiles that descended into the core are gold, platinum, and cobalt along with around 90% of the Earth’s sulphur. Hence the smelly sulphur vents around the volcanic regions.

Belly of a Rock – work in progress. Making paper clay discs to build the surface of this hybrid sculpture and crushing mussel and oyster shells to use as texture.

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, even this pole is not fixed. The magnetic north pole, also called the magnetic dip pole, is where the planet’s magnetic field is vertical and a compass needle here would dip and try to point straight down. The north and south dip poles are not found directly opposite each other. These dip poles are located by experiment in the field but as they are found in the most remote and harsh regions of the planet they are not easy to track. Also they can move around over considerable distances during each day, tracing out oval shapes as they are acted upon by dynamic electrical current systems of the magnetosphere, which are in turn defined by the activity of the solar wind. There is an equivalent (but fictional) magnetic dipole at the centre of the Earth assigned from global modelling of the geomagnetic field. These 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 Absolute Hut – work in progress. This installation is a reimagining of the Absolute Hut at Hartland Magnetic Observatory where monitoring of the Earth’s magnetic field takes place. Topological contours of suminagashi marbling also echo fluid magnetic field lines. Testing scale and alignment in the gallery space. Collecting planks for the north facing wall. Prepping the round window. Suminagashi experiments on different Japanese papers. I want to consider the hut as a sensory hub.

Other exciting news is that APT Gallery have selected a proposal for an exhibition which will take place in March 2024. The exhibition will consider the lifeboat as a metaphor in relation to uncertain times, ecological and social change and shifting landscapes as viewed from the land and the sea. The artists in this group show share an interest in exploring precarity as a site of dynamic transition. I am so happy to be working with these wonderful artists – Rachael Allain, Caroline AreskogJones, Beverley Duckworth, Liz Elton, Kathleen Herbert, Kaori Homma, Anne Krinsky.          

In celebration of World Metrology Day, NPL opened Bushy House and gardens to the public. A chance to see and hear about ever more accurate ways of measuring the physical world. Bushy House was the residence of William, Duke of Clarence (William IV) and his mistress Dora Jordan from 1797, and was offered to the Royal Society by Queen Victoria in 1900 as a location to establish The National Physical Laboratory. The impressive apple tree is from an offcut of one from Newton’s home estate. The magnetic laboratory here is concerned with devising and standardising the instruments used by magnetic observatories such as the one at Hartland that I visited last summer. I saw the 1kg sphere of single crystal silicon, with the smoothest polished surface of any made object and notoriously hard to photograph. The application of a strong magnetic field during the crystal growth process reduces contaminants giving a purer silicon crystal. Developments in technology bring new units and definitions of measurements.

From early concepts of number, patterns in nature (symmetry, branching, spirals, cracks, spots, stripes, chaos, flows, meanders, waves, dunes, bubbles, foam, arrays, crystals, and tilings) magnitude, and form came mathematics, meaning subject of instruction. This has evolved into complex theory from an understanding of negative numbers to imaginary numbers which combined with real numbers have been found necessary to describe quantum mechanics.

The colour coding of Saturn’s rings according to particle size used radio occultation to determine the different regions. Radio signals were sent from the Cassini spacecraft during orbits which placed Earth and Cassini on opposite sides of Saturn’s rings. This remote sensing technique measures how the radio waves bend around the matter they encounter to assess the physical properties of a planetary atmosphere or ring system. The purple colour indicates regions where most particles are larger than 5 centimeters. Green and blue shades indicate regions where there are mostly particles smaller than 5 centimeters and 1 centimeter. The white band is the densest region where radio signals were blocked preventing accurate representation in this area. The radio observations showed that all rings appear to have a mix of particle size distribution right up to boulder sizes, with several many meters across.

Gallery Visits

It’s Coming From Inside at Bell House, Dulwich. Curated by Sarah Sparkes and Jane Millar. In their thinking about the Impressionist Berthe Morisot, and the exhibitions broader theme of ‘Windows and Thresholds’, the curators see the two different domestic spaces, and the liminal corridors between them, as places expressive of dialogues in both Morisot’s and their invited artists’ works: of confines, dreams of escape, of external inscrutability and internal passion. Exhibiting artists: Fran Burden | Ruth Calland | Helen Carr | Mikey Cuddihy | Janet Currier | Robert Dawson | Andrew Ekins | Liz Elton | Lisa Fielding-Smith | Deborah Gardner | Caroline Gregory | Birgitta Hosea | Mindy Lee | Wayne Lucas | Julia Maddison | Jane Millar | Darren O’Brien | Kim Pace | Sarah Sparkes | Geraldine Swayne

Georgina Sleap Now and here and there together at Cable Depot. A residency undertaken in collaboration with Neil Cheshire, Olive Hardy, Mercedes Melchor, Agnieszka Szczotka, Derek Horton, Farida Youssef and Niamh Riordan. A wonderful installation conjured from simple materials and experimental technology, both analogue and digital that blur the here and there of time and space. Sounds of everyday street noise live from the artist’s Cairo balcony are streamed into the gallery where suspended torches project still slide images onto the wall or inside elongated sculptural forms. A loom for weaving a plain coffin shaped carpet hangs like a hammock next to CCTV recordings of yogic performance while a camera obscura style intervention casts shadows, bringing the local outside in.

The Shape of Things by Clan, a collective of multidisciplinary artists – Caroline Penn, Liz Lowe, Ashley Goldman, Nicky O’Donnell at Gallery 3, a delightful Georgian property in Margate. The artists examine issues of loss, both personal and environmental, that are balanced by ideas of hope and regeneration. A nice use of recycled and sustainable materials including netting from fruit and cable ties.

Beatriz Milhazes at Turner Contemporary. Perfect for a summer’s day at the seaside. Exuberant.

Opening event for the new photography centre at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Interesting to hear about the process Noémie Goudal undertakes to create her ambitious illusionist photographic sculptures such as Giant Phoenix VI from the series ‘Post Atlantica’ which has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their photography collection, housed in a new dedicated gallery. This work was inspired by her interest in shifting landscapes, the movement of tectonic plates and how landmasses join and separate over millennia. There was also the chance to see her video Inhale Exhale along with behind the scenes footage of her technical team and the scale of the resources involved. Tarrah Krajnak has also had work acquired by the museum and read some of her poetry at the event. Her interests are also in discontinuity, severance and cataclysmic events but on a human scale. Being born from an act of violence she puts her own identity forward to explore power relationships.


I have really enjoyed the breadth of information delivered so beautifully by Hettie Judah in her book Lapidarium – The Secret Lives of Stones. The character described and stories told of each geological layer, formation, rock and gem brings to life a world often perceived as static, perpetual and dry. This book is a great resource and has been particularly appropriate for me in the run up to the exhibition A Stone Sky with Julie F. Hill as we explore the intimate connections between the rocky planet earth and space.

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.