“How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control.”  Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

At Hartland Magnetic Observatory and other magnetic observatories around the world solar activity is examined daily and forecasts are given if this is likely to have any geomagnetic effect on Earth. The main geomagnetic field is also constantly changing due to convection flows and waves in the Earth’s core. As this change cannot be predicted, uncertainty slowly increases over time.

Most of my work at the moment is towards the exhibition A Stone Sky, with Julie F. Hill at Thames-side Studios Gallery later in the year. Very excited to be working alongside Julie and to have space to be ambitious in scale.

The Absolute Hut installation, reimagining the magnetic observatory room, will be a combination of planning to build the structure and unpredictability through processes used for the surfaces. Measuring for the north facing wall to be built in sections for easier transportation. Testing scale and coverage of field contour shapes cut in copper with a plasma gun.

I am hoping the north wall structure can be made up soon and the boards attached. I will then keep it outside facing north until the exhibition in an attempt to grow some moss on its surface. I have only had some very small success so far growing moss, despite trying a new culture recipe and being very diligent misting every morning and evening.

The topological contours of suminagashi marbling, which also echo fluid magnetic field lines, have inspired me to experiment with this idea for The Absolute Hut roofing. I have bought a sumi ink stick in whiteish green, an ink grinding stone and some verdigris pigment from Cornelissen in preparation to try this idea out. In this process the magnetic field lines appear embedded into the fabric of the hut that monitors (senses) the emanations from the Earth’s core.

Through the north facing window of The Absolute Hut, The Azimuth Obelisk (Obelisk of sedimentary knowledge) will be viewed. The sculpture is formed by tearing, drilling and layering sheets of paper. As sedimentary rocks build over time, so the obelisk has a lot of time invested in its making and conceals the history of past events in the hidden layers of the recycled prints and drawings.

I am still working on etching the Directional Magnetic Steel pieces. It can be a frustrating process as some batches work well and some do not etch well at all but come out dull and patchy and I’m not sure why. My idea was to use these pieces to draw a line across the gallery floor signifying the westward drift of the magnetic field from geographical north but now I am thinking more about mapping out a spiral shape in shaped pieces to echo the rotation of the Earth’s molten core.

All information about the Earth’s core has come from studying seismic data, analysis of meteorites, lab experiments with temperature and pressure, and computer modelling. Seismometers convert vibrations due to seismic waves into electrical signals. The velocity and frequency of seismic waves changes with pressure, temperature, and rock composition. The discovery that Earth has a liquid layer beneath the crust and a solid inner core has come from detailed analysis of the different types of waves that pass through the body of the Earth. Looking at the composition of meteorites, fragments of asteroids, formed about the same time, and from about the same material, as Earth provides clues to what minerals the core might contain. Diamond anvil cells are instruments used to recreate the pressure existing deep inside the planet by squeezing materials between two diamonds surfaces. A combination of this data is used to in complex computer modelling programs resulting in detailed animations of the geodynamo, a process powered by the convection of heat in the outer core along with the rotation of the planet.

Also a few more layers of papier mâché have been applied to the sculpture that will house a screen with video for the work Belly of a Rock.

Other work in the research stage looks at the first use of a magnetic compass, the cardinal points of navigation and the compass predecessor the wind rose.

In classical antiquity, a time stretching from Homer to the early middle ages, geographic orientation usually referred to landmarks or astral phenomena to determine direction. Eos meaning dawn, and Hesperus, evening were named for sunrise and sunset with north (arctos) being marked by the constellation Ursa Major and later the Pole Star. The winds also became associated with direction, and named in accordance with their qualities such as hot and humid or cold and dry. In Greek mythology Astraeus, the god of dusk, and Eos, the goddess of dawn, gave birth to many sons of the twilight including the Anemoi, the four gods of the winds, each ascribed a cardinal direction. Boreas being the god of the cold north wind,  Notus the god of the hot south wind, Eurus from the east and gentle Zephyrus from the west.

The number of points on a wind rose began with the four cardinal points which were added to and refined over time. The winds were often given names that referred to a particular locality from where they seem to blow, so different places came up with various local names. Aristotle designed an asymmetrical 10 point wind rose which was later refigured by Timosthenes who is credited with inventing the system of twelve winds and using this more for navigation than for “the study of things high in the air.

Classical wind roses were eventually replaced by the modern compass rose during the middle ages.

The “Vatican table” is a marble Roman anemoscope dating from the 2nd or 3rd Century CE, held by the Vatican Museums. Usually an anemoscope would be topped with a weather vane. Divided into twelve equal sides, each one is inscribed with the names of the classical winds, both in Greek and in Latin. 

At a quantum scale, all matter is underpinned by uncertainty. My fascination with particle physics began from simply wondering what everything was made of when you looked really closely. I looked up ‘fundamental building blocks of the universe’ and was blown away by this mysterious other world, so far away in terms of scale I can comprehend, yet a part of me and everything I interact with.

Quanta is a discrete unit that cannot be divided. Quantum physics is the study of energy and matter at the most fundamental level. The chemical reactions in a birds eye that allow it to ‘see’ Earth’s magnetic field involves the quantum entanglement of radical pairs of electrons. These electrons are excited by light, particularly the blue of twilight.

Photography was the first available demonstration that light could indeed exert an action sufficient to cause changes in material bodies. William Henry Fox Talbot 

The subject of the photograph (the sun) has transcended the idea that a photograph is simple a representation of reality,  and has physically come through the lens and put it’s hand onto the final piece. Sunburn Chris McCaw

This month NASA announced a new planetary defence strategy to protect Earth from an asteroid impact. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) on 11th October 2022, changed the orbit of the Dimorphos Asteroid in the first full-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology.

This marks humanity’s first time purposely changing the motion of a celestial object.

“An asteroid impact with Earth has potential for catastrophic devastation, and it is also the only natural disaster humanity now has sufficient technology to completely prevent,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. First any potential collision objects must be identified. This will be the job of the Near Earth Object Surveyor, along with ground-based optical telescope capabilities, to find the still undiscovered population of asteroids and comets that could impact our planet.

A magnetometer is being sent on an eight year journey to Jupiter. It was launched this month from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) has magnetic and electric field sensors on the end of the magnetometer boom. The boom is folded in three parts and packed against the side of the spacecraft for launch. Once unfolded in space, the sensors will extend clear of the main body of the spacecraft, allowing very accurate measurements without magnetic interference from the spacecraft itself.

The boom’s instruments will measure Jupiter’s magnetic field, its interaction with the internal magnetic field of Ganymede, and will help study the subsurface oceans of the icy moons.

Ganymede is the only moon in the solar system known to have its own magnetic field. The magnetic field causes auroras, which are ribbons of glowing, hot, electrified gas, in regions circling the north and south poles of the moon. Because Ganymede is close to Jupiter, its magnetic field is embedded in, or lies within, Jupiter’s magnetic field.

The discovery of the moons orbiting Jupiter by Galileo Galilei in 1610 was the first time a moon was discovered orbiting a planet other than Earth. The discovery eventually led to the understanding that planets in our solar system orbit the Sun, instead of our solar system revolving around Earth.

Gallery Visits

Peter Doig at The Courtauld. My highlights were the luminous moons, moon bathing and an etching of a cave.

Jitish Kallat Whorled (Here After Here After Here) at Somerset House had a romantic premise with a prosaic aesthetic. I love the concept and the theory and it’s certainly a jarring juxtaposition to be directed to celestial destinations by motorway signage. Routes through the work map circular movements through space and time. Is this the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?

Mike Nelson Extinction Beckons at Hayward Gallery.

The impact is in the SCALE. Punchdrunk meets abandoned engineering.