EDITION 02 : ASTROPHYSICS
Cover Art: Machine Memoirs – Space, 2021 by Refik Anadol © Refik Anadol Studio
EDITORIAL Melissa Evans Editor in Chief | Melissa Evans Managing Editor | Emma Levin Science Editors + Writers | Amaury Triaud, Philippa Cole, Christopher Fluke, Alastair Gunn, Abigail Frost, Thomas Haworth Contributing Editors + Writers | Paul Carey-Kent, Michael Mroz, Piergiorgio Ciarla, Greg Jamieson, Madeleine Finlay, Felipe Cervera, Ralph Jones, Laura González Salmerón, David Trigg, Kate Tighe, Ella K Clarke, Herbert Wright Copy Edit | Melissa Evans, Emma Levin, Christopher Ewing Proofread | Claire Knox, Melissa Evans, Toby Matthews, Emma Levin, Christopher Ewing, Annabel Cary Creative and Art Direction | Melissa Evans Legal Permissions Manager | Aylin Ergeneli Image and Video Manager | Jocelyn Hogan Graphic Design | Melissa Evans, Toby Matthews, Grace Ironside, Katie Smith, Emma Levin, Matthew King Video Technology | FrameAlive Printers | Holywell Press
In this edition, we investigate the emerging field of astroarts: interactions between astrophysics and the creative arts. This is a shift outwards – away from our first edition focus on the human brain and the inner world – to explore the farthest reaches of human knowledge and the cosmos. Content is divided into four main sections, the first of which is dedicated to our feature interviews with cover artist Refik Anadol, visual artist Katie Paterson, choreographer and dancer Alexander Whitley, and our commissioned artist David Rickard. The second section takes a journey through seven creative disciplines, each explored through a contextual article charting historical interplay between astrophysics and each discipline, followed by a conversation with practitioners at the nexus of current interchange. Our commissioned technical article forms the third section, in which our science editors consider the past, present, and future of astroarts from a scientific standpoint. And the final section is 02 Studio Lab, an astrophysics focused edition of our online Studio Lab series, where we are excited to showcase inspiring and innovative work shared with us in response to our invitations for submissions. Lastly, this edition incorporates FrameAlive technology and this marker on an image caption indicates linked video or sound content, accessible through the FrameAlive app – framealive.com. NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson said: ‘I like to learn. That’s an art and a science’. This edition has been an exhilarating learning curve for us – we hope you will enjoy it too.
SCIENCE EDITORS 002 |
Professor Chris Fluke Dr Fluke is the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre’s Professorial Chair in space system real-time data fusion, integration, and cognition at Swinburne University of Technology. He was also the foundation director of Swinburne’s Advanced Visualisation Laboratory. His primary research interests are in the use of advanced visualisation (hardware and software) to accelerate discovery in datadriven contexts, with an emphasis on data-intensive challenges of next-generation petabyte and exabyte-scale astronomy projects. Aln experienced science communicator and arts-science collaborator, he has worked with choreographers, painters, photographers, and performance artists. He is also a Board Member with the Australian Network for Art, Science, and Technology.
Professor Amaury Triaud Dr Triaud is a Professor of Exoplanetology at the University of Birmingham. He completed his PhD in 2011 at the University of Geneva, under the guidance of Professor Didier Queloz, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2019 for his co-discovery of the first exoplanet. In the course of this own research, Triaud codiscovered TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven temperate Earth-sized planets, which is currently the most optimal to search for evidence of extraterrestrial biology. He has also collaborated with writers, dancers, film-makers, visual artists, and musicians for over a decade. www.amaurytriaud.net
Dr Pippa Cole Dr Cole is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. She holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a PhD in cosmology. She specialises in black holes, dark matter and gravitational waves, and is currently working on modelling black hole binary mergers in exotic environments, as well as prospects for detecting them with future space-based gravitational wave detectors. She is also a freelance science writer for the London Institute for Mathematical Sciences.
Dr Alastair Gunn Dr Gunn is an astrophysicist and science writer at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is Associate Editor of the Royal Astronomical Society’s Astronomy & Geophysics magazine, astronomy news editor for iCandi’s Night Sky App, columnist for BBC Science Focus magazine, and regular contributor to science media outlets such as Astronomy Now, StarDate, Astronomy Café and BBC Sky at Night magazine. He has also written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian. His fiction includes Ballymoon, a collection of supernatural stories, and his debut novel, The Bergamese Sect, a conspiracy thriller.
Dr Thomas Haworth Dr Haworth holds a PhD from the University of Exeter, where he worked on radiation hydrodynamics and radiation transport simulations of star forming regions. He took a postdoctoral research position at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge to work on the radiation driven dispersal of planet forming discs. Currently an independent research fellow at Imperial College London, he holds a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship and is a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, working on a range of topics in star and planet formation. https://thaworth.wixsite.com/astro
Dr Abigail Frost Dr Frost is a postdoctoral researcher whose work focuses on the origin and behaviour of massive stars. In addition to her research, Dr Frost is passionate about outreach, mentoring and equality, diversity and inclusion. She is an active member of the organisation Astronomers for Planet Earth, which seeks to mobilise the astronomy community against the threat of climate change, and she cofounded the IDEEA network with Dr Gabriele Betancourt-Martinez.
Cover Artist | Does AI Dream of Electric Sheep? Refik Anadol
Interview | The Beige Universe Katie Paterson
050 066 078
Interview | Celestial Motion Alexander Whitley
Commission Interview | Cosmic Field David Rickard and Bill Chaplin
Article | A Screen Odyssey Greg Jamieson
Interview | A Lonely Space Tristan Myles, David Saltzberg, and Ian Bell
Article | Ground Control to Maître D’ Kate Tighe
Article | Shape and Space Herbert Wright
ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN
Interview | Imagination at its Edges Melodie Yashar, Robert J Lang, Anastasia Prosina, Anna Talvi, and Neil Leach
Article | Astropoetics Laura González Salmerón
Interview | Ice for the First Time Alan Lightman, Pippa Goldschmidt, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, and Sunayana Bhargava
MUSIC AND SOUND
Article | Musica Universalis Michael Mroz
Interview | The Taste of Stars Nicole Stott, Roberto Trotta, and Quentin Vicas
ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN
MUSIC AND SOUND
Interview | Sound and Silence Matt Russo, Nicole Huillier, Mario Livio, and Paola Prestini
THEATRE AND DANCE
Article | To Know Otherwise Felipe Cervera
Interview | Spooky Acting at a Distance Kathy Romer, Kurt Vanhoutte, Alex Kelly, and Krister Shalm
VISUAL FINE ARTS
Article | Mirroring Infinity Paul Carey-Kent
THEATRE AND DANCE
VISUAL FINE ARTS
Interview | Touching the Deep Field Caroline Corbasson
How do creative disciplines and crossover projects further astrophysics research? How might they in future? Chris Fluke, Alastair Gunn, Pippa Cole, Abigail Frost, and Tom Haworth
02 STUDIO LAB
Uniview in Deep Space 8K, Credit: Robert Bauernhansl The Ars Electronica Center – the Museum of the Future – with tens of thousands of visitors a year, with interactive exhibitions, works of art, research projects, large-scale projections and laboratories. It invites you to exciting and inspiring excursions into the future fields of artificial intelligence and neuroscience, robotics and autonomous mobility, as well as 008engineering | genetic and biotechnology!
Where science and art coexist Quantum biologist working with paint in collaboration with local community based artist
ASCUS Art & Science is an organisation dedicated to bridging the gap between the art, science and design communities. We are the UK’s first art-science lab, and provide open access to interdisciplinary work, from which we host in-person member sessions, online workshops, art-science projects, programmes and more.
We’re open all year round. Watch our website and social media to see what’s coming up. ASCUS Lab is located in Edinburgh, at Summerhall Cultural Hub, EH9 1PL
AI DREAM OF
SHEEP? COVER ARTIST INTERVIEW
Refik Anadol Media artist, director, and pioneer in the aesthetics of machine intelligence, Refik Anadol owns and operates Refik Anadol Studio and RAS LAB, the Studio’s research practice centered around discovering and developing trailblazing approaches to data narratives and artificial intelligence. He is also a lecturer for the Department of Design Media Arts, UCLA, from which he obtained his MFA. His global projects have received awards and prizes including the Lorenzo il Magnifico Lifetime Achievement Award for New Media Art, Microsoft Research’s Best Vision Award, iF Gold Award, D&AD Pencil Award, German Design Award, UCLA Art+Architecture Moss Award, Columbia University’s Breakthrough in Storytelling Award, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts Award, SEGD Global Design Award, and Google’s Artists and Machine Intelligence Artist Residency Award. Anadol has also developed site-specific audio/visual performances, which have been featured at iconic landmarks, museums, and festivals worldwide, such as the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Hammer Museum, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Artechouse, The Centre Pompidou, The Portland Building, Daejeon Museum of Art, Florence Biennale, Art Basel, OFFF Festival, International Digital Arts Biennial Montreal, Ars Electronica Festival, l’Usine | Genève, Arc De Triomf, Zollverein | SANAA’s School of Design Building, santralistanbul Contemporary Art Center, Outdoor Vision Festival, Istanbul Design Biennial, Sydney City Art, and Lichtrouten, among many others. To apply the latest, cutting-edge science, research and technologies to his trailblazing work, Anadol has also partnered with teams at Microsoft, Google (Artist and Machine Intelligence), Panasonic, Nvidia, JPL/NASA, Intel, IBM, Siemens, Epson, MIT, UCLA, Stanford University, and UCSF.
012 | Machine Memoirs, 2021 by Refik Anadol Studio © Refik Anadol Studio
What is it like in outer space? The question has always had a compelling appeal and it accounts for some, at least, of the timeless fascination with astronomy and the allure of science fiction. It may well be that the most readily available and artistically satisfying answer to that question is delivered by Refik Anadol’s Machine Memoirs: Space, for which he collaborated with NASA and utilised artificial intelligence (AI) to make a series of ‘data paintings’ out of some four million images. They feed into an immersive cinema installation in which the photographic space archives become a latent cosmos. Alastair Gunn spoke to the digital media artist about the inspirations behind his art, including algorithms, machine intelligence, collaboration, and the collective human memory that is space exploration. The results amount to a new form of storytelling with the same underlying purpose as the old forms: to connect with our inner being – our souls. Douglas Adams once wrote, jocularly, that ‘the function of art is to hold a mirror up to nature … [but] there simply isn’t a mirror big enough’ (Adams, 1979). This statement could also, arguably, be a working definition of science, and particularly of astronomy. The two disciplines are intricately linked as basic expressions of human curiosity, ingenuity, and invention – traits evident in the inspiring digital artworks of Refik Anadol. Born in Turkey in 1985, but now based in Los Angeles, Anadol holds two master’s degrees in digital arts, is a lecturer and visiting researcher at UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts, and is the recipient of a coveted Google artist-inresidence award. He refers to his work as ‘data sculpture’ or ‘data painting’, regarding himself as much a computer scientist or AI engineer as an artist. However we choose to label it, Anadol’s work is unfettered by traditional materials or methods, exploring creative realms that exist only as tiny impulses rushing through silicon, visualised in staggering light.
Acting as a collaborator with machine intelligence, Anadol describes his process as ‘dipping my brush into data universes’. He makes algorithms that recall memories, hallucinations or dreams, in many ways offering the audience an answer to the question from Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (famously adapted as the film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, 1982). Anadol explores the synergies between art, technology and science and asks fundamental questions about the nature of information, knowledge, perception and consciousness. Indeed, the Refik Anadol Studio (RAS), comprising a large retinue of artists, musicians, programmers, and architects, harbours its own AI research laboratory with links to external academic researchers.
- Refik Anadol
‘The machine becomes merely a thinking brush’ 014 |
How did he arrive at this combination of interests? Growing up, he says, ‘I was addicted to video games, but not only as an experience of playing, but I think as kind of an escapism – escaping to another space, escaping in the mind of the machine, or escaping to environments that don’t exist.’ That, as art often does, related to the desire to ‘shift the reality to something else’. Add an interest in computer graphics to a child’s natural inclination to draw, and how ‘over the years I was inspired by photography, videography, editing – in two and three dimensions’ and Anadol grew up with ‘all the disciplines on top of each other naturally. And I’ve found that they are all connected.’
Anadol’s early ideas on the nebulous boundary between art and science were heavily influenced by the work of Peter Weibel, a renowned post-conceptual artist at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, and his research on digital society at the Ars Electronica institute in Linz, Austria. Anadol says that his colleagues and mentors at UCLA, especially media artist Victoria Vesna, cemented his approach; ‘Victoria was constantly looking for patterns in nature, in life,’ explains Anadol, ‘and that’s how I started the idea of using AI as an intelligent being able to contribute to the creation of art.’
Refik Anadol, photo by Efsun Erkılıç
Machine Memoirs, 2021. Render by Refik Anadol Studio © Refik Anadol Studio
Of course, this begs the question of attribution – whether the human or the machine is the artist. Traditionally, only the human mind has been regarded as fully conscious, and thus able to comprehend the complex (and often abstract) processes of artistic creation; abilities that machines simply don’t possess (Holland, 2003). The concept of such a human-machine hierarchy has, however, decayed in recent years – in many advanced digital arts the object and subject have essentially become ambiguous (Benedikter, 2021). Anadol, however, is adamant that his creative process is ultimately curated and controlled by the human mind – he is the artist; ‘I instruct the machine how to think so it becomes merely a thinking brush’. If the machine is the ‘brush’, then, Anadol declares, the data are his ‘pigment’. The datasets, whether they are something as simple as a series of rainfall measurements, or as complex as a library of millions of photographic images, are intrinsic to the artwork. The data are lost in the art, but only so far as individual pigments are hidden in the complexities of brush strokes. Anadol explains: ‘I never get inspired by the idea of a recoverable data visualisation; I don’t believe that’s art, that’s just pure design, just data as a functional experience of information that needs clarification.’ What Anadol is trying to imagine is what happens if the drivers are ‘life and nature itself: for example patterns of temperature or gusts or air quality; or Wi-Fi, 5G signals or social media data; or even a heart rate or brain signal. ‘I don’t see any limit in my practice: for me any data can become pigment.’ He aims to use the data ‘as a dramatic tool to completely change and give a new meaning’, and often finds that is facilitated through talking to the people who are collecting the data. He mentions that how every meeting with NASA-JPL engineers was ‘just remarkable. So I got mentally inspired from these people’s incredible journey of understanding the unknown for humanity … I believe space and nature and time are collective memories of humanity: and I do believe they belong to everyone.’
Many techniques are used in the creation of Anadol’s works. Foremost is perhaps software coding, an area most artists would shy away from. But Anadol insists that he needed no special skills to incorporate this in his work; ‘It isn’t too challenging, to be honest, because the code I am writing is not very complex. I am not solving protein folding or creating nextlevel algorithms, just blocks of knowledge, blocks of computation, which is not like classical coding at all.’ The outputs of this processing and data manipulation are not predetermined – algorithms are capable of what scientists call ‘chaotic behaviour’ – miniscule changes in initial conditions can result in widely differing outcomes (see: Matthews, 1989). This is an important point, relating to the accidental or random nature of creativity, which Anadol stresses; ‘serendipity is still there, of course, because, for example, given 100 million images, the machine is free to discover its own patterns and associations. This concept of a machine remembering, hallucinating, or dreaming, became a huge inspiration to me.’ Perhaps surprisingly, dream-realisation and serendipity are not only the preserve of the artist, but also have their place in the scientific process. Samantha Copeland describes scientific serendipity as discoveries which occur ‘at the intersection
of chance and wisdom’ (Copeland, 2019). There are many such examples from the annals of astronomical research, such as Herschel’s discovery of Uranus or Penzias and Wilson’s detection of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (Lang, 2010). Among Anadol’s works are Machine Hallucination (2019-2020), a 30-minute-long cinematic experience based on 113 million images of New York City, WDCH Dreams (2018) which encompasses terabytes of audio and video data from the century-long archive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and Infinite Space (2019-2020), a collection of installations which explore dreams and memories, and the concept of infinity, using archives ranging from radar measurements of the Marmara Sea to NASA imagery of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and beyond. For several years Anadol has been working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a contractor, developing visuals derived from its array of near- and deepspace probes. Anadol was awestruck by the incredible machines sent to explore the Earth’s near-environment or peer into the furthest depths of space. ‘In 2018, when I started my residency at NASAJPL and the Caltech people’, he says, ‘I was much inspired by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), humanity’s maybe one
Machine Hallucination, 2019. ARTEHOUSE NYC, Photo by Refik Anadol © Refik Anadol
Machine Hallucinations – Latent Study: Mars, 2019 by Refik Anadol Studio © Refik Anadol Studio
and only camera in the universe, recording the galaxy; the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is a machine that pretty much records every single thing on Mars; and the International Space Station (ISS), which is the sentry of the earth. I mean these machines to me are like very poetic devices that are recording these connected memories for us, the images of time and space. The question was can we create an art experience by using the memories of these machines to create machine hallucinations? Basically we got the raw data from Arizona University, from the ISS telescope, the Hubble telescope, at NASA-JPL, and we downloaded every single image we could find, up to 4 million images, I can’t say. And then we trained three different AI algorithms and transformed them into these machine hallucinations. We also created a screen in an immersive room where you can step inside; your peripheral vision is surrounded by the walls and the floor is projection; you are kind of in this alternative reality where the world is melting and changing and you are flying in this machine’s memory-like logic and folders and seeing the machine creating its own memory and dream. A very sci-fi story but it feels very in front of you.’ This collaboration culminated in Machine Memoirs: Space – a work which highlights the vast photographic archives documenting the history of space exploration. Anadol explains; ‘the question was whether we can create an art experience with the memories of these machines. My idea was to gather all this data and transform them into machine memories and hallucination, in an immersive room, where you can step inside that alternative world, which is melting and changing, where you are flying inside the machine’s memory.’ In the first section of this installation, called Memoirs, imagery from the International Space Station (ISS), the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), as well as many other space probes, are used to create a series of evolving data paintings. In the second section, Dreams, the artist then explores the idea that ‘space, nature, and time are collective memories of humanity’. Several installations manipulate the same data as presented in the first section, but now the viewer experiences the cognitive processes, the dreams, of an AI machine. The multidimensional, multi-faceted experience places the spectator within an entirely new cosmos, artificial, but sustained and populated by dream-like ghosts of the recognisable real world.
Refik Anadol Studio. Photo by Kyle Raymond Fitzpatrick
‘What is really inspirational is the collective imagination’ - Refik Anadol
Peter Weibel once wrote that ‘artists are attracted to the methods of science, because they sense their structural similarity to the methods of art’ (zkm, n.d.). Anadol agrees, having relished the experience of working with JPL scientists. ‘I have found that the scientist’s journey, their mind-set, is not too different to the artist’s – it’s an ability to understand nature’. On the flipside of this interrelation of art and science, scientists themselves are not averse to using interpolation and other non-intuitive methods of data representation in their search for truth. In that sense, are some scientific techniques also creating art? Anadol believes they are; ‘The scientific practices may have engineered context but the school of thought is very artistic. The approach is very different, but the journey is very similar.’ Anadol stresses that his aim is to produce artwork that appeals to ‘anyone, of any age, of any background, from anywhere in the world’. This challenging objective, Anadol believes, can be by using the universal languages of science, mathematics, and technology – through his diverse team of artists, sculptors, musicians, architects, and engineers: ‘When the universe collides between all these disciplines, artistic serendipity happens – we become one cohesive vision generating experiences which work for everyone’. This collaborative process is key to Anadol. ‘I’m always excited about the potential of machines,’ he declares, ‘but what is really inspirational is the collective imagination.
Our practice is like cinema, because there’s a director, a scenario, and we are trying to achieve the result as a team. A proverb says ‘if you are going to go faster, do it alone, if you are going to go further, do it together.’ I am trying to go further than my own capacity allows, so being part of a team allows me to go beyond the limitations of a single person’s mind’. The audience, of course, is the final step in this lengthy creative process. Like all artists, Anadol aims to trigger a reaction to the beauty or profundity of the visual and auditory experience. But these complex installations often inspire deeper emotions, directly speaking to the human psyche, stirring possibilities, impinging on the viewer’s own memories and dreams. In that respect, Anadol’s audiences are, he believes, actually part of the artwork; ‘engaging with the art, sharing personal feelings, is pure communication’. Anadol mentions his project Melting Memories (2018) – multi-dimensional visual structures which grew out of experiments with the advanced technology tools provided by the Neuroscape Laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. He sees that as ‘truly visualising the moment of remembering in a neuro-scientific context. The project triggered people’s memories as well; I got people reacting, saying ‘I remember the best day of my life, the worst day of my life’, you know, the traumas and so on. It means that the art triggered some kind of an imagination for the audience reacting back with messages, and with thousands of them, not one, two, three, four, five.
Infinite Space, 2019. ARTEHOUSE Miami. Photo by Refik Anadol © Refik Anadol
WDCH Dreams, 2018. Photo by Refik Anadol © Refik Anadol
And that triggers a whole new communication with the audience; an openness, a direct communication.’ Taken together, Anadol’s artworks reckon with our contemporary moment when data is, to put it mildly, prolific; or when, to put it more caustically, our every move is captured and calculated. What, he asks, can a poetic approach to data give us? How can the architecture of the 21st century engage beauty, delight and data together? And can the transformation of data from algorithms into time-based sculptures offer a new form of storytelling? What form should they take? Despite having experimented with virtual reality (VR) at UCLA, and indeed being excited by the use of VR techniques in his work, Anadol is not yet convinced of its worth in the creative process. Removing the audience entirely from reality and placing the viewer in a completely virtual world is not something which naturally appeals to him. ‘I find it difficult to convince myself that a machine to which I am attached is part of my cognitive system,’ Anadol says, ‘so, until technology can truly immerse the viewer, rather than just augmenting the peripheral vision, I prefer to alter the perception with an actual physical environment.’ Similarly, Anadol is reticent to expand his audiences simply by making his experiences available in some online format: ‘You are compromising a lot in order to reach more people; it is missing the essence of the raw data, the richness of the information, and suffers from the limitations of mobile devices, so I am much more inclined to make site-specific experiences’. Consistent with that, Anadol likes to use architectural spaces or façades as the medium of display, either as projection surfaces or incorporating immense digital screens. He refers to this as ‘media architecture’, and is one of a number of emergent artists exploring this new paradigm (Willis, 2016). Nanna Verheoff considers this a natural progression of earlier forms of ‘screening practices’, such as the camera obscura, the magic lantern and son et lumière (Verheoff, 2019). What effect is he hoping for? All audiences really enjoy the mix and beauty of the images and an experience that needs imagination’, he says ‘and some also enjoy going deeper and understanding the algorithms and the context and the discourse of the piece.’ So, to accommodate both, he is very open about his ‘algorithms, techniques and information, where they come from, where they go’. The immersive, evolutionary and pseudoabstract nature of the installations is also reminiscent of mise-en-abyme
techniques employed by artists such as Lucas Samaras or the fractal artwork of Desmond Paul Henry. And there is another dimension to these installations: the spectator’s relationship has shifted from mere observer to a participant invited to experience a collective human memory and its emergent electronic dreams. In that sense Refik Anadol creates entire alternative universes. That’s where the connection to what may remain distinctively human traits comes in: to individual and collective memory, to the subjective and emotional aspects that connect to our inner selves – to touch our souls, if you will. The data acts rather as natural wonders do in one aspect of the sublime – that we are in awe of our reduction to insignificance in the face of nature’s overwhelming majesty.
Anadol’s portfolio validates the view of technology theorist and philosopher Yuk Hui, who wrote: ‘Machines can learn to paint like a human, with the advantage that machines will remember all patterns and apply them with more variation’ (Hui, 2021). Possibilities for artistic expression through the dreams of machines is, therefore, as boundless as the universes Anadol so memorably creates and explores.
Dr Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist and science writer at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK. He is Associate Editor of the Royal Astronomical Society’s Astronomy & Geophysics magazine, astronomy news editor for iCandi’s Night Sky App, columnist for BBC Science Focus magazine, and regular contributor to science media outlets such as Astronomy Now, StarDate, Astronomy Café and BBC Sky at Night magazine. He has also written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, and The Guardian.
Sense of Space : Connectome Architecture, 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 2021 © Refik Anadol Studio
Katie Paterson Katie Paterson is an artist whose work collapses the distance between the viewer and the most distant edges of time and the cosmos. She holds a BA from Edinburgh College of Art, an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, and is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Edinburgh.
Steve Fossey Dr Fossey is currently Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London. He is also a long time collaborator on several of Paterson’s works.
Approximately half of Katie Paterson’s art is inspired by outer space, and it’s obvious that she brings a considerable rigour to the work. For Katie, it’s not enough to imagine how things might be; she really cares about being as exact as possible. ‘When I come up with my ideas in the first place’, says Katie, ‘I realise there will be complexity, but I don’t know what it will be’. This thorough approach means that she needs to collaborate with astrophysicists, and she has worked frequently with Dr Steve Fossey (Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at University College London). I talked to Katie and Steve about the interface of astrophysics and art. We concentrated on four projects, covering the history of the universe in light, interplanetary time, the scents of outer space, and nearly every known Solar Eclipse. While we’ve chosen to focus on these pieces, we might equally have considered Katie’s work on sending a meteorite back into space (201214), recreating moonlight (2008), the brightest-ever explosions (2011),
or commemorating the death of stars (2011-present). For Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky (2012–14), a meteorite was cast, melted, re-cast into a new form, and then returned to space by the European Space Agency (Paterson, 2012-14) Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight (2008) applied the spectral measurements of moonlight to the creation of a light bulb, whereas for 100 Billion Suns (2011) the 3,126 known gamma-ray bursts in the Universe (which can burn 100 billion times brighter than our sun) were reduced to 3,216 pieces of appropriately coloured paper to be fired from a confetti cannon (citn). The Dying Star Letters (2011- ongoing) sees Katie writing letters to inform scientists upon hearing the news that a star has died, as some do each week (Cervera, 2017). Indeed, Katie has so many ideas that she has taken to making Sterling Silver wall texts of what could be – practicalities aside - possible works. For example, ‘objects coated in gold extracted from shooting stars’, ‘a place that exists only in moonlight’, and ‘the universe rewound and played back in real time’ (from Ideas (2015-ongoing).
The Cosmic Spectrum, 2019. Exhibition view Turner Contemporary, 2019 Supported by the Arts Council England. Photo © Manu Palomeque.
The Cosmic Spectrum, 2019. Exhibition view Turner Contemporary, 2019 Supported by the Arts Council England. Photo © Manu Palomeque.
Colour Wheel Diagram, 2018 © Katie Paterson. Larger text available on pp 376-379
‘So, what happens Katie says that The Cosmic Spectrum (2019) is her threeyear-old son’s favourite piece. The large disc of spinning colours does indeed have an immediate appeal for all ages, but that’s not what took two years to develop. It started from Katie reading Professor Ivan Baldry’s paper introducing the term ‘cosmic latte’ for how the universe is, on average, beige (Baldry et al., 2002; Glazebrook and Baldry, 2002). This amazed Katie, ‘as it is the last colour that would come to mind when you think about all the darkness and stars.’ Scientists had come to that conclusion, she says, ‘by analysing starlight and finding the average colour. What I found interesting to wonder was: if you can determine the colour now, then – given we know so much about how stars formed and how they are likely to develop – can we track the colour across the whole history of the universe?’ She contacted Steve Fossey (of UCL’s Department of Physics & Astronomy) along with Professors Richard Ellis (also of UCL’s Department of Physics & Astronomy) and Ivan Baldry (of Liverpool John Moores University), and eventually, between them, they managed to split the universe into its eras and find out the colour co-ordinates. The Cosmic Spectrum (2019) depicts the colour of the universe throughout its existence, spinning in one continuous cycle. It charts a history of starlight; from the primordial era, through the Dark Ages and the appearance of the first stars, to the current ‘Stelliferous Era’ (see: Adams and Laughlin, 1999) and into the Far Future. To allow for this future extrapolation, the piece uses the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey (which measures the light from more than 200,000 galaxies (Colless et al., 2001)) and
when the lights go out?’
speculative, but informed, data from those leading scientists to establish the average colour of each era, including today’s ‘cosmic latte’ (Glazebrook and Baldry, 2002). Steve explains that the task was made more complex by the need to take account of not just stars in galaxies but gas, dust, and black holes. The Big Bang itself is ‘relatively simple to encode’, he says. ‘The initial fireball can be characterised by a temperature which changes over time, making the first 380,000 years easy. Then it gets hard. Go back to the very first stars, and they are massive and hot. To forecast the far future of starlight, we used a research paper by Greg Laughlin called ‘The End of the Main Sequence’ (Laughlin et al., 1997), which describes the evolution of the lowestmass stars. The Sun is steady; it fuses hydrogen into helium, by and large, for most of its lifetime. Massive stars evolve rapidly, and blow themselves up. The very coolest stars – low-mass red dwarfs – are very slow feeders: they have a supply of hydrogen fuel they convert to helium, and that lasts a long time. And those low-mass stars dominate, as it’s easier to make smaller stars than bigger ones.’ When an astrophysicist says ‘a long time’, it’s probably beyond our familiar scales. Just how long does Steve mean? ‘They will last 100,000 billion years. That’s some 10,000 times longer than the Sun will last, and getting on for 10,000 times longer than the universe has been in existence so far.’ Our own Sun, by the way, is middleaged. The universe is about 14 billion years old: the Sun was born at around about the 9 billion year mark with a life expectancy of 10 billion years, and so it will last another 5 billion years or so (Bonanno et al., 2002.).
There were, however, two particular problems to be solved before arriving at that presentation. The first was what temporal scale would be appropriate to use. On an unadjusted scale, the data translated to rapid initial changes, up the emergence of the first stars after 200 million years, followed by long periods of darkness with just the odd streak of colour. The answer, says Katie, was ‘to use a logarithmic timescale so it was concertinaed out in a way we could relate to’. As Steve explains, ‘that goes up in powers of ten, so if you take a segment, then the next segment along represents ten times as long’. Thus the relative reduction in visual interest over time was countered by changing the speed at which the time is shown. The second problem they encountered was how the colours modelled on screen could be accurately turned into the colours to be shown in the work? The answer, says Katie, ended up being taking colour co-ordinates to graphic designers and a specialist printer, allowing them to maximise the accuracy of the colour-matching process.
Timepieces (Solar System), 2014. Exhibitoin view Frac Franche-Comté. Photo © Blaise Adilon, 2015
The team stopped at that 100,000 billion-year point when, as Katie puts it, ‘the last lights will go out.’ Accordingly, what we see is both a history of starlight, and the evolution of the universe over the scale of cosmic time – an awe-inspiring concept to assign to a disc of spinning colours. So what happens when the lights go out? ‘Other objects such as black holes will last beyond that’, says Steve, ‘and the cores of the stars will continue to cool and fade.’ Katie was struck to discover when she first showed The Cosmic Spectrum (2019) alongside paintings by Turner (see: Alfrey, 2019), how closely the piece echoes the colours in his late abstracted-tending sunsets – logically enough, though, as the spinning disc shows the ultimate setting of suns.
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the artist and Ing leby Gallery, Edinburgh.
Diagram of Candle (from Earth into a Black Hole), 2015.
