Archives for posts with tag: Snettisham

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.


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.


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

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.