Headlost Walkfound

Observatory comet flintI took a walk up onto Cheesefoot Head early this morning, to see if I could clear my head from all that I have unearthed during this residency so far. Last night, trying to weave together the different strands I have been exploring in this blog for the talk in the planetarium, I ended up quite disorientated. So much potential, so many different directions to follow. As Thomas Huxley said: “Know something about everything and everything about something”: I have just got to find that second ‘something’ now. Up on the Downs, lost in the low cloud, everything dripping wet, the ground greased with slimy chalk-soil, my phone packed up (with my map on it) and I got completely lost. My head as misty as the weather, free of technology I returned to my senses, to the world around me. I walked across a field, the flints, everywhere, as if rising up from beneath, each its own little island, some cracked open by the plough, some still amoeboid. I had to ask a tractor driver the way, with Britney blaring out of his cab and a burning midden nearby, all on the top of the Downs lost in cloud! The morning couldn’t have got any stranger. When I found my way back to the Observatory, smeared with claggy clay, I found I had been carrying an armful of heavy flints for miles.

Romantics in space

Observatory wandererI don’t know about you, but when I am putting on a talk I have to run through it again and again until I feel it is inside me; that I can duck and swerve whenever necessary (often, as it turns out, especially when technology doesn’t work as you expect!). So today it is heads down for this evening’s talk in the planetarium. Included in the evening are Boney M, Stanley Kubrick and Casper David Friedrich, so I thought I would post an image from the talk, CDF’s Wanderer looking out over a contemporary landscape. Romantics in space. Fingers crossed, we will get a chance of a run-through this afternoon. Thanks James for helping me out this evening since everyone else is either ill or away.

Flint nautilus

Observatory nautilus smFlint is where I am looking at the moment, the flints that are found inside the chalk. The two materials are just so different – hard/soft; grey-brown/white; one you can cut with/the other draw – and the dividing line between them so sharp, one doesn’t flow into the other, there is no transition. It is as if the flints are floating in a sea of chalk, alien. Flint takes many forms, sometimes amorphous shapes, other times fossils, as in this case where the flint has assumed the shape of the nautilus it replaced. Here you are looking at the open end, where the head of the animal would have protruded, with the shell curled away from you. Somewhere I think this object might just be the turning point I am looking for in this project. Just got to figure out how now. Thanks Adam for loaning me your flint collection.

In the round

Observatory planetarium blogToday it is a chance to work on the images for my talk, I Love Philae and Philae Loves Me, in the Planetarium at the Winchester Science Centre in about ten days. What’s tricky is working in 2D whilst trying to imagine how they will appear in the 3D ‘in the round’ space that is the planetarium. Thank you Andrew Hazelden for making your Domemaster tool kit freely available. Great!

Ehux from space

converted PNM fileSo I was looking for something that connected these three things: the Victorian scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, the small calcified plates out of which the chalk of the South Downs is made, and human exploration in space (in particular how we are able to connect emotionally over great distances, such as the feelings expressed of the recent comet lander Philae). So here goes: it was Huxley who first identified those calcified plates and named them coccoliths. Years later one of the minute phytoplankton that produce these coccoliths was named after him, namely Emiliania huxleyi, known, to those who know such things, as ‘Ehux’ (check out its website). Ehux is currently under investigation as it is a player in climate change, part of the ocean’s mechanism for absorbing carbon dioxide. This is especially true when it blooms, which seen from space turns the ocean milky (as in this picture by NASA, Winchester is just off the top right). At this point it is worth getting the scale clear: from what I understand Ehux is about the size of a red blood cell, and here you are seeing it from space! And so the circle turns again, from the micro to the macro. If you were to ask me where is this all leading, I couldn’t answer at the moment. At this stage I am a storyteller, someone “who loses their identity and is open to the lives of others”. 

You will find me in the planetarium

Observatory talk flyerI just couldn’t pass up the chance to do a talk it the Planetarium: such a fantastic space in which to present work-in-progress, but also to try out some images made especially for the dome. So it is going to be on Tuesday 24th February, as part of the Science Centre’s ‘After Dark’ event (which is a chance for a bit of adult regression, trying out the ‘hands-on’ exhibits without embarrassing yourself in front of the children, plus three shows in the planetarium). My talk is going to be between a tour of the Universe and the fulldome film ‘Natural Selection’ about Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle. Quite appropriate really since I am going to be talking about ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, Thomas Henry Huxley (that’s him with the piece of chalk in his hand), amongst other things. So if you would like to come then do download the flyer here, and book your place for the evening. My talk is free, and there is a small charge for the other Planetarium events. Hope to see you there!

Your lens has no shutter

about 1475The architects of the Observatory were inspired by “the geometric works of American artist Sol LeWitt and Antonello da Messina’s painting ‘St Jerome in His Study’. I’ve been looking at the latter to see if I can discover why working here isn’t as straight forward as you might first think. There were not many people around today, so a chance to get on in peace, but still the feeling of being looked in upon was there. What strikes you when reflecting upon Messina’ painting is how everything forces your eye onto St Jerome. If this was cinema then this scene would be one long zoom in. However, if you remove him, the focus shifts to the architecture: look at the way those slender columns on the right recede; how you can see through the back into the landscape behind; and the proscenium arch in the front framing it all, with two members of the audience already in place, peacock and guinea fowl (?). The picture goes further: the wall of St Jerome’s wooden study has been striped away to reveal the inner workings. The whole scene is as if viewed through a lens that has no shutter. And the observer, you, are here, behind the camera. So this is where I am working, in St Jerome’s study, the complete version of which you can find in the National Gallery.