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Friday
Jan272012

Beginning the second month of the new year

Ink drawing study of an atom cooling experiment across three pagees of sketchbook

The last few months have been a whirlwind of creativity and ideas leading to some new works, each opening up potential lines of enquiry and expression and feeding one into the other. I'd rather you see the work than read what I think.  I'll just put down a few pointers and brief explanations as to how various things came about.  

For context, maybe you'll find it helpful to read my first short essay - 'physics - my understanding'. It informs the sensibility of this work which is an attempt to capture the essence of scientific life and understand how perspectives can be enriched when seen through the lenses of art and science. 

 

Chalkboard  This little film project began over tea one day when theoretical physicist, Jonathan Halliwell expressed his interest in capturing the physical sensation of working on the chalkboard. We started out by making footage of the texts remaining on the blackboard after Jonathan's quantum mechanics lectures. By experimenting with a range of cameras and lenses, I was able to get close-ups of some of the most abstract marks and we were surprised and pleased to discover a cosmic landscape that gave space for the imagination to wander.   We applied a soundtrack of Jonathan's overtone singing which we recorded one evening in the department's eleven storey stairwell.  Overtone singing allows the singer to produce two tones at the same time.  It is a strange effect and we found it enhanced the sense of otherworldliness.   The ending is the first footage run backwards - a time reversal symmetry that brings us back to where we first began. 

Finding patterns  'Chalkboard' was amongst my first introductions to film making and taught me that I can take the world beneath my fingertips and transform it by experimenting with scale and effects and choreographing the viewer's experience.  Returning to my sketchbooks with a sense of fresh potential, I took some of the studies I'd made at Imperial and focused on enhancing the moments I'd been pursuing in the drawings. The result is "Finding Patterns", a tiny celebratory film about the never ending story of life in physics.   I chose Johann Strauss's joyous and playful 'Blue Danube' for the soundtrack - though it meant borrowing back from Stanley Kubrick who used the piece in his 'Space Odyssey 2001' and imbuing it with fresh meaning.  

Yellow balloon (and other projects in the stairwell)

"And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

T. S Elliot, from 'The Quartets' - "Little Gidding"

T. S Elliot's quote and the spiral as a metaphor for learning comes up from time to time in conversation and is embodied in the beauty of the eleven storey department stairwell with its ceaseless flow of life and voices.  I began recording myself.  First simply by placing the camera at the bottom and tracing the locus of my hand as I ran to the top.  The idea grew and I started to experiment with balloons as markers, filled with my own breath or helium.  With serendipity of physics and humanity, unplanned events occurred which conjured new metaphors for life, wonder and learning.  This is "Yellow Balloon" and other narratives are here. 

Oil on canvas + light emitting diode, 168 x 138 cm

Yellow thought experiment   Numerous conversations and amazing experiences in the first few months at Imperial overwhelmed me and took me away from painting for a while.  What bought me back was reading the poems of Allen Ginsberg and his passionate proclamations on physics and discovery.  I was reminded about the richness of paint for presenting emotional ideas, new worlds and pyschological spaces - things that exist intangibly.  With a renewed focus on the marriage between the medium and the message, I have begun a series of thought experiments. This 'yellow thought experiment' is the first. Though cluttered with the stuff I find as I travel around peoples' workspaces - funny toys, workings out, old trainers and pairs of spectacles.......it is essentially an abstract space, the space of the mind. The light emitting diode mounted into the canvas breaks the illusion - it signifies an interesting idea and raises questions of reality.

Hi beautiful experiment  And lastly to say that I've begun working with film, writing poetry and my own voice to capture the essence of a piece of physics or an experiment in a miniscule poem-documentary. This is the first - 'beautiful experiment'.  In 44 seconds it tries to express the entirety of this fantastic creation in a basement laboratory - a tiny cloud of red lit atoms, suspended in space that is colder than outer space. The idea came from conversations with the experimental physicist, Mike Tarbutt who shared his experiments and re-introduced me to the poems of Philip Larkin who is almost joyous when talking about nature.  The tone of our conversations and Larkin's words have influenced this work. I'd like these films to captivate the viewer before the consciousness has ever had chance to grasp what just happened.

Other things are on the go:  large scale projection on the outside of the building; more poem documentaries ("all the light in the universe" with cosmologist - Andrew Jaffe); more thought experiment paintings - this time, a big apple pie in oil paint surrounded by granulated sugar from Kenya and a magician displayed with the canvas as a sort of hanging curtain.  And maybe an addendum to the relief sculpture at the front of the building to bring together the physics emblems of the last 50 years.

I have been influenced recently by the artists: Fernand Leger (his film, 'Ballet Mecanique'); Nori Yorstein; Jean Painleve; Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass for "Koyannisqatsi"; and as mentioned, Philip Larkin and Allen Ginsberg.

I close with a link to the first 'visual poem', titled after a quote by scientist, Victor Weisskopf - "Nature Begins to Recognise Itself".  I made this early on in the project after having read a lot of books and spoken with many scientists.  My head was bursting with imagery, and I selected these as the most poignant expression of what I had learnt about the experience of looking out and trying to make sense at the world.  The film includes the first stairwell film, which is the only section to have soundtrack - a moment of discovery.  The film ends with footage of butterflies, taken on a hot summers day in the steamy atmosphere of the temporary butterfly house on the front lawn of the Natural History Museum. They are a signifier of the brilliance, surprise, concreteness and intangibility of ideas.

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