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‘I want to be precise’, explains Katie. ‘We went over every era quite rigorously, but I accept that if we reach a certain limit, well, that’s the way of all knowledge.’ A series of nine clocks hang on a wall, representing the eight planets of the Solar System (and the Earth’s Moon) in order of their distance from the Sun. Each clockface depicts the length of solar days on that planet (or moon), with the density of the hour marks indicating the relative number of hours in the day. Accordingly, while the ‘Earth’ clock has a familiar 12 hours, at 30-degree increments, the clock for Mercury, which has a solar day of over four thousand hours, is covered with a high density of hour marks, with tiny increments. ‘Everyone gets it straight away’, says Katie, ‘when they see the density of the strokes marking the twelve earth hours on Mercury compared with the Earth. That’s how people visualise it. So, on the Moon it’s quarter past 700 o’clock etc’ The data behind the piece aren’t quite as simple as one might first assume. ‘I got fussy about the rates,’ explains Steve, ‘because when you look up published rotation periods for the planets, what you get is how they rotate with respect to the stars – the fixed points in the sky against which the rotation is measured. When you do this for the Earth you get what is known as the ‘sidereal day’, which is 23 hours 56 minutes. But as the Earth also orbits the Sun, you need a little extra, as the Sun appears to move relative to the background stars because you’re going round it. After every 23 hrs and 56 minutes, there’s an extra four minutes of rotation to catch up with the sun – from a human point of view, because the Sun is what we’re interested in. And that happens for every planet, so rotation periods are all quoted as sidereal, whereas the clocks in Katie’s project all relate to the Sun, and so to such concrete human
| 043 Candle (from Earth into a Black Hole), 2015. Exhibition view Gwangju Biennale, 2016
concerns as ‘when is it lunchtime?’ If you were to imagine Solar System civilisations, they would need to know where the Sun is in the sky on their planet, so the calculation must allow for that, leading to a different calculation – the solar rotation period, not the sidereal one.’ Once that’s all factored in, those days lengths are as follows: Mercury 4,223 hours; Venus 2,802 hours; Earth 24 hours; Moon 708 hours; Mars 24 hours 40 minutes; Jupiter 9 hours 56 minutes; Saturn 10 hours 39 minutes; Uranus 17 hours 14 minutes; Neptune 16 hours 6 minutes. Steve explains that these timings can change. For example, the Moon greatly influences the Earth’s rotation. The satellite is thought to have originated when ‘a glancing blow occurred from the collision of two protoplanets, and some material solidified into the Moon, which has slowly retreated from the Earth. The length of the day has increased because of that – ‘billions of years ago, a day on Earth was about eight hours long’. Both Venus (which rotates at just 6 km/hr) and Mercury (which rotates at 10 km/hr), may also have been affected by the Moon’s gravitational tug. The gas giants, however, are remote and less dense. Their fast spin probably reflects the way they first formed; Jupiter rotates at 45,580 km/hr and Saturn at 36,840 km/hr. Earth has the middling speed of 1,670 km/hr. ‘All that’, says Steve, ‘is there in the clocks.’ Where The Cosmic Spectrum (2019) and Timepieces (2014) present scientific data in a poetic way, Candle (from Earth into a Black Hole) (2015), combines the scientific and the poetic in its very formulation. ‘A scented white candle that burns down over 12 hours’, the work is designed to create a 23-layer ‘journey through space via scent’ (Paterson, 2015). The candle is formed of multiple strata, ‘each containing a unique perfume corresponding to a planet or place in the universe’ (ibid.). Here, Katie says she ‘had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, but little idea how to do it. We would leave Earth and smell the forest, and then move through
Image on facing page: 100 Billion Suns, Installation view Venice, 2011. Photo © MJC Courtesy of the Artist
‘I have no desire to leave the Earth’ – Katie Paterson
Lightbulb to Simulate Moonlight, 2008. Photo © MJC
the various atmospheres out to the Moon, and on through space, finally reaching a black hole, which is odourless.’ The smell of space, however, hasn’t been the subject of much scientific investigation. So ‘research only took us so far. Some scents relate to the known chemical composition of planets. Moon dust was analysed from astronauts’ spacesuits. NASA have a ‘recipe’ for the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, as ‘sweet and bitter almond, cherry, with slight benzene’ (NASA, 2014). But for some zones – the sun, for example – we have only fictional descriptions. So we used a mixture of fact and fiction.’ Katie worked with a scent maker who makes scents used by high-end chefs in experiential cooking, and a specialist candle-maker, as making so many layers is difficult (they are all hand-dipped at the end of the process, yielding a plain white candle which conceals the complexity beneath). The smells can be tracked in an accompanying diagram (Paterson, 2015). Katie mentions that she likes the earth’s atmosphere being like a freshlyopened can of soda. But she says ‘Dying Star’ – hot metal, diesel fumes, and barbecues – smells as horrid as it sounds. Does Katie fancy making the journey into space? Perhaps surprisingly, no. ‘I have no desire to leave the Earth. I love our viewpoint, though I like to imagine the setting Sun on other planets, and it’s good for us to keep in the mind the possibility of a completely different viewpoint.’ It seems that she won’t be the first artist in residence on the moon. But that doesn’t diminish her interest in how ‘we’re one planet among billions, all ticking away at different rates. Our internal clock has come about in relation to our Earth, so as soon as you go anywhere else, any other life form there is will relate to their day and night’. Does that mean, I wonder, that even if everything else could be held improbably constant, humans would have evolved differently if they had a different length of day? Steve thinks so: ‘Yes, that would have made a huge difference, as all evolution is synchronised to the timescale.’ Katie mentions being struck to hear that ‘every creature sleeps’ – and has slept, even going back in time to our origins. Every animal is tied in to its clock. For Totality (2016), ‘nearly every solar eclipse documented humankind has been brought together in a mirror ball’ (Paterson, 2016). The images, of which there are over 10,000 ‘span drawings dating from hundreds
of years ago through nineteenthcentury photography, and up to the most advanced telescopic technologies’ (ibid.). The images are arranged – sequenced both horizontally and vertically – around a disco-style mirror ball, and light beams the spinning images onto the walls of the room to theatrical and mesmerising effect. According to Katie, it was exceptionally time-consuming to arrange and affix the images to the ball – the more so as it is an edition of four – but that was nothing compared with the problems in getting the lighting right the first time Totality was shown. Many lighting designers and engineers were involved, until the man who lit the Olympics found a precise setup which worked.
such that billions of years ago it would have been too close for the eclipse to operate as spectacularly as it does now, and about a billion years hence it will be too far away: by then ‘it will become smaller than the Sun and we won’t get any more total eclipses’. Steve is also struck by how the flashes of light coming off the spinning globe resemble the Sun’s activity as captured in photographs using different light frequencies to reveal the hot gases coming off the corona. Then ‘you realise what a dynamic place the Sun is – as energy gets released, magnetic fields fold and buckle and throw material off. The totality of eclipses turns out to be evocative of the dynamic nature of the Sun in its own rotation.’
Steve wasn’t involved in this project, but explains that the Moon sliding across the Sun is made possible by the remarkable coincidence that they happen to appear about the same size in the sky. Not only is that a rare combination – you’d have to visit thousands of planets to find such a well-matched line-up between satellite and star – it is not permanent. The slow departure of the Moon from the Earth is
Katie Paterson, then, has found many ways to summon the poetry that lies behind astrophysical data in order to relativise our place within a universal set of timescales and distances. The rigorous models and assistance from scientists which feed into that work don’t just facilitate its making: they ensure an integrity and believability which reinforces our engagement.
Paul Carey-Kent writes widely on art, including for Art Monthly, Frieze, World of Interiors and Border Crossings, and has a weekly column online at FAD Magazine. He curates shows regularly, most recently ‘A Fine Day for Seeing’ at Southwark Park Galleries. You can find him on Instagram @ paulcareykent and read a wider range of writing, including photo-poems, at Paul’s Art World.
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Alexander Whitley Alexander Whitely is a choreographer, contemporary dancer, and artistic director with a bold interdisciplinary approach. He trained at the Royal Ballet School and began his career at Birmingham Royal Ballet before moving into contemporary dance, working with companies including Michael Clarke Company, Sydney Dance Company, and Wayne McGregor Random Dance. Whitley is currently a New Wave Associate at Sadler’s Wells theatre, a former associate of Rambert and the Royal Ballet, and a member of New Movement Collective. He is also an Artist Fellow at Queen Mary University, London, and a tutor on the Design for Performance and Interaction Masters Programme at The Bartlett School of Architexutre, UCL.
Alexander Whitley, a New Wave Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, is a new breed of choreographer exploring the intersection of science and the interpretative arts. Having trained at the Royal Ballet School, Alexander soon moved into contemporary dance, developing a reputation for bold and innovative collaborations across diverse art forms. He has created work for leading dance companies including the Royal Ballet, Rambert, Balletboyz, Candoco, and Birmingham Royal Ballet. His choreography has won him nominations for the 2012 Arts Foundation fellowship, the 2014 Sky Arts Southbank Awards, and the 2015 Critics’ Circle Awards. In his production titled 8 Minutes, Alexander takes inspiration from solar science, working with researcher Dr Hugh Mortimer of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The performance, premiered in 2017, takes its name from the time taken for the sun’s light to reach Earth. Combined with a score by electroacoustic composer, Daniel Wohl, and stunning imagery by visual artist, Tal Rosner, the piece explores our relationship with the sun and the forces at work in the universe – all to a backdrop of scientific data. Working with The Guardian’s award-winning Virtual Reality department, Alexander recently took the concept of 8 Minutes one step further. Celestial Motion, filmed with motion capture technology, explores movement across human and astronomical scales in a virtual reality environment. By combining scientific data (primarily from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory) with all three elements of the performance (dance, visuals, and music), 8 Minutes explores the fundamental connection of humans to the life-giving empyrean light. But, for Hugh Mortimer, who has collaborated widely on creative projects, including Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and with artist, Elizabeth Price, 8 Minutes highlights for him the parallels between science and art. ‘The scientific method is almost exactly the same as the artistic process’, he said, ‘both are a means to test hypotheses through the use of research and experimentation to further human knowledge and understanding’ (Karouzos and Chiao, 2017).
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8 Minutes, 2017, by Alexander Whitley Dance Company. Photo by Johan Persson | 053
8 Minutes, 2017, by Alexander Whitley Dance Company. Photo by Johan Persson
Alastair Gunn: How did your interest in the interface between science and dance come about? Have you always had an interest in science?
AG: Are your pieces trying to represent scientific concepts or ideas, or are they simply creations inspired by the revelations of science?
Alexander Whitley: Yes, it is something I’ve always had an interest in. I joined the Royal Ballet School to do full-time training at the age of eleven, but was still very interested in academic studies and was, for a long time, unsure whether to pursue a career in dance or to have a more academic career. I have tried to keep those interests as active as possible, and was certainly interested in science at school, but probably more so after I started working in dance. Popular science books became appealing to me and I spent a lot of time reading about science. And that was probably around the time that I started creating my own work, fairly early on in my performing career.
AW: Often the problem for science-inspired artworks is that they get caught up in trying to explain something that you can only understand on its own terms. Obviously, science can get incredibly complex and specific. There’s obviously an element of representation in the work, but I’ve found that there’s lots of information in science that can feed a choreographic process. There’s quite a big difference between the process and the outcome. Ultimately, the effect that a dance performance has, and the meaning it conveys through movement, through the body, and through the other artistic media which come together in a dance production (music, set design, lighting), is a fundamentally different phenomenon to the source that inspired it.
I always saw science as a way of giving one of the most up-to-date descriptions of the world we live in, or one interpretation of it. There’s something in the abstract descriptions of dynamic processes and phenomena in the world that always seemed to chime with the way I thought about choreography; as dynamic patterning and organization of systems. I found quite a lot of inspiration in science as a way of informing those kinds of abstract processes in the work I was creating.
AG: Is the audience open to interpret your works in whatever way they wish? AW: One of the fundamental distinctions between the arts and sciences is that science is ultimately aiming for objective truth and the processes employed are ultimately aimed at arriving at that specific outcome, whereas, in the arts, the accepted position is that there isn’t one truth. So,
- Alexander Whitley
‘Ambiguity is one of art’s strengths’ 056 |
ambiguity is one of art’s strengths; the freedom not to have to conform to a specific or even a clearly-understood interpretation opens the space for ‘poetry’. There is, of course, some very slippery territory between those two places, because in creating a piece of art, especially a time-based one like dance, there needs to be coherence and some semblance of a journey. I work non-narratively, so I’m not telling stories through my work, but there’s still a lot of work done in the productions on the dramaturgical journey. Dance communicates through the body and this is fundamentally different to what we can communicate through language. The process of translation from ideas which are formed and understood through language into movement is one of the most interesting and problematic aspects of what I do. It is ultimately translating meaning from one domain to another. I think that’s where any claims made that a dance piece is about a given scientific subject falls into trouble; when an audience comes expecting to learn about those particular subjects. Making 8 Minutes, for example, I was very firm at the outset that it wouldn’t in any way try to explain the science. It was really looking at science as a source of inspiration and as a driver for the creative process. The production was aimed at providing the audience a different experience of scientific ideas and those ideas are embedded diffusely across the work.
AG: How important are the educational aspects of your collaborative work with scientists? What reaction do you get from young people who may never have even considered a blurring of the bounds of science and art? AW: We’ve had a really positive response in this area. The creative programme we built around 8 Minutes was deliberately aimed at 7-11 year-old children, because, in terms of the curriculum, that’s when they first start learning about space. The workshop we developed with Hugh Mortimer was really trying to highlight the parallels between artistic and scientific processes, and show that so many of the processes we go through in these supposedly different and distinct domains, are actually very similar; it’s just the intended outcomes that are very different. In doing so we highlight the value of creativity in both processes, but also the value of methodology, of peer-review, critique, and feedback, which are so valuable in arriving at those desired outcomes. The educational system has traditionally favoured and prioritized rational knowledge, but obviously there are many different ways people arrive at an understanding of things, and embodied knowledge is generally overlooked. Using movement and physical thinking as a way of introducing scientific concepts is ultimately aimed at creating more access points to a subject and deepening one’s understanding of the concepts. The reverse is also true. Using science as a way of explaining choreographic concepts can be really helpful for those who might be more inclined to the abstract. AG: Dance seems to convey most of its expression through movement. But, although the Universe is dynamic, day-to-day experience for most people is that the skies above are largely immovable and immutable. So, how does the choreographer convey the changing Universe to the audience? Which aspects of the Universe are being conveyed? AW: It is all about movement, in different ways, but also the relationships that exist between different dynamic phenomena and the different kinds of forces that influence bodies (celestial and human). In 8 Minutes this was
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the perspective that drove the creative process. Solar science identifies dynamic activity, and its patterns, and we tried to extract principles of movement from those. Obviously the science can be very complex, so what we tried to do was find ideas that could be understood through human movement, reducing it down to the most fundamental rules. Orbits, the elliptical pathways created by gravitation, were something we worked with as an example of the relationship between two human bodies. Also, the change in velocity as two bodies approach. We can also apply these principles to parts of the body, not just the entire form, or the body parts of multiple dancers in relation to each other. We also worked with the principle of magnetism, not trying to explain it, but just applying the basic principle of attraction and repulsion. Very quickly this becomes quite complex in terms of how bodies move. This gives the dancers the ability to define a character of movement which encapsulates our creative process. Creativity isn’t always simply doing whatever the mind desires; rules and constraints are an essential part of that process. To me, creativity is far more an analytical process than just the wild speculation of the imagination. AG: In your choreography, visuals, music, perhaps narration, are often incorporated in the performance. What is the process of interpreting a concept if each of those can offer a unique interpretation? AW: The convention is that most dance productions incorporate all those elements, but they don’t have to. We can strip away those layers and just concentrate on the movement of the body in isolation. But, for me, the joy of the creative process is in the collaboration with other artists across other art forms. It’s always fascinating to see how other artists working in other creative media can take inspiration from and interpret
Image: Celestial Motion, 2018. by Alexander Whitley Dance Company Video link: Alexander Whitley Dance Company Showreel 2021
Digital Body Project, 2020, by Alexander Whitley Dance Company. Photos by Robin Ashurst
the same ideas in quite different ways. It also frees me, as a choreographer, not to have to encapsulate the entire subject matter. Ultimately the production is richer and does more justice to the source of inspiration because it finds many different layers through which to represent the subject matter. It provides the audience with multiple access points to the concepts and their emotional connection to them. In 8 minutes, video designer Tal Rosner was an integral part of the project with his use of imagery from the Solar Dynamics Observatory and NASA’s STEREO space probes. The visuals are a really rich source of material which directly represents the subject matter. But it is the combination of these layers, and how they support each other, which makes for a richer audience experience. AG: You have worked with several professional scientists in developing your works, most notably Hugh Mortimer and Jim Al-Khalili. What was your experience of that process? Did it inform or change your work in any way? AW: Jim Al-Khalili was very generous in recording an interaction for our VR experience Celestial Motion II. It was wonderful to have an endorsement from such a respected science communicator as well as his interest in this kind of art-science project. Hugh Mortimer was wonderful to work with. He is brilliant at communicating complex and sometimes impenetrable ideas, but also understands the value of the arts in helping to communicate and widen interest in science. Hugh was incredibly supportive of what we were doing in our respective artistic domains and was a really useful sounding-board for me and the other collaborating artists. It helped us to better understand the science or pointed us towards other sources of material. His experience in science communication made him a more helpful collaborator than someone who might, for example, want to see the art used instrumentally to describe the science. We also spoke to some of the other scientists at RAL Space who gave us a presentation on the work they were doing. That really triggered our imaginations; I remember coming away from RAL Space awestruck by the range of scales, from astronomical objects down to the microscopic detail of the engineering required to study them. Witnessing the work being done there was one of the most valuable parts of that collaboration; we had a real tangible connection to the discipline as a whole.
AG: Some of your works have incorporated digital techniques portraying real scientific data. Can you explain that process and how it combines with the choreography? Is VR the future of dance? AW: This is a really fascinating field. VR puts the spectator in a very different position in relation to the performance. Using VR we can situate the spectator not only amongst the performers but also in the visual environment that in a stage production is simply a flat screen at the back of the stage. So there’s a deeper level of immersion which invites action and interaction on the part of the spectator; it’s no longer a passive process in the way that theatre experiences generally are. That completely changes the kinds of questions you need to address as a creator; there are very different choreographic challenges and opportunities. We created our two VR productions, Celestial Motion I & II, by taking material from the stage production and re-imagining it for this environment. Because you are constructing a world digitally there are so many possibilities for re-thinking the form of the body and its relationship with its environment. I studied the philosophy of the mind and I’m fascinated by the psychological processes and relationships between our different sensory modalities. A scientific understanding of the processes involved in how our conscious experience is formed can be really helpful in augmenting the senses through the use of these kinds of immersive technologies. It’s likely these techniques will become more prevalent and a more common feature in people’s cultural and artistic consumption. There is a tendency to see these new technologies as potential replacements for more traditional forms of artistic experience, but I don’t think that theatres and art galleries are going to suffer. Again, it’s all about creating layers of experience and engagement.
AG: What about the future? Have you any upcoming projects to explore science through dance? AW: We’re working on a new production that will be launched in October, called Anti-Body. It’s a slight play on the current moment, but it’s not really a pandemic piece. Rather than the complexities of immunology, I’m exploring through this work the idea of ‘post-humanism’ or ‘transhumanism’; the desire to ultimately transcend the confines of the body. One of the books that inspired the work is Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus, where he considers whether we can reduce life down to just algorithms. I don’t believe that a mind can be downloaded onto a silicon chip or that human consciousness can exist on a different material substrate, but I’m really fascinated by the concept. The production is dealing with the question of what it means to be a physical and digital ‘self .’ How do we experience the world through these different layers of real or virtual? This has come into sharp focus during the pandemic and we’re working with a setup where the dancers remain largely in isolation. The piece explores human psychology and our social lives, again, as dynamic patterns. AG: Astronomical research, like the arts, is often faced with the question of why something with little immediate use to the population, should be publicly funded. How do you counter this argument? AW: This is something we come up against a lot. There is increasing pressure on us, and on arts organizations in general, to have more commercially viable business models. But, commercial incentives have a tendency to skew the approach and the outcomes of creative work. An article I read recently pointed out that we are increasingly starved of wonder; our horizons, literally and metaphorically, are much narrower these days, despite our reliance on global connectivity. We no longer look
up at the night sky and have that time to be adrift and to speculate. I think it’s important to hold a space in our cultural and civic lives that maintains that curiosity about the big questions; to keep a sense of wonder alive in people’s minds. So, in terms of healthy human psychology – our ability to be empathetic towards each other – is where the arts can serve a real purpose. And you can’t put a price on that. AG: Which scientists or leading exponents of the sciences, living or dead, would you most like to collaborate with, and why? AW: I’d say Neils Bohr on a piece about quantum physics. It’s best to go to the source if there is any chance of doing justice to the subject in dance!
Astronomy is arguably the most ancient of sciences (Krupp 2003); and dance is arguably the most ancient of arts (Hattori & Tomonanga 2020). Although the two doctrines were evidently more intertwined in the past, and still are in extant traditional societies (e.g. Hamacher et al. 2017), this synergy has been largely ignored in post-industrial culture. But creators like Alexander Whitley are developing new methods of exploring astronomy, and other sciences, in innovative ways. He proves that, just as quantum physics itself is unnervingly counter-intuitive, science-inspired interpretative dance can be equally as challenging. Whilst visuals and accompanying audio can be very literal, human movement and interpretation can be a powerful and illuminating process of discovery.
Dr Alastair Gunn is an Astrophysicist and Science Writer at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK. He is Associate Editor of the Royal Astronomical Society’s Astronomy & Geophysics magazine, astronomy news editor for iCandi’s Night Sky App, columnist for BBC Science Focus magazine, and regular contributor to science media outlets such as Astronomy Now, StarDate, Astronomy Café and BBC Sky at Night magazine. He has also written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian.
The Measures Taken, 2014, by Alexander Whitley Dance Company. Photo by Barney Steel
FIELD David Rickard David Rickard is a New Zealand artist based in London. Through research and experimentation his works attempt to understand how we arrived at our current perception of the physical world and how far our perception is from what we call reality. His recent exhibitions include LUCHT/ AIR, Kranenburgh Museum, Netherlands (2020), Foreign Bodies, CØPPERFIELD, London (2020) and Echoes from the Sound Barrier, Ashburton Art Gallery, NZ (2019-20).
William Chaplin Dr Bill Chaplin is Professor of Astrophysics and Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. Much of his research is focused on using observations of the natural oscillations of the Sun (helioseismology) and other stars (asteroseismology) to further our understanding of stellar evolution theory, the solar cycle, and stellar variability more generally.
Video link: Studio Portrait, 2021. A film by Eva Herzog, music by abq, produced by Copperfield London
David Rickard has a considerable track record of integrating science into his art. He has looked, for example, at the weight of air; the threshold of optical vision; and the differential speed of the earth’s rotation, depending on distance from the poles. He is now undertaking a commission for SEISMA which will reveal the presence – unsuspected by many – of cosmic rays on Earth. Our Visual Fine Arts Editor, Paul Carey-Kent, asked the artist and his collaborator for this piece, Professor Bill Chaplin, to explain what cosmic rays are, how scientists detect them, and how they might feed into the planned art work. The illustrations are from Rickard’s ongoing research, and the conversation offers a chance to catch an artwork in the process of development, and see how a scientist’s input can be integrated. Rickard has frequently worked with scientists and, drawing on that experience, he is able to reveal how his wide-ranging investigations have taken him to a place in which he is confident that an artistic response will prove fruitful, even before he has formulated exactly what that will be.
Paul Carey-Kent: You are carrying out a new commission for SEISMA, David. What is your plan? David Rickard: I would like to work with the normally hidden realm of galactic cosmic rays. PCK: What are cosmic rays? Bill Chaplin: First discovered by Victor Hess in 1912, cosmic rays are extremely small, high-energy particles that originate from beyond our solar system (see: Israel, 2012). After passing through the vast reaches of space they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, colliding with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and breaking down into electrons, positrons, muons, and pions, which pass through our environment and us at an astounding speed and frequency.
Video link: Cosmic Field, 2021. Cosmic ray observed within a cloud chamber at the artist’s studio. Image and video courtesy of the artist and Copperfield London
PCK: Have you been able to see them, David? DR: They’re all around, passing through us all the time and can be studied with a range of technologies including Cherenkov telescopes and devices called ‘plastic scintillators’. However, there are also readily available methods of observing them, such as ‘cloud chambers’ which reveal the vapour trails left from muons and Geiger counters which register the energy fluctuations as particles pass through a Geiger–Müller tube. PCK: How did scientists discover where they came from? DR: When they realised that there were charged particles in the atmosphere, scientists thought they were coming from the Earth. So Victor Hess set up an experiment attempting to escape the rays by going as high as possible – 5km in a balloon, which was very risky at the time – only to find that the rays were registering three times higher on the instruments. That showed that they were coming from outer space. I’m interested in how such shifts in perception can change our understanding, and turn a theory completely on its head. PCK: Does your work on the Sun and stars come into this Bill? BC: I study stars including the Sun, and the relationship between the Sun’s activity and what happens on Earth. The Sun produces all manner of eruptions and particulate
emissions, including its own cosmic rays – what we call solar energetic particles. Emissions from flares, including coronal mass ejections, can be sufficient to knock out satellites and mobile phone networks, and impact power grids. For instance, there was a famous power outage caused by a solar storm in 1989 in Canada, in which the Sun’s particles got funnelled down through the Earth’s magnetic field, giving them a route down to lower levels. This caused power surges that blacked out the entire province of Quebec. Going back to the nineteenth century, the huge ‘Carrington Event’ on the Sun fried the telegraph system here on Earth – the equivalent of the internet at the time – with surges of current. If that happened now it would still make a mess of our communications. PCK: So that sort of event could occur again? BC: It will. The question is ‘when?’ which feeds into forecasts of ‘space weather’. Predicting when something like that will happen again is very hard, but such work has been taken increasingly seriously over the last twenty years. There are planned bespoke space weather satellite missions – previously that was just an incidental matter for missions with other goals. It’s easy enough to find online sites such as the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC, 2021). My core research is studying the interiors of stars, which is relevant because the driver of magnetic activity on the Sun is inside it. If we understand the origins of the activity that helps with our predictions.
Summer Reading for Cosmic Field, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Copperfield London
Cosmic Field, 2021, work in progress. Image courtesy of the artist and Copperfield London
PCK: So cosmic rays are part of a bigger picture of Earth’s place in the cosmos. Does the Sun’s activity interact with cosmic rays? BC: Yes: as the Sun’s activity waxes and wanes it provides a protective sheath around the Earth which reduces the number of galactic cosmic rays getting through. They find it hard to cross the magnetic field lines that permeate the solar wind emanating from the Sun. The strength and direction of this field changes with the Sun’s eleven-year cycle of magnetic activity, giving more protection for the Earth when the Sun is at the peak of its cycle. I’m actually interested in cosmic rays mostly for what the amount reaching Earth tells us about space weather. PCK: And how did galactic cosmic rays originate? BC: We know they are roughly 90% hydrogen atoms sheared of their electrons and about 10% helium nuclei – the standard building blocks of the universe, but changed in their make-up. For a long time, the origins of galactic cosmic rays have been uncertain, but recent results suggest supernovae, the explosive death throes of massive stars, may be the key. PCK: Tell us more about the plans for your project, David. DR: The working title is ‘Cosmic Field’. It will explore ‘astrophysics on Earth’ – through the hidden world of the cosmic
rays that permeate our everyday world, like invisible rain travelling at nearly the speed of light. I hope that the project will allow the possibility of a ‘to and fro’ between the distant and immediately present. At this stage I’m thinking that the installation will be formed of multiple objects resonating with the impact of individual cosmic rays. PCK: What stage are you at currently? DR: I’m reading around the subject – I have some old and recent books and it’s amazing how much the understanding moved on from the 1950’s to when Bill published (see: Chaplin, 2006). It’s fascinating, and I’m sure the project will develop further as I learn more. I have the smell of something – and I know from previous experience that it will come together: I’m at a very familiar point in the process. PCK: Has anything stayed with you especially from that wider reading? DR: One fact from Bill’s book (ibid.) that particularly struck me, as I’ve worked before with the time taken for sun rays to reach the earth (around 8’20”), was that photons are generated by nuclear fusion within the Sun’s core, but their torturous route to the sun’s surface to be emitted as light takes approximately 100,000 years! And I was surprised to read in ‘The Story of Cosmic Rays’ (Beiser and Beiser, 1964) that radiocarbon dating was an unexpected byproduct of cosmic ray research. Effectively, radiocarbon is a different isotope of carbon with an atomic mass of 14. It’s produced by neutrons dislodged by cosmic rays joining
nitrogen atoms. Radiocarbon is absorbed by all living things (we also have some in us). However, once we die we no longer ingest any radiocarbon and it slowly decays with a half-life of 5,600 years, so scientists can work out how long ago something was alive … all thanks to cosmic rays. PCK: What sort of objects will you use in your installation? DR: My initial concept is to employ the standing drum cymbal, an instrument frequently used to mark a dramatic climax within music. The circular forms of the drum cymbals also visually echo the metal dishes of radar and radio-telescopes. Within each drum cymbal a small Geiger counter will detect the individual impact of cosmic rays which will activate gentle taps on the cymbal to create a momentary shimmering sound. By bringing together a large cluster of cymbals, like a field of radio telescopes, cosmic rays can be revealed through their translation into sound waves that ripple through the space. The presence of musical instruments within the work, also references John Cage’s chance compositions and in particular the piece 4’33” which, through silence, reframed ambient sounds as the work. However, with ‘Cosmic Field’ we will engage the study of astrophysics to reveal the rhythm of reality beyond our usual perception. The presence of a large group of ‘Cosmic Cymbals’ should
provide an opportunity to experience individual detections and ambient fluctuations from particle showers. Early tests with a Geiger–Müller tube have provided positive results in detecting background radiation pulses, a signature of cosmic rays. The next steps will be to develop the interface so we can sound cymbals. PCK: So the transition from space to Earth is a transition into sound. I’ve always assumed that space has no sound, but I see, Bill, that your book explores the ‘Music of the Sun’. What is that? BC: The Sun is like a wind instrument, with sound waves trapped inside it. It ‘breathes’ – expands and contracts – due to the sound within it. That causes changes in the luminosity of the ball of gas as it gets squeezed in, becoming hotter and brighter, or is let out, becoming colder and darker. You can record that rhythmic periodic signature: it varies with density, and that tends to equate to size, so smaller stars ‘breathe’ rapidly, analogous to say a piccolo or flute, whereas larger stars breathe comparatively slowly – more like an oboe or bassoon. You could play those signatures on an instrument, and some artists have taken the data and sonified it, for use in compositions. But you’d have to raise the pitch by several octaves because the typical equivalent frequency is 1/1000 of a hertz per second – well below our audible range.
PCK: Do cosmic rays themselves have any sound? BC: They don’t – they’re highly charged particles travelling at nearly the speed of light. PCK: But, they are indirectly affected by sound, in that the number reaching us is affected by the varying strength of the magnetic field caused by the Sun’s activity, which we use as a means to probe the internal processes from which the activity originates? DR: That’s right: that came as an unexpected link when I started talking to Bill. I’m wondering whether the cymbals can start to respond back to the source – so the objects responding to the cosmic rays perhaps echo their own story.
Paul Carey-Kent writes widely on art, including for Art Monthly, Frieze, World of Interiors and Border Crossings, and has a weekly column online at FAD Magazine. He curates shows regularly, most recently ‘A Fine Day for Seeing’ at Southwark Park Galleries. You can find him on Instagram @paulcareykent and read a wider range of writing, including photo-poems, at Paul’s Art World.
PCK: Thanks, David and Bill. It will be interesting to see how your more detailed discussions feed into the project, and what form the project takes by the time it is shown in 2023.
A SCREEN ODYSSEY 078 |
Picture a spaceship. You might be thinking of the sleek, cylindrical forms of NASA’s rockets, the Meccano outline of a lunar lander, or the solar-panelled wingspan of the International Space Station. It is, however, equally possible that you might have conjured up these images; bright, octagonal corridors, as seen in the Discovery One of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); industrial grime, as seen in The Nostromo, populated by the unfortunate crew of Alien (1979); or the grungy squalor of Starbug, as piloted by the hapless survivors of Red Dwarf (1988). Film, television, and video games have all had significant cultural impact on the ways in which we imagine space. Through exploring a historical context for modern day screen media, we will discuss how astrophysics research influences technical developments in special effects, CGI, and programming, and, conversely, the ways in which innovative screen arts flow back into academic astrophysics. Have exchanges between these two fields been, not solely aesthetic, but also enduring and meaningful – and where might they boldly go? In comparison to other artforms, the screen arts might be considered relatively youthful; the first use of the word ‘television’ was in 1900 (El-Hajjar and Hanzo, 2013); the first regular broadcasts to electronic TV systems appeared in the 1930s (ibid.); and the first commercial videogame to be mass-produced only hit the market in 1971 (Vaughan-Nichols, 2009). Groundwork for these technologies was, however, laid in before the nineteenth century, with historical precursors to modern film technology traceable back to the Victorians – and appear, perhaps surprisingly, to intersect with the Victorian and Edwardian interests in telescopes. The
‘Disney house a prosperous
Victorian era is, perhaps deservedly, recognised as a time of great technological innovation and invention: industrialisation and new methods of manufacture drove the creation of fantastical new contraptions powered by clockwork and steam (e.g. Rochford, 2014; Robinson, 2015). Given that ‘[a]stronomy is a science driven by innovations in instrumentation’ (Lankford, 2013, p. xiii), it is, maybe, unsurprising that telescopes, and hence astrophysics, also benefitted during the period. While some of the very first technologies that attempted to depict a moving image relied on the way that the human brain processes pictures that are rotating (i.e. the ‘stroboscopic’ animation of the colourfully-named ‘phénakisticope’, ‘praxinoscope’, and ‘zoetrope’ (Enticknap, 2005; Woodcock et al., 2009; Stampfer and Blower, 2016)), the first media we might recognise as ‘motion pictures’ arrived in the 1880s, enabled by the advent of celluloid photographic film and cameras, which could capture sequences of images in rapid succession (Parkinson, 2012; Dixon and Foster, 2018). These innovations allowed for ‘reels’ of film to be captured, and then viewed – either individually, on a device such as a ‘kinetoscope’ (Dixon and Foster, 2018) – or as a group experience, enabled by projection (ibid.). Indeed, early film cameras relied upon the same precise techniques employed in manufacturing the mirrors and lenses which underpinned the cutting-edge telescopes of the time (see: Wall, 2018). Indeed, some manufacturers at the end of the nineteenth century catered for both audiences; Henry Fitz, the first manufacturer of refractors for telescopes in nineteenth century America, began his career by making optical mirrors for the first ‘daguerreotype’ portrait cameras (Launie, 2009).
And, in addition to this intertwined history of innovation, there is also one of inspiration. One of the first fantasy narrative films, played to audiences around the world in 1902, was Georges Méliès’, Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) (Dixon and Foster, 2018). While the film holds a number of both legitimate and dubious accolades – commonly considered to be one of the first, if not the first, special-effects science fiction film (Ezra, 2000; Dixon and Foster, 2018), and also one of the first films to be widely pirated (Lefebvre, 2011) – it also illustrates a broader point: there is a creative allure to depicting space onscreen. Furthermore, technical pursuit of these depictions advances innovation in the screen arts. Scientific fidelity onscreen has seldom been more widely-discussed than through discussions about the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (Alcubierre, 2017). Preceding Apollo 11’s moon landing by one year, director Stanley Kubrick was adamant that his film should aspire to the greatest level of technical and scientific accuracy possible, going to the lengths of seeking consultation, documentation, and hardware from engineers based at IBM, Honeywell, Boeing, General Dynamics, Grumman, Bell Telephone, General Electric, and NASA (Agel, 1970; Schwam, 2000). Many of those consulted were subcontractors for NASA’s space programmes; Harry Lange, who designed most of the hardware and vehicles for the film, had been involved with NASA’s ‘advanced space vehicle concepts’, and was familiar with ‘the most highly classified details of propulsion systems, radar navigation, docking techniques, and […] other matters preoccupying the U.S. aerospace technologists of the day’ (Bizony, 2000). Tony Masters, production designer, actually outsourced designs to aerospace companies for authenticity. The undertaking was
an enormous one. In order to mimic a space station in orbit, rotating so as to generate artificial gravity through centripetal force, the crew constructed a 30-tonne spinning drum (see: Bizony, 2013; Alcubierre, 2017) – allowing for an infinite tracking shot, but not always a cameraman (Bizony, 2013). The extreme lengths to which Kubrick went mean that 2001 is still recognised today as a landmark of scientific accuracy in film (e.g. Jalufka and Koeberl, 1999), and that many of the technologies predicted in the film prefigured real inventions – from touch-sensitive tablet computers (Bizony, 2013) to fallible voice-activated assistants (Murad and Munteanu, 2019). Indeed, when Apple attempted to claim patent infringement against Samsung for their touch-screen first-generation tablet, Samsung cited Kubrick’s vision as prior art (Bizony, 2013). Practical effects in cinema also leapt forwards in the seventies. In contrast to the clinical, glossy, and kitsch space aesthetics seen in the sixties (for example, Kubrick’s gleaming 2001 (1968), and Barbarella’s (1968) silver sheen), many of the influential space-bound films and franchises of the seventies depicted grimy, lived-in, functional spacecraft – with hostile and glistening aliens (e.g., Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), and Dark Star (1974)). One of the technical challenges for these films, which used exterior shots of model spaceships to convey a sense of movement, was to depict a sense of scale. The solution was an ingenious one – using complex superficial details (known as ‘greebles’), calibrated with the cameras and lens to trick the human eye into perceiving the tiny models as vast (Kinnear and Kaplan, 2010). This process also often involved ‘kitbashing’ – whereby existing objects or elements from commercially available modelling kits, were repurposed and stuck to the outside of spaceships (ibid.).
Greeble renders at different levels of detail © Greg Jamieson
Similar technical innovation can be seen in early videogames. It’s interesting to note that of the first videogames to receive a commercial release, a potentially surprising proportion were set in space – including the first coin-operated arcade game to be mass marketed, Computer Space (1971), the enduringly popular, Space Invaders (1978), and the enduringly stressful, Asteroids (1979) (Frelik, 2014). Perhaps one of the most significant early space-bound videogames was Elite (1984) – considered by many to have set the paradigm for expansive game worlds (e.g. Risi and Togelius, 2020). In the world of Elite, players could explore galaxies, taking on the role of freighter, fighter, miner, and/or pirate in order to earn credits to exchange for upgrades and fuel (ibid.). The programmers behind the game – David Braben and Ian Bell (see pp 84-101) – were keen to create a large, explorable environment. In order to do this, they employed ‘procedural generation’, meaning that the entire universe wasn’t designed and stored on the game’s (64 kilobyte) memory, but rather generated as and when the player needed it using a ‘seed’ – almost like rolling dice to decide the parameters (see: Amato, 2017; Risi and Togelius,
2020). This idea of procedural generation, of content created algorithmically rather than sculpted by a game’s designer, is an innovation which radically changed the ways in which games could be created – providing greater replayability (e.g. Bernardi et al., 2021), reducing the cost of content creation (Barriga, 2019), and allowing the size of game worlds to vastly exceed the available memory space on a console (Risi and Togelius, 2020). These benefits mean that procedural generation is still used in space-bound games today – for example, Will Wright’s Spore (2008, see: Freiknecht and Effelsberg, 2017), and the hugely successful No Man’s Sky (2016; see Tait and Nelson, 2021), which features ‘more planets than you can visit in a lifetime, all with their own ecologies’ (Risi and Togelius, 2020, p. 429). Procedural generation has also come to play an increasingly important role in cinema VFX, with procedural tools and engines used to generate crowds, particles, and fluids (Gustafson et al., 2016; SideFX, 2021), architectural features where detailed modelling would take many manhours (SideFX, 2017), and psychedelic fractal sequences, such as those seen in Interstellar (2014; see James et al., 2015).
The examples considered above demonstrate the pursuit of astrophysical fidelity in videogames driving creative development and technical innovation, but it’s worth noting that influence also flows in the opposite direction. The development of videogames (much like the development of telescopes) is one facilitated by technical improvements, with early games being text-based, and later games moving to 2D, 3D, and now even immersive environments, supported by successive generations of hardware. One of the major technical developments which underpins modern computer gaming is the production of graphics processing units (GPUs) – a variety of computer chip which, in the words of Kevin Kelly, ‘was devised for the intensely visual – and parallel – demands of videogames, in which millions of pixels in an image had to be recalculated many times a second’ (Kelly, 2016, p. 38). The innovation here was ‘parallel processing’ – performing multiple calculations simultaneously, and therefore accelerating both the speed and capacity of computation (see: Cook, 2012). As gaming on personal computers rose in popularity, in part thanks to titles such as Doom (1993) and Quake (1996; see McClanahan, 2010), by the mid-2000s, the costs of GPUs had declined, thanks to the economies of scale of mass production
(Kelly, 2016). These GPU chips quickly found applications as a scientific research tool; being used, for example, to run neural networks (Raina et al., 2009; Kelly, 2016) and to accelerate deep learning algorithms (Cui et al., 2016; Kelly, 2016). To this day, if a scientific researcher is considering undertaking modelling or image processing tasks, a computer which is optimised for gaming tends to be a suitable choice to cope with the heavy processing demands; in part, thanks to the parallel processing enabled by GPUs (EMBL, 2018). This extends into the fields of astronomy and astrophysics research. Additionally, technical innovation can also be seen to flow from the field of animation to astrophysics. While Disney is perhaps best known for their whimsical films, iconic theme parks, and ever-expanding media empire, they also house a prosperous research and development programme: The Disney Research Hub (Disney, 2021). Specialising in robotics, artificial intelligence, image processing, and interactive experiences, many researchers consider topics which concern robotic movement; for example, minimising vibrations which would break the illusion of a performance (Hoshyari et al., 2019), or optimising subtle movements which would improve the believability of
animatronics (Pan et al., 2020). The expertise required in generating realistic and smooth animation (and for building animatronics for either theme parks or film stages) mean that Disney has conducted research at the very forefront of robotic movement; designing and building robots that can hop (Batts et al., 2016), climb walls (Beardsley et al., 2015), and perform intricate airborne acrobatics that would once have been the sole preserve of stuntmen or recently-landed fish (Causer, 2019). Disney research has also considered design systems for 3D-printable robotic creatures, allowing users to modify the movement patterns of bipeds, quadrupeds, and motley multi-peds; presenting a model of the gait in silico, prior to construction (Megaro et al., 2015). Given the rich history of robots in space exploration, from the robotic arm of the International Space Station, to the landers and rovers abandoned on the surface of the Moon and Mars (Bogue, 2012; Holder et al., 2020), these insights and innovations into robotic movement might be considered both relevant and transferrable to astrophysical applications. Game developers are also undertaking experiments into movement in silico. For example, the Stockholm-based studio, Embark, has been exploring the potential of machine learning to create movement patterns (Solberg, 2021). Instead of animating the limbs of a model, they are, instead, teaching an AI-agent to walk through reinforcement learning (ibid.). The insect-like agent is able to navigate uneven terrain, changes in topography, and even regain balance after receiving a glancing blow from an oncoming projectile (ibid). Rather than relying on predetermined movements programmed by engineers back on Earth, new extraterrestrial exploratory vehicles could utilise artificial intelligence in much the same way. This could afford more adventurous exploration, minimising the need to plan every movement. The actual construction of a physical vehicle may be some time away, but it’s interesting to note that research and development into novel navigation mechanics is already underway in the realm of game development.
In conclusion, it’s possible to see that astrophysics and the screen arts have a rich history of interaction, which might broadly be summarised along three lines. Firstly, there are tools and techniques which are mutually beneficial to both endeavours – whether in the nineteenth century, with the refinement of curved lenses and mirrors, the twentieth century, with the development of parallel processing GPUs, or the twenty-first century, with the use of AI and machine learning to develop and refine movement patterns for robotics. Secondly, there’s a history of aesthetic inspiration from astrophysics leading to innovation in the screen arts. The ambition to capture the vastness of space, the scale of vessels, and the idea of a populated universe has led to technical developments for film in practical and digi3tal effects, and innovations in videogames that have allowed the size of game worlds to exceed the memory space of the console (and the available work hours of a development team). Thirdly, there’s a reciprocal flow of influence from the screen arts back into astrophysics. Technical innovations made by, for example, Disney, have the potential to feed back into aeronautic research. Thus, the link between the screen arts and astrophysics is one that is mutually inspirational; the ways in which the screen arts have represented space has shaped the ways in which both the public and scientists imagine space exploration. Just as 2001: A Space Odyssey attempted to capture, with fidelity, the state of aerospace engineering of the day (Bizony, 2000), so the aerospace teams of today are influenced by the aesthetics of science fiction; Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight suits, designed by Under Armour (see: Under Armour, 2019), bear a striking resemblance to the video game aesthetics of Dead Space (2011)
and Mass Effect (2007), while for the design of SpaceX’s flight suits Elon Musk turned to costume designer Jose Fernandez – responsible for the wardrobes of Batman, Superman, and Captain America (Ryan, 2016).
Greg Jamieson is a multidisciplinary artist working with games, XR, audio and film. He has been teaching for over 12 years. With a BSc in Physics from the Open University, Greg has applied his love of science and mathematics to the digital arts to develop unique and relevant educational programmes across games, XR, VFX, film and audio production, with multiple FE & HE institutions. His projects are produced via multiple platforms and formats, often coordinating the workflows and pipelines across disciplines to produce solutions that harness technical toolsets and protocols across multiple industries.
Accordingly, then, this rich seam of interaction is likely to continue to generate mutually beneficial innovations in the future. Can we predict where the next innovation is likely to lead? I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
SPACE David Saltzberg Dr Saltzberg is currently a Professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, whose research focus is tiny particles. For twelve years he was also the science consultant on comedy show The Big Bang Theory, and then on the spin-off sitcom Young Sheldon. Saltzberg’s professional focus is tiny particles. Previously, he has worked at Fermilab and the Large Hadron Collider, CERN. He has been awarded the Antarctica Service Medal, a Sloan Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation Career Award.
Ian Bell Ian Bell is a mathematician and computer scientist who joined forces with David Braben when the two of them were studying at Jesus College, Cambridge University, to co-create Elite, one of the most influential computer games of all time, The main points of focus for his work on Elite were rotation and 3D movement.
Tristan Myles An Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor at Double Negative (DNEG), Tristan Myles has worked on over thirty big-budget films, including The Dark Knight Rises, First Man, Interstellar, and Blade Runner 2049. The most recent film he has supervised on, the highly-anticipated Dune, is due to be released in October 2021.
Image courtesy of DNEG © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc and Paramount Pictures Corporation
Space is big. And, though they may have been getting inexorably bigger, TV screens are pretty small. The challenge of conveying the arguably incomprehensible vastness of space on something even as large as an IMAX screen is therefore a real one. It’s a philosophical as well as a technical dilemma. Can any type of fiction ever truly do justice to the magnitude of space? It may be impossible even for astrophysicists themselves. As Carl Sagan said, ‘The size and age of the cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding’ (Sagan, 1980). Because the player can explore a world over months if not, in fact, forever, computer games may have an advantage over films or TV shows as being the optimal medium for appreciating the complexity of astrophysics. Ian Bell co-designed the 1984 computer game Elite, which went on to influence many open-world games. The original Elite universe contained eight galaxies, each of which had 256 planets. Although the game is revered for its seminal impact on the genre, Bell says that he and co-creator David Braben never intended to simulate the real cosmos. ‘It’s a complete fiction, essentially,’ Bell says of the classic Elite universe. The world of the game was based on the Star Wars universe, as well as aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey and other science fiction sources. The distance between the sun and the planet was ‘bogus’, in Bell’s words. He once worked out that when travelling within the solar system the game’s spaceship was actually travelling at 25 mph. The exception was that the player could use hyperspace to travel to another star system within seven light-years ‘instantaneously’. Elite spawned five increasingly realistic sequels, none of which
Bell was involved in. But being realistic wasn’t the point of the original game; the point, says Bell, was to enable players to experience true 3D rotation. Elite was one of the first games to use wire-frame 3D graphics to pull off this effect – an effect that had been achieved elsewhere, in flight simulators, but not in a mainstream computer game with millions of users. Bell, who was reading a lot of science fiction around the time of Elite’s development, hits upon the fundamental conundrum at the juncture between astrophysics and fiction. ‘You’re either fun or you’re realistic,’ he says. ‘The essential dichotomy is that computer games pretty much have to occur at the human scale. And if it’s a multiplayer game, then everybody has to have the same scale or they get out of sync – whereas astrophysics, almost by definition, is outside the human scale.’ The vast distances between celestial objects limit the accuracy with which our Universe can be represented in a gaming experience. So, too, does the timescale over which many astronomical phenomena occur. ‘The thing about astrophysics is things unfold over a long time. If you want to watch a star falling into a black hole, you’re going to be watching it for quite a long time.’ As recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, Professor Andrea Ghez (University of California) and Reinhard Genzel (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics) were rewarded for more than 25 years of diligence and patience in monitoring the motions of stars orbiting the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Yet even these stars, orbiting a monster that is 4 million times more massive than our Sun, may well remain in relatively stable orbits for many millions of years before they succumb to the gravitational disruption caused by the black hole. So, astrophysical phenomena operate over immense periods of time, and, sometimes it is necessary to simplify, or even completely ignore, the laws of physics in favour of drama and comprehensibility.
David Saltzberg on the set of The Big Bang Theory © Warner Bros
‘Astrophysics is not just about time’s immensity, it also contends with its relativity’ – Ian Bell
Furthermore, astrophysics is not just about time’s immensity, it also contends with its relativity, says Bell. He doesn’t think there has been a game that has really addressed time dilation: the notion that time moves more slowly for someone travelling, for example, at the speed of light than it does for the people left behind. A human travelling faster than the speed of light would be in violation of the laws of physics as currently understood. But experimental particle physicist David Saltzberg, who was the scientific advisor on the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, says that macroscopic particles could be made to travel at close to the speed of light. Saltzberg has spent decades working on ‘atom smashers’ at institutions like CERN, accelerating particles to speeds that are within ‘walking speed’ of the speed of light. A pellet about a millimetre in size might, he says, be able to be propelled at close to the speed of light to Earth’s nearest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri, taking about four and a half years to arrive. But the practicalities of a human travelling at or faster than the speed of light are more gruesome. Anyone travelling at that velocity would be subject to horrible cosmic ray radiation and would be struck by particles meeting them so quickly that they would do a huge amount of damage, says Saltzberg. So, when writers need characters to travel beyond the speed of light, they have to invoke what Bell calls a ‘magic bullet’: some explanation as to how the laws of the universe can be plausibly bent in humanity’s favour. This is what the 2014 film Interstellar did. In the film, astronauts travel through a wormhole in order to find inhabitable worlds near Gargantua, a black hole that spins at almost the speed of light. The film, whose premise was partly developed by Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, does deal with phenomena like time dilation, and was widely praised by scientists.
Compositing supervisor Tristan Myles, who worked for visual effects company Double Negative (DNEG) on the film, remembers Thorne talking to the team in a screening room about the science. Thorne persuaded director Christopher Nolan that characters shouldn’t travel faster than light; this was a film that would be as scientifically accurate as possible. He told DNEG how he had envisaged the black hole looking and helped generate the equations that their software would use. DNEG set to work. Their gravitational renderer was a computer code that, in their words, used ‘general-relativity equations to trace beams of light as they are bent and warped by the immense gravity of a black hole’. When an image of a real black hole was released for the first time ever in 2019, using data collected and analysed by the Event Horizon Telescope team, it looked similar to what DNEG had created. ‘Interstellar was remarkably scientifically accurate,’ says Saltzberg. The film’s wormhole needed to depart from scientific reality a little for cinematic purposes. But, given that wormholes are speculative concepts and not known to exist, DNEG had a good degree of artistic licence. And, as Saltzberg says, ‘There are some serious theories about how to construct wormholes within the known parameters of general relativity.’ Though Thorne thinks that traversable wormholes are ‘very probably’ forbidden by the laws of physics, he told Scientific American that he wanted to use such phenomena in the film specifically in order to ignite people’s scientific curiosity. Because the film made more than £500 million at the box office, a lot of people’s curiosity would have been ignited. But that wasn’t Interstellar’s only consequence. In a perfect example of the symbiosis between science and the screen arts, Thorne also made discoveries about the way that light behaves around a black hole, and the way that its accretion disk (a disklike flow of particles around the black hole) appears. Oliver James, chief scientist at DNEG, also said that he was approached by NASA researchers who said that DNEG’s equations could help them in a prospective study about spinning neutron stars. In a science fiction film, then, there is a responsibility for the universe to be internally logical. Once the rules are laid down, they can’t be broken without the audience feeling cheated. This doesn’t mean that everything in a film has to be scientifically possible, of course. ‘We don’t know how
Video: Part 1 The VFX of First Man: Redefining Shooting In-Camera, 2018. Footage courtesy of DNEG © 2018 Universal Studios
Video: Part 2 The VFX of First Man: Out of this World – The Subtle VFX Magic Behind First Man, 2018. Footage courtesy of DNEG © 2018 Universal Studios
| 099 Still image from the movie Interstellar. Image courtesy of DNEG © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc and Paramount Pictures Corporation
Render of a black hole in Interstellar. Image courtesy of DNEG © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc and Paramount Pictures Corporation
‘Interstellar was remarkably scientifically accurate’ – David Saltzberg
to do time travel,’ says Saltzberg, ‘and if you had a science consultant telling you you can’t do it, that would make Back to the Future a pretty bad movie.’ He remembers the mistakes in the science fiction he watched as a child – for example, characters talking about light-years as a unit of time, not distance. He enjoyed these. ‘If it was correct we would have had nothing to talk about.’ When he worked on The Big Bang Theory, a comedy about young scientists, Saltzberg was called upon to ‘fill science-sized holes’ in the script. The writers always told him that if he thought something was scientifically inaccurate, they wouldn’t put it in the show. The world of the sitcom was intended to be the real world – so when, for example, the characters seemed to have discovered a new element, the conclusion had to be that they had not, because this discovery would have altered scientific reality. This cleaving to reality meant that the real world and the world of the show often collided. Near the end of the show’s run, Saltzberg was tasked with helping to come up with a scientific theory that might earn the characters a Nobel Prize nomination. ‘I talked to some friends and I was like, “Can you think of a plausible theory that might win a Nobel Prize that I could use in this TV show?” And they’re like, “Well, if I could do that, I wouldn’t give it to you.’‘’ Saltzberg knew that the show had a science-literate audience who would email him if there were egregious mistakes. He discovered that he became incredibly well informed over lunches with colleagues because he was reading so many physics newsletters in order to stay on top of his game for the show. This pressure was particularly intense when Stephen Hawking guest-starred, and Saltzberg had to invent some science for Hawking to talk about. The show’s commitment to scientific realism was so extensive that when Saltzberg needed to travel to Greenland for research on neutrinos, rather than spending around £750 on each parka he asked the show’s wardrobe department if he could borrow the bright-red Canada Goose coats that the cast wore four years prior, in an episode about the characters going to the Arctic. They were so authentic that this is exactly what he ended up doing. The team thanked Warner Brothers in their paper.
Metaslates from First Man, 2018. Footage courtesy of DNEG © 2018 Universal Studios
First Man, 2018. Footage courtesy of DNEG © 2018 Universal Studios
The responsibility to be scientifically truthful is even greater for films about events that actually occurred. Myles also worked as digital effects supervisor with DNEG on First Man, the 2018 film about Neil Armstrong’s path to the Moon. ‘Generally we try and start from a photographic point of view and therefore a physically accurate version of what would have happened,’ says Myles. DNEG looked at flight data for Armstrong’s flights and used real footage of the launch in the film, modifying its proportions where necessary. When they created shots in space, the team answered to a man they knew as ‘NASA Frank’ – Frank Hughes, a retired Chief of Space Flight Training for NASA. Using digital elevation model data about the topology of the lunar surface, DNEG recreated the Moon in an Atlanta quarry at night-time. One of the eerie things about the Moon, says Myles, is the dense shadows that exist: no atmosphere means there is no light-scattering. The shots looked so strange that often the team would have to consult the real photography to make sure that their simulations really were accurate. The other phenomenon on the Moon is that the lack of atmosphere deprives you of distance cues, forcing DNEG to place rocks at various junctures in order for the audience not to be disorientated.
For all of the shots of vehicles, DNEG used a 60 x 35-foot LED screen projecting footage of whatever they wanted Ryan Gosling (who played Armstrong) to be looking at. This technique, which replaces greenscreening and co-ordinates the movement of the background with the movement of the camera, is now commonplace thanks to First Man, but also The Mandalorian. It is a technique which has significant advantages; the reflected images in Gosling’s visor are what he saw on the day of filming, not a subjective interpretation of what Armstong might have seen. Myles watched a lot of episodes of The X-Files when he was younger and is captivated by space. ‘The vastness of it is immense,’ he says. You don’t see streaks of light coming towards you as in Star Trek. ‘It’s not that. It’s literally emptiness. Nothingness. That is something which is really hard to convey or communicate to the audience.’ In order to communicate the sheer scale of cosmological landscapes, a technique called procedural generation is used in film and, more often, in computer games. Procedural generation generates content algorithmically, not manually, choosing tags and features from a range of options. It is used in films like Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy to quickly populate
battlefields, for example. In the game No Man’s Sky there are apparently 18 quintillion planets (a quintillion is a one followed by 18 zeroes), made possible only through procedural generation. ‘It’s a handy tool to have,’ says Myles. ‘It’s not something to overuse, it’s not something you’d use all the time.’ The closest thing DNEG used in First Man were scatter maps, which helped model a selection of rocks for the lunar surface. The original Elite was one of the first games to use procedural generation. ‘Computers had virtually no memory back then, so you couldn’t afford to waste any of it,’ says Bell. He and Braben used procedural generation not necessarily because space is so vast but because they wanted a big game environment. In the industry the phenomenon known as the oatmeal problem refers to the sensation that procedural generation can evoke when a player feels as if everything is beginning to look the same. ‘You’ll start to feel you’ve seen everything because basically you have,’ says Bell. They therefore limited the use of the technique because if the player realised the game had been designed using procedural generation they would have a ‘fairly strong’ idea of the game’s limitations, Bell believes. ‘People like games that surprise them in a good way.’ The future of procedural generation will be neural networks and deep learning, Bell thinks. He believes that some sort of procedural generator will generate content; this content will be marked by human ‘designers’; and that marking of the output will be used to drive the neural network interpretations of the markings. This will mean that the content is created with artificial intelligence and, ultimately, no one will know how it was made.
Ralph Jones is a journalist and comedy writer/performer. He lives in Oxford and has written for places like The New Yorker, The Guardian, and Wired.
Ultimately, Bell thinks, there hasn’t been a computer game that has been true to the requirements of astrophysics. Bell has been wondering for years how he would go about creating a space game if he were doing it today. He thinks he would emulate time dilation and employ a hard lightspeed barrier, meaning players would have to travel at almost the speed of light. But, he points out, this would make playing it as a multiplayer game almost impossible because the chances of meeting anyone ever again would be so slim. ‘It becomes a very lonely game,’ he says. ‘Which you could say is true to the genre of space. It’s a very lonely place.’
GROUND CONTROL TO MAÎTRE D’
S65-10971 March 1965 Food packs for use on the Gemini-3 flight including dehydrated beef pot roast, bacon and egg bites, toasted bread cubes, orange juice and a wet wipe. Water being inserted into the pouch of dehydrated food. Photo credit: NASA
Space cannot be explored on an empty stomach. Astronauts require nutritious and practical meals which can be stored, and consumed, in zero gravity (Taylor et al., 2020). Unfortunately for space travellers, however, the taste, touch, and appearance of food consumed in space has historically been considered subsidiary to its safety and durability – qualities essential for the survival and performance of astronauts (ibid.). The primary aim for state-based Space Agencies (such as NASA and the ESA) has historically been the creation of foods which remain safely consumable and nutritious for the duration of missions (Cooper et al., 2017). This article will explore the evolution of the culinary arts at zero gravity – tracing the technological and creative innovations which have made food for astronauts increasingly palatable – from tubes of puréed meat, to Michelin-starred meals, and beyond. There are complex requirements for foods designed to be consumed in space. They must be long-lasting and thermostable (Taylor et al., 2020). Packaging must be able to withstand varying pressure (Bourland, 1993) and little inedible waste must be produced (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). Crucially, all items must be easy to consume at zero gravity (ibid.). This imposes a limitation on the texture of items; anything that produces a multitude of crumbs is problematic (Nestle, 2019), and uncontained liquid could become dangerous if allowed to come into contact with the mechanics of the spacecraft – or inhaled by an unlucky astronaut (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). Accordingly, crumb-generating foods such as bread, cake, or biscuits are to be avoided in microgravity. In 1963, the story goes, a NASA astronaut, John Young, stowed away a corned beef sandwich on his person on the Gemini 3 mission (Bourland and Vogt, 2010) which caused crumbs to float through the cabin, flying all over the craft (Betz, 2020). Nowadays, bread items are restricted to those less likely to produce crumbs, such as tortilla wraps (Bourland and Vogt, 2010; Casaburri and Gardner, 1999) Anyone with an interest in the culinary arts will be horrified to learn that this avoidance of particles also means that salt and pepper are banned in space – since the tiny grains, like breadcrumbs, could cause havoc with machinery, and pose a serious risk to
missions (NASA, 2018). A compromise was developed by NASA, wherein salt is permitted in a highly concentrated water solution which can be dropped or sprayed onto food and mixed in. Pepper is contained in a similar oil-based solution (NASA, 2014). Any astronaut will tell you that this is of utmost importance as your sense of taste is said to be hugely diminished in space (Taylor et al., 2020). Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was asked about his sense of taste on board the ISS and said ‘the culprit is gravity – or, more accurately, its absence. Without gravity to pull fluids down, astronauts’ sinuses get clogged up and they can’t really taste much of anything’ (Canadian Space Agency, 2013). So, in short, eating in space is very similar to eating with a bad cold. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin was preparing to become the first human to venture into space, and his lunchbox contained toothpaste-shaped tubes of meat paste and chocolate sauce (Ahmed, 1988). This crude first attempt at space food was important, as it proved that it was, indeed, possible to eat, or more specifically digest, food in space (Perchonok and Bourland, 2002). Equally unpalatable were
the ‘sandwich cubes’ of the 1960s – squares of cooked bread, covered in lard, which could only be softened into an edible state by one’s own saliva (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). Cubes and tubes were quickly swapped for cans and sealed pouches in following missions (Smith et al., 2009). These, however, were not much better, as they could still only be eaten cold (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). Since then, innovations in the consumption of food in space have evolved rapidly. It is widely considered that one of the most innovative examples of culinary engineering for zero-gravity was developed for NASA’s Skylab Space Station in the 1970s (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). The all-in-one ‘SkyLab Food Tray’ was not only used for storing food items, but for heating them (Bourland, 1993) and providing a compact table from which they could be consumed, complete with snug, slotted gaps to stop items from floating away (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). At meal times, crew members could simply choose canned items, which would be placed into the tray and heated by means of conduction (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999, p 15). The aim of these innovations
was to make the eating experience more familiar and less monotonous – many of the highly-engineered ‘cubed’ foods had returned from missions uneaten (Bourland, 1993). Accordingly, the inclusion of heating elements, which allowed crew members to enjoy hot meals for the first time, and the use of cutlery where moist food stuck to the spoon or fork thanks to surface tension bonding (NASA, 2020a**), were not trivial. During the Gemini missions of the 1960s, NASA began to explore dehydration as a technique for preparing safe and stable meals (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). It was here that developments in food technology began to influence the food market on Earth; although freeze-drying was not invented by NASA, the American Space Agency refined the technique by reducing rehydration times considerably in the 1970s, which has resulted in its worldwide use in food production (NASA, 2020b). NASA funded a huge amount of research into food preservation techniques in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At this time, dried foods that were sent to space could be reconstituted with cold water, but this would result in a cold meal that would take twenty
minutes or more to rehydrate – a product impractical for both astronauts and for the wider market (NASA, 2020b). (ibid./ NASA, 2020b). Research into the freeze-drying technique at Natick Laboratories was found to be promising (NASA, 2020b), with freeze-dried gravies (an early prototype for products such as Bisto) developed for astronauts. With a long shelf-life, and ready to eat in less than five minutes, the technique was quickly adopted by food production companies on Earth – most notably by Nestlé, in the form of instant coffee (Nestle, 2019). Freeze-drying was effective in creating food products that retained their nutritional value, but with a long shelf life which suited the modern lifestyle (NASA, 2020b). Later, coffee, noodles, cereal, and fruit became freeze-dried staples for consumers (NASA, 2004a). To this day, freeze-dried products fill our supermarket shelves as well as the food stores on board the International Space Station (ISS). Another everyday product which benefited from NASA’s research is baby formula. Whilst developing life support systems for future Mars
(12/01/2014) ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti prepares her lunch using the space food rehydrator aboard the ISS. Photo credit: NASA.
missions, NASA researchers were looking at photosynthesis in algae as a way to produce oxygen on board spacecraft (NASA, 2008). Whilst doing so, they discovered that some essential fatty acids, arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, which are found in human breast milk, were present in certain varieties of algae (ibid.). These two acids are now added to 90% of baby formula on the market today, and as a result is helping babies, specifically premature babies, grow happy, healthy, and strong (Sennebogen, 2018). NASA was also instrumental in the development of the modern approach to food safety (Ross-Nazal, 2011). Contamination of food products is a serious problem when it comes to designing food for space – at best, compromising crew performance, and, at worst, compromising crew survival (Cooper et al., 2011). Bacteria and infection are much more dangerous in the closed environments of space missions, so designing a system that is resistant to microbial spoilage is of utmost importance (Taylor et al., 2020). To ensure the safety of food, NASA, the U.S. Army Laboratory, and Pillsbury, a Minnesota-based food production company, collaborated to develop the ‘Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points’ (HACCP) protocol – a system which sets out to identify hazards at different stages during the manufacturing process (Cooper et al., 2011). This system was so effective at preventing the contamination of food products that it was enthusiastically adopted by Pillsbury for their terrestrial product lines (Ross-Nazal, 2011), and HACCP programmes were made mandatory for the production of meat, seafood, and juice by food standards agencies around the globe (Ropkins and Beck, 2000). So successful is HACCP, that the implementation of HACCP inspection protocols is cited as an explanation for the declining incidence of food borne illness (Cooper et al., 2011).
As space missions increase in duration – measured no longer in hours or days, but in weeks or months – the need for fresh produce increases in importance (Bourland, 1993; Bourland and Vogt, 2010). The culinary arts are influencing ways in which we might grow food both in zero gravity environments and on any planets that we might, one day, colonise (Bourland and Vogt, 2010). In August 2015, NASA astronauts, Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui, did a celebratory toast in the ISS. Not with Champagne – alcohol is forbidden on the ISS – but something just as special: fresh lettuce. It was the first crop to be harvested and eaten by US astronauts, and, after months of freeze-dried food, a welcome change (NASA, 2020c). It was grown in a relatively simple, low-power system, termed ‘Veggie’ – a fixture on the ISS since 2014 (Ehrlich et al., 2017). It is designed so that the astronauts have to tend to the plants, unlike the Advanced Plant Habitat, or APH, which is a high-tech plant-growing system, also onboard the ISS, but with the capacity to be controlled from the ground (Zabel et al., 2014). This line of research is intensifying alongside NASA’s ambition to send humans to Mars. As the nutritional value and quality of food degrade during long missions (Taylor et al., 2020), the ability of astronauts to grow fresh fruit and vegetables in space may be critical for longer space explorations, at distances supply rockets may struggle to travel (Bayram et al., 2020).
But, many of the physical processes that we take for granted on Earth, which are essential for life – for example, the fact that water trickles down thanks to gravity, that oxygen and CO2 move around plants, or that insects pollinate flowers – all need to be engineered in space (Davies et al., 2003). China recreated such a biosphere on the Moon. They devised the Lunar Micro Ecosystem, which contained four types of seed (cotton, oilseed rape, potato, and Arabidopsis), a nutrient solution, and even fruit fly eggs (Ortega-Hernandez et al., 2020). While the sprouting seeds were included to provide oxygen for the fruit flies, they, in turn, produced CO2, allowing the plants to grow (Tibbets, 2019). As space agriculture needs to be sustainable, the first technologies are making an impact on Earth, where there is an increased focus on minimising the extent of resource use (Tibbets, 2019). For example, a multi-sensor monitoring system which can monitor plant health and nutrient solutions, used in hydroponic (soil-less) farming, has been developed based on the technology tested in the ISS (ibid.). Beyond simple bodily requirements, it has become clear that food in space can have immense psychological importance for astronauts (Tibbetts, 2019). The culinary arts can be used to create a sense of nostalgia, to bring comfort, and to connect groups of people in the enclosed environments on
S72-15409 (1972) Close-up view of a food tray used in the Skylab program. Several packages of space food lie beside the tray. The food in the tray is ready to eat. Out of tray, starting from bottom left: grape drink, beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef sandwiches and sugar cookie cubes. In tray, from back left: orange drink, strawberries, asparagus, prime rib, dinner roll and butterscotch pudding in the center. Photo credit: NASA
shuttles and lower Earth orbit. Astronauts, for example, are allowed to request their favourite snacks, such as M&Ms, granola bars and nuts (Casaburri and Gardner, 1999). The ISS also has a fridge full of fresh fruits and vegetables which are sent up frequently on supply rockets (NASA, 2004b) – although it is said that fresh fruits, in particular, is consumed rather quickly, as they are such valuable commodities when floating 408km above the Earth (NASA, 2004b). The delivery of comfort food has even been attempted; in 2001, American pizza chain, Pizza Hut, broke new records, becoming the first delivery company to deliver a pizza to outer space. Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Usachov, on board the ISS, enjoyed the small salami-topped pizza which the company spent one million US dollars delivering (BBC News, 2001). Naturally, the delivery
Mizuna mustard is harvested inside the Veggie harvest chamber in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 19, 2019, as part of the Experiment Verification Test for the VEG-04B mission that will launch to the ISS later this year. VEG-04B examines the interactions between light and spaceflight by growing plants under two different LED lighting conditions. A similar harvest will be conducted on the space station after a grow-out duration of 56 days. The VEG-04B mission is expected to provide sensory stimulation and help mark the passage of time in the confined and isolated environment of the space station. Ultimately, fresh vegetables grown in space will be an essential supplement to the crew’s pre-packaged diet, prepping them for long-duration space exploration. Photo credit: NASA
time was longer than the average 30 minutes! Creating food designed for consumption in space is no longer solely a practical engineering problem; it has now attracted the attention of some of the greatest, and most creative, culinary minds on the planet. Michelin-starred chefs, Alain Ducasse and Heston Blumenthal, have both worked with the European Space Agency (ESA) to create haute cuisine dishes which were safe to consume in space (ESA, 2014).
Kate is a food stylist and writer who is constantly exploring the relationship between the disciplines of art and science in the world of cuisine. Her journalistic interest lies in the science of food including elements of biology, neuroscience and technology while her food styling has strong footing in the creative world. She describes the latter as being half an artist and half a chef and is a culinary artist in her own right.
In January 2016, British astronaut, Tim Peake, tucked into beef stew with truffles, wood-smoked salmon, sausages and mash, red thai curry, key lime pie, and even bacon sandwiches, on board the ISS (Lamont, 2016). The aim? To create dishes tailored for Peake, to make him feel connected to his family on earth via his nostalgic memories of food. In a blog post, Tim Peake described how ‘living in a confined, artificial environment with a recycled atmosphere we feel the isolation from planet Earth – suddenly that [special] food takes on a whole new role in terms of morale and psychological wellbeing’ (Peake, 2016). Peake’s thoughts reinforce our appreciation of the culinary arts inextricable link to science and engineering, even in space. They also suggest that we are developing a deeper understanding of food and its importance for the mental wellbeing of humans, with particular emphasis on its connection with a sense of comfort (Peake, 2016). The ability to provide this feeling of comfort for astronauts, orbiting the Earth in an isolated metal cabin, could aid the success of missions in space, and further advances which might be brought back home.
STARS Roberto Trotta Professor of Astrophysics and Astrostatistics at Imperial College London. Dr Trotta is a cosmologist with a passion for enabling public engagement with his field and is author of The Edge of the Sky, which explains the universe using only the 100 most common words in the English language. He also runs G-Astronomy, a project which uses food as an edible metaphor for theories of the universe.
Quentin Vicas Director of International Development, Ducasse Paris. Ducasse works closely with the ESA to provide food for astronauts on board the ISS. The company aims to take versions of their Michelin Star quality food and make them safe for consumption in space, as a way to connect astronauts to home.
Nicole Stott A NASA astronaut and artist with two spaceflights and 104 days living and working in space as a crewmember on the ISS and the Space Shuttle. Her multi-disciplinary approach made her an ideal candidate for us to gain insights on culinary experiences in space.
Kate Tighe: So, Professor Trotta, what do you think the stars would taste like?
for people who are, perhaps, a little bit intimidated by the subject.
Roberto Trotta: Well, all stars are unique, so I would expect them to taste, metaphorically speaking of course, different, depending on the kind of star that they are. For example, some stars are hot and fiery, so I would expect them to be sprinkled with chilli. Other stars, like our sun, might be a bit more subtle – a bit more like peaches – a mellow star which is just sweet enough to support life on our planet.
Quentin Vicas: For us, I would say it gets more important as [space] flights start to get longer. Dinner time is really an important moment, obviously, for us French, but also other nationalities. It is the only time of the day that people on board the ISS, and indeed other space flights, gather together, and so the experience of sharing a meal together is important both psychologically and physically.
KT: Would you say that the culinary arts are an important tool for exploring and learning about space?
Nicole Stott: Yes, I agree. When we go to space now we tend to want to make the way astronauts are eating as similar to the ways in which we eat and share food on Earth. It’s going to be very different when we talk about going on a 35 million mile trip to Mars. How do we incorporate those psychological elements? Do we perhaps use sounds and smells that satisfy, or maybe even some kind of Virtual Reality (minus the headsets!), perhaps paired with a little pill that expands into something bigger that gives us the nutrition that’s required but also helps with the psychological connection to home through food?
RT: I certainly see the culinary arts as a great way to explore cosmology, furthering our understanding of space, astronomy, astrophysics, and difficult far-away ideas such as black holes and dark matter. Gastronomy has got a great role to play because the culinary arts are very inclusive. Because this is a participatory experience we are all familiar with, it can be used to lower barriers in terms of science communication, to make space and cosmology more inclusive
3D-printed cup holders designed for people with visual impairment, with ridges based on data from the European Space Agency’s satellite Planck on the distribution of light 380,000 years after the Big Bang, 2017. © Roberto Trotta.
KT: So, we’re not on pills and VR just yet, but, what sort of things do you actually eat when you’re in space?
Nicole Stott on a spacewalk, waving from the end of the ISS. Photo credit: NASA
NS: Well, day to day stuff is a lot like camping food. We would have some fresh fruit and some vegetables every now and then on a cargo vehicle, but they don’t last long. Most of the food is dehydrated but it’s amazing to me what you can dehydrate and then rehydrate and still have it look and taste the way you would expect – like, for example, shrimp cocktail (NASA, 2020). I never would have thought that would work! The other thing that’s really cool is that it’s an international space station – so we have food for all of the different countries and we share everything. We had these curries from Japan that were so good and I would eat one of those at least three times a week. RT: Nicole, what was the first dish you really wanted to taste and savour when you landed back on earth? NS: I was really craving a mix of textures when I was flying, because there’s not a whole lot of foods that have something crisp, saucy and crunchy all at the same time. So, when I got back, all I wanted was a slice of good New York style pizza – you know, with the crispy crust and runny cheese in the sauce – all kind of mixed together. KT: So Quentin, what food is Ducasse sending the astronauts? QV: We have created about fifty recipes that will be flying on board the ISS. We have some fancy dishes for special occasions, like lobster that we serve with seaweed and Menton lemon. We have a fantastic elbow pasta with beef and foie gras, which makes it totally decadent. We try to have lots of options, a wide variety of dishes, to make sure everyone is happy because, as Nicole said earlier, everyone shares, so we need to make sure that the Russians, Japanese, and everyone up there is happy with what they have.
Nicole Stott drinking Russian soup on the flight deck of the space shuttles. Photo credit: NASA
ISS Dinner Spread. Photo credit: NASA
– Nicole Stott
‘We share everything’
KT: What is the process of creating a dish at Ducasse and sending it up to the ISS? QV: Well, we start with the ingredients and the recipe that we want to adapt from the food at our restaurants. Obviously, the security of the food is crucial and there is no room for mistakes in preparation. In the process you need to sterilize the food into cans, so that limits you in terms of how you cook things. Based on the food we have been working with for more than fifteen years, we adapt the recipes and learn to cook them so we have the right level of humidity to make sure the recipe is neither too dry, nor too wet. RT: So you work on dishes for the ISS that you can eat on earth at the same time? QV: Absolutely! We try to provide the astronauts with something that they could eat on earth, to give them that sense of home when they are up in space. We also try to bring them the taste of a few things they would have at home to provide them with more telluric recipes. Obviously, we have some constraints to follow, so we try to make it simple but delicious. It isn’t our three Michelin star food, that would be impossible, but we still manage to do something that is really great for them. QV: Nicole, you must have eaten our food – what did you think? NS: Oh yes! I remember this berry plum compote in a tin, which was delicious, and also, a mushroom pate. It was blended mushrooms with hazelnut and vanilla which we had on little crackers. It was absolutely my favourite thing!
KT: Professor Trotta, it is interesting that Ducasse and Space Agencies are focused on bringing astronauts a sense of home, but you are using the culinary arts to explore the stars. Tell us about G-Astronomy. RT: We are indeed! It is an evolving project and one that I started in collaboration with molecular gastronomy chef, Jozef Youseff, from Kitchen Theory. We began at the Cheltenham Science Festival where we created a Cosmic Cocktail served in martini glasses which would explain the story of the universe from the Big Bang to today. It started with the shape of the glass which represented how the universe expands. It is a layered cocktail. The bottom was whiskey smoked mango puree (the first 3,000,000 years of history when the universe was hot), then coconut jelly (the dark ages) and at the very top was a layer with little sparkling elements (the birth of stars). So, you can see how we made a delicious cocktail that could compact so much scientific information, resulting in an interesting and informative experience. NS: Sounds delicious! What were the biggest challenges on your projects for both of you? QV: I would say the fine tuning – achieving the right balance between wetness and dryness and protecting the texture of the ingredients, because, of course, when you sterilize something at 120 degrees under high pressure, it has an impact. Some ingredients will not work with that process so we need choose carefully and adapt the cooking method to make sure we avoid contamination but, also, produce appealing, delicious recipes. RT: The main challenge at the beginning of the project was when Jozef and I had to find a common language, as we came from two very different angles. I love food but, obviously, I am not a chef. On the other hand, Jozef has always had an interest in multi-sensory dining experiences, but he’s not a cosmologist. The greatest challenge across all multidisciplinary work is to find ways of uniting the two very different disciplines, and creating something that is genuinely new. To some extent, I think we really succeeded, and I look forward to continuing this collaboration in the future.
Professor Roberto Trotta at Imperial Festival, 2014. A journey through space with Professor Roberto Trotta as he uses food to explore lunar craters, the ingredients of the solar system and the origins of the universe. © Imperial College London
Melting apple pieces, Ducasse © Philippe Vaurè Santamaria
Cod with black rice, Ducasse © Philippe Vaurè Santamaria
Pistachio and morello cherry Clafoutis, Ducasse © Philippe Vaurè Santamaria
KT: Professor Trotta, who would you say G-Astronomy is best suited to? RT: One of the most interesting experiences for me has been working with visually impaired people from the Royal National Institute of the Blind, in order to explain and discuss some concepts in cosmology that they have never had visual metaphors for before. We have worked in this capacity a number of times and we try to adapt to their needs. For example, we deconstructed the aforementioned Cosmic Cocktail into purpose made cups, which brought a more tactile element to the tasting. It was a truly transformative and humbling experience, which really made me think about the ways in which we talk about astronomy and the universe to people who have never seen the stars. NS: I am so interested in this sensory idea, especially with your work with the visually impaired. Do you think you could turn the idea around and find a way to bring a more realistic eating experience to astronauts? Perhaps when we go to Mars? RT: Absolutely! We could turn the concept around and use the idea with astronauts, especially those who engage on long space flights going to Mars or other planets that are a long way from home. These multi-sensory creations can bring much more immersive culinary experiences and can spark memories – times with loved ones on the blue planet they have left behind. There might even be a way to intermingle the old memories with the experiences they have in the new environment they are living in – either in outer space or on an entirely new planet – thereby creating entirely new and exciting experiences which still manage to connect us with our roots.
Space Food Box, , Ducasse © Hervé Rivalland
NS: Quentin, is Ducasse starting to think about trips to Mars? QV: Yes, we have been working a bit on developing recipes based on ingredients that could be grown on the space station. It is something we have been looking at for some time and we know it is going to be very important because, obviously, for such a long trip they cannot pack all the food they will require – they will have to grow things in situ. I don’t think all the solutions are there just yet because it is very complicated, but there is a lot of creativity in the culinary arts for things to develop for those sorts of trips. KT: Quentin, how does Ducasse try and create a sense of home in their dishes? QV: Well, we try to create a sense of normality because we do what we know. In actuality, we don’t create things very differently in cooking for space from how we create them on earth, but there are some necessary adaptions. Besides that, we try to use good ingredients and prepare them as well as we can. I’m sure Nicole will be able to agree that the taste in space is a bit different – given the circulation of blood in your mouth and your tongue you don’t feel the taste as strongly as you would on earth – so we need to make flavours a bit stronger. This means adding more condiments and spices to make things taste just as good as they did on earth.
KT: Finally, Professor Trotta what do you think the relationship is between us, our food, and the universe beyond?
RT: The fundamental relationship is, I think, that we are all part of this very complex system. The food we eat quite literally becomes us, and one day we will go back to becoming, if not food itself, part of the inanimate world from which we have, through a very fortunate happenstance of cosmic coincidences, emerged. Ultimately, the force of all life on Earth is our Sun – a star – and if you go even deeper than that you could say that one of the fundamental reasons we are here enjoying a good meal sometimes, or just being alive because of the food we eat, is because of the Sun, and all of the dark matter in the Universe. For me, this highlights the sense that we are part of the Universe, we are not just visitors, we are part of it. In a way, we are all made of stars and stars are made of us.
Kate is a food stylist and writer who is constantly exploring the relationship between the disciplines of art and science in the world of cuisine. Her journalistic interest lies in the science of food including elements of biology, neuroscience and technology while her food styling has strong footing in the creative world. She describes the latter as being half an artist and half a chef and is a culinary artist in her own right.
| 135 Volaille épicée sauté des légumes à la thaï, Ducasse © Rene Desgrieux
ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN
SHAPE AND SPACE 138 |
Astrophysics, the science of space beyond Earth, uses astronomical observations to test and develop its theories. As with all human activity, however, this scientific field operates within a cultural context. What began for prehistoric humans as a predominantly metaphysical relationship with the sky and an awe of the unknown, has now evolved into more complex hypotheses and methodical investigations, which employ increasingly advanced design and technologies. Still, today astrophysics wrestles with a new mystery – the apparent incompatibility of two of our most advanced theories: general relativity and quantum mechanics. And, once again, we are in awe of the unknown. How might modern science respond to these new challenges? Does interplay between astrophysics and architecture or design provide a valuable interdisciplinary pathway? And what might we learn from historical interactions between these two disciplines? Here, we look at those long and ongoing interactions, through examination of five main areas of interest, in chronological order. First, the act of organising the night sky into patterns of constellations, and the construction of megaliths, orreries, and planetaria to represent the movement of celestial bodies. Second, how advances in astrophysics – and the development and refinement of tools for observing and measuring space – have shaped buildings with both observation as a primary function, and a primary inspiration. Third, the impact of the Space Race upon architecture and design across the globe. Fourth, contemporary architecture and design that has drawn inspiration from astrophysical advances or a desire to convey the ‘atmosphere’ of space. And finally, extra-terrestrial architecture; the immense challenges (and immense promises) of designing built structures for locations other than Earth. Birds, seals, beetles, and humans are known to navigate by the stars (Emlen, 1970; Mouritson and Larsen, 2001; Dacke et al., 2013). Some of the earliest known interactions between astrophysics and architecture feature the marking of cosmic alignments, and the mapping of the night sky into patterns of constellations. Dung beetles roll elephant dung into spheres many times their own weight. To navigate the best paths with these found resources, research shows that they use the Milky Way, the belt of starlight from our own galaxy across the night sky (Dacke et al, 2013). Other animals, too, navigate by the stars, including humans. Perhaps the earliest surviving records of astrophysical observations, dating back 65,000 years, were undertaken by Aboriginal Australians (Norris and Norris, 2009; Norris and Hamacher, 2013; Norris, 2016). Many
‘Today astrophysics wrestles with a new mystery’ – Herbert Wright
of the different Aboriginal cultures in Australia incorporate astronomical elements into their mythology, ceremonies, and artforms, with some using the stars to predict seasons (Norris and Norris, 2009). Making positional observations that created a conceptual map, or model, of the universe, the links they saw between stars generated the oldest constellations, the biggest being the ‘emu in the sky’ along the Milky Way (Norris and Norris, 2009). Many thousands of years later, the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux depicted animals which are also hypothesised to embed star constellations (Rappenglück, 1997; Powell, 2020; Wibowo, 2021). In the first millennium BC, Babylonians collated observations and divinations into ‘star catalogues’ – cuneiform lists of planets, stars, and constellations (Hunger and Steele, 2018). They also created a ‘zodiac’, ‘a uniform mathematical framework within which celestial bodies […] could be located’ (Steele, 2018, p 98). This idea of a zodiac spread to Ancient Greece and Egypt, then onwards to India, China, and East Asia, now forming an established element of both European and Islamic astronomy (Ross, 2014; Song, 2016; Steele, 2018).
Having made these conceptual maps of the stars, structures were built to render their passage visible. For example, prehistoric standing stones in the landscape are thought to mark cosmic alignments such as sunrise, sunset, solstices, and equinoxes (Hawkins, 1965a; Thom, 1966). In the United Kingdom, much speculation has surrounded both the origins and function of Stonehenge (e.g. Barett and Boyd, 2019; Nash et al., 2020), including suggestion that it may have performed a function as an ‘astronomical computer’, predicting events in the sky (Hawkins, 1965b). The ancient Greeks seem to have made at least one mechanical astronomical computer, the ‘Antikythera mechanism’ (Freeth et al., 2021). Fragments including 30 bronze gearwheels were recovered from a shipwreck at the start of the twentieth century, and the latest attempt to recreate the whole device suggests that it used mathematics and engineering to display phases of the Moon, eclipses, and planetary movement (Seiradakis and Edmunds, 2018; Freeth et al., 2021). The sophistication and compactness of the ‘Antikythera mechanism’ would not
be matched until 1364, when Giovanni Dondi’s gear-driven ‘Astrarium’, was constructed, as an innovative spin-off of that century’s new clockmaking technology (Addomine et al., 2018). Reproducing the positions and movements of the Sun, Moon, and planets known at the time, the ‘Astrarium’ might be considered a precursor to the clockwork ‘orreries’ which rose to prominence in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Buick, 2014; 2020). These complex clockwork contraptions demonstrated the cyclical movements of the planets and their moons (ibid), and a miniature echo of these machines lingers in contemporary luxury watches. In the Midnight Planetarium watch by Bos van Cleef & Arpels, for example, tiny gemstones globes move around the 44 mm-wide starry watch-face in correspondence to their real orbital periods – with Saturn taking over 29 years to make one circuit of the dial, and Jupiter a mere 12 years (Van Cleef and Arpels, 2018). A second way in which astrophysics has interacted with architecture and design is in the construction of spaces for the observation and measurement of space. Early observation did not necessarily involve the housing of telescopes; Jai Singh II, the Maharaja of Jaipur, built five observatories without telescopes between 1727 and 1734 to make positional observations (Johnson-Roehr, 2015). The observatories could be considered beautiful architecture – featuring ensembles of vast instruments including hemispherical bowls, like inverted domes, and triangles with stairs climbing in line with the Earth’s axis, casting giant shadows below. Interestingly, despite the absence of telescopes, Jai Singh’s observations were almost as accurate as European (telescopic) observations at the time (Sharma, 1995). The creation of buildings for the purpose of astronomical observation can also be examined in a European context; before becoming England’s leading architect, Christopher Wren’s main interest was in astronomy, and he envisioned two architectural crossovers (Bennett, 1975). To mark the Great Fire of London of 1666, he and Robert Hooke designed The Monument, a 62m-high neo-classical column climbed by stairs (Jardine, 2004). They intended to use it as an upright telescope to measure parallax (the change in position of something distant between viewpoints, such
Antikythera Mechanism at the Antikythera Shipwreck Exhibition, 2012, National Archaelogical Museum, Athens Photo © Greek Photonews / Alamy Stock Photo
Drawing outlining the structure and plan of the lunar habitat © ESA / Foster + Partners
as across Earth’s orbit), but structural stability compromised accuracy (Jardine, 2004). Determined, in 1703 Wren envisioned mounting an experimental telescope gifted to the Royal Society in the southern staircase of his new St Paul’s Cathedral, then under construction, although its 37m length proved excessive (Bennett, 1975). Subsequent astrophysical innovations and discoveries changed the specifications for buildings designed for observation. The advent of the reflecting telescope, which used curved mirrors rather than just lenses (Simpson, 2009), and astronomy’s exploration of the electromagnetic spectrum (Jackson, 2000), meant that in the twentieth century architecture perfected observatories with rotating, shuttered domes, allowing telescopes to sweep the heavens. All of these developments meet in the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, an observatory designed to test Albert Einstein’s prediction of a gravitational red shift by observing the Sun’s spectrum (Yokoo, 1999). The 1922 building named after him, designed by Erich Mendelsohn with a unique, curving, futuristic form, placed the dome above a tower. Einstein allegedly gave Mendelsohn a one-word opinion on its architecture: ‘organic’ (Friedrich, 1972).
Over time, optical telescopes have increased in size, and so too have the structures that house them. The Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar, California, was the world’s largest from 1949 to 1973, with a 5.1m diameter mirror (Palomar Observatory, 2019). Its 41m-high building was designed by Russel Porter (Willard, 1976), as a minimalist, white volume which looks Art Deco in style, with a dome similar in size to Rome’s Pantheon. The creatively-named ‘Extremely Large Telescope’, currently under construction in Chile, will house a 39-metre wide main mirror in an 86-metre wide dome (European Southern Observatory, 2020). Projected to contain over 30 million bolts, and around 10,000 tonnes of steel (ibid), the structure is a vast and industrial undertaking. Indeed, the foregrounding of function in modern buildings designed for astrophysical observations can result in unconventional forms, at unusual scales. For example, with a design led by physicist Masatoshi Koshiba, the Super-Kamiokande (SK) neutrino detector has created probably one of the most bizarre spaces on Earth (Super-Kamiokande, 2020). Situated 1000 metres below a Japanese mountain, its main structure is a cylindrical stainless-steel tank of ultra-pure water, 39 metres wide and 43 metres deep, lined with an array of bubbles
housing measurement equipment (ibid). When necessary, workers float in boats in this golden chamber (Symmetry, 2008). We have examined architecture and design for the purposes of undertaking astrophysical endeavours – but what about design inspired by astrophysical endeavours? The 1950s were charged with optimism that technology and science would deliver a better world (Gannon, 2008). Design trends were inspired by advances, and projected advances, in space travel, atomic power and other technological marvels (Asim and Shree, 2018). The ‘Googie’ architecture that emerged in Los Angeles roadside diners is a good example (Asim and Shree, 2018). These colourful, cartoonish buildings signalled their presence with expressive structures, dynamic canopies, and showy neon signage (ibid.). Indeed, the signage of shopping centre Satellite Shopland directly evokes the first satellite, Sputnik (Orange County Googie Archive, 2006). This trend for space-race inspired architecture was not exclusively American; The Soviets initially led the Space Race, with a run of achievements including photographing the far side of the Moon (1959) and placing a man in orbit (1961). Moscow marked its ascendency in the Monument to the
Conquerors of Space (1964) designed by Faidysh-Krandievsky, Kolcvhin and Barshch, with a sweeping tapering column mounted by a rocket at its 107m-high apex, which can still be seen in the city today (Kemp, 2007). While Googie architecture rose above the skyline to attract business, the Russians were expressing the heroism of reaching for the stars. In space, the Americans would soon catch up, and in architecture had already reached higher – with 1961 seeing the completion of Seattle’s 183m-high Googie-style Space Needle. Architect John Graham’s idea for its high public platform was a flying saucer, and its colours were named Astronaut White, Orbital Olive, Re-entry Red and Galaxy Gold (Space Needle, 2021). In the field of product design, contemporaneous technical innovations from NASA’s Apollo program, and inspiration from space-themed science fiction, had enormous popular impact. Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). is packed with predictive technology design, including tablets 32 years before Apple’s iPad (Bizony, 2013; 2018), and HAL 9000’s conversational AI voice when Joseph Weizenbaum had only just designed the Eliza computer program to
Super-Kamiokande © Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research (ICRR), University of Tokyo
JAXA and Toyota Lunar Cruiser © JAXA Toyota
3D printed lunar habitat made by autonomous robots. The lunar outpost is located near the Moon’s south pole © ESA / Foster + Partners
JAXA and Toyota Lunar Cruiser © JAXA Toyota
(apparently) converse by text (Weizenbaum, 1966). Kubrick hired the Queen’s dressmaker Hardy Amies for the understated futuristic costume design (Schwam, 2000), placed Olivier Morgue’s Djinn chairs in the space station (Addey, 2018), and hired ex-NASA designer Harry Lange, whose spacecraft included the Pan Am Orion clipper, a spaceplane that anticipated the Space Shuttle and commercial space flight (Schwam, 2000). The influence of science fiction remains real in rocketry (Bionzy, 2013). Elon Musk has stated that the form of the SpaceX rocket, currently under development to transport goods and people to the Moon and Mars, was inspired by Tintin’s moonrocket in Hergé’s Destination Moon (Hergé, 1959; Arnould, 2019). The actual science of modern astrophysics inspires many creative fields. For example, the astrophysicist Noam Libeskind’s study of light’s evolution since the Big Bang spawned an algorithm used by his father, renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, to cycle LEDs within the latter’s angular design of the eL Masterpiece chandelier for Zumtobel, which represents 13.8 billion years of cosmic light in a 14-minute cycle (Zumtobel, 2011). Simpler, but more directly fed by astrophysics, is Shenova’s EHT Black Hole Dress, printed with the first image of a black hole, which the Event Horizon Telescope radio telescope project produced of galaxy M87 in 2019 (Shenova, 2019). India’s great architect Charles Correa depicted a black hole’s radiation jets and magnetic lobes in a square courtyard of his Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune (Wright, 2013). The distortion of
space-time by a black hole is represented in landscape designs with sculptures of Charles Jencks (Jencks, 2015). Scotland’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation was finished 2003 and in the nearby Crawick Multiverse (2015), stones re-imagine alignments in archeaoastronomic sites, as well as comet collisions and galaxies (ibid.). Other designers attempt to evoke the ‘atmosphere’ of being in space. British flavour designer Steve Pearce, for example, created a moondust smell in 2010, now marketed as Eau de Luna (Eau de Space, 2021), and in 2015, Belgian designers Unfold made Sea of Tranquillity, an installation with moon odour recreated by French parfumier Barnabé Fillion (Unfold, 2015). Both projects give a sense of being there, and were based on the Moon’s gunpowder-like smells reported by astronauts, as documented by NASA (ibid). While many works of science fiction feature extra-terrestrial architecture, the construction of habitats on the Moon and Mars is becoming a genuine topic of consideration for architects and designers. Building in these environments imposes a number of rather unique constraints; for example, given the currently astronomical cost of transporting mass, vast quantities of building materials cannot be imported. One way around this is 3D printing – using the Lunar or Martian materials on hand as the basis for construction. In 2012, Norman Foster’s Foster + Partners designed habitable architecture for the European Space Agency (ESA), by 3D-printing of
simulated lunar soil (Foster and Partners, 2012), and 3D printing formed the core of the plan by architects Hassell, for NASA’s ‘Mars Habitat’ design competition (Hassell, 2018). With aims to return astronauts to the Moon in the NASA-led Artemis project (NASA, 2021), designers have also considered the question of lunar transport, with the Japanese space agency JAXA, and automotive manufacturer Toyota, collaborating to develop a Lunar Cruiser, a six-wheeled vehicle powered by hydrogen cells (Toyota, 2020). Such projects tend to foreground function over aesthetic, but romantic designs do exist; another European Space Agency commission, the Moon Temple by artist Jorge Maños Rubio, is intended as a ‘place of contemplation’, designed to serve a future lunar settlement, surrounded by sunlit mountain peaks (ESA, 2017). The idea of visiting Mars entices many, despite the planet’s radiation-drenched surface, the lethal cold, and unbreathable atmosphere (NASA, 2020). Simulating a Mars base on Earth is a considered a good starting point for design, and highlights another unusual design constraint posed by extraterrestrial installations – vehicles and structures might have exclusively curved walls, and may need to accommodate large amounts of instrumentation or machinery. In 2017, designers from IKEA stayed in the Mars Desert Research Station’s 8m-high living space cylinder in Utah, in order to assess the furnishing of such a compact space (Kwun, 2018). Christina Levenborne, interior designer and stylist, returned to redecorate, and IKEA have since developed the RUMTID range including self-assembly tables, lamps and indoor gardens, inspired by both the base and similarly tight Tokyo micro-apartment lifestyle (IKEA, 2018).
Chandelier “eL” design Daniel Libeskind 2012 for the SAWAYