One element of the Confluence project is to project images in a small inflatable dome, so you have to think in the round. I came across this visualisation from a report on cholera in the 1840s, but what surprised me was how in parts it looks almost 3D, not dissimilar to the way medieval artists used to depict plans of towns, with the houses all lying flat along the streets: in Google terms, street view as plan. [image: the Wellcome Library]
Just been to a presentation by i-DAT’s on their Bio-OS system (I am working with them on the Confluence project). Bio-OS involves you wearing a small belt that measures breathing rate, heart rate, galvanic skin response and body temperature (in effect a wearable lie detector). The information gathered is passed to your mobile phone and from there on to the main server at the university. So what is my true response to landscape, to the watershed of the Torridge River, which is the focus of Confluence? How might it be measured? And does my conscious awareness of what is around me match that of my unconscious body response? (Wanderer Above the Sea Fog by Casper David Friedrich)
Yesterday afternoon I took a memorable walk with artist Peter Ward along the coast just south of Westward Ho! in north Devon. With the rain drizzling in off the sea, Peter was showing me where you could find Bideford Black exposed at the base of the cliffs. Bidiblack, as it is know locally, was a commercially mined pigment up to the 1960s, used in everything from camouflage and stove black to mascara. It is an incredibly intense, naturally occuring pigment that can be found as a metre-wide seam of black clay at the bottom of the cliffs. To touch it is slightly oily, and of course got all over my hands and clothes within minutes! But the whole walk was quite special, the cliffs there revealing layer upon layer of geology, with rocks of all colours twisting and turning, infront of which is a pebble beach that sits on a flat wave-cut platform. The weather was just right for seeing the rocks, the wetness allowing each one to reveal it true colours. Amazing! Thanks Peter.
There are a number of images that simply transfix me, I have no defence against them. This one by Juan Sánchez Cotán is one of them. I have never been able to work out what it is about the picture that so resonates within me, but one aspect in particular stands out at the moment which is the juxtaposition between the everyday, slightly worn nature of the fruit and vegetables and the mathematical geometry of the composition, a parabola within a rectangle. There is something quite startling and contemporary about this. Cotán is in my mind at the moment as I am searching for a way of working with the abstract mathematical data that is part of the Confluence project. [The project will be launched in the autumn with its own website, but until then there isn’t much to see.]
This must have been one of the most bipolar introductions to a project I think I have encountered yet: the first day steeped in the lush ecology and the steep lanes of north Devon as we were shown around the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve, and in particular the catchment area of the Torridge River flowing down towards Bideford. A sensual delight. The next day spent in Plymouth University’s i-DAT department learning about intelligent interactive computer-web-based systems designed to visualise our impact upon the environment and to adapt our behaviour accordingly. Our (that is myself and the three other artists on the project) job is to bring these two worlds together in a meaningful way. i-DAT on their website identify a public fear of this data world – a sort of Dorian Gray data store in the attic. Intriguing. My initial reaction is to start with our senses and old ways of gleaning information about the world around us, such as through shamanistic practices which looked to animals to accompany us into aspects of the world that we could not experience directly ourselvses. i-Dat is working on small environmental sensors which can collect environmental data (light, wind, temperature etc.). My first thought is to link these to animals, to other forms of intelligence in the Biosphere. We will see…
With the North Devon Biosphere project much in mind, I have just been up to London for the Data Landscapes symposium at Arts Catalyst. The most intriguing work on show was Most Blue Skies by Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, a sisyphean project to try and capture the most blue sky in the world from satellite data and then to bring that into the gallery. Joshua, the programmer in the duo, talked about how when working this closely with such large amounts of data the data itself takes on its own character and quality, quite separate from what it is meant to be depicting. It seems to me that the hardest thing to do in this technological world it to walk the line between abstraction/data and reality/senses. Most Blue Skies does this brilliantly for me; but I am still not sure exactly what the blue actually depicts, perhaps the colour of the data itself?
It was William Herschel who first discovered infrared radiation, by splitting light using a prism and then measuring the temperature of the area just beyond the visible red light. Here is the man himself, in his house at Kew, with his massive 40ft telescope visible through the window filling most of his garden. I guess he wasn’t such a keen gardener. I am about to start working with infrared photography, as a way of making visible an invisible aspect of the environment. I want to use this process as part of the Biosphere project that I am about to start on in Devon: infrared images acting as an visual analogy to the mass of invisible environmental data that is the focus of that project. All clear? Well, hopefully it will become so over the next months as the project progresses. I will keep you posted. (A fantastic book on Herschel and his contemporaries is The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. The book leaves you breathless with what Herschel and his sister Caroline discovered from their back garden.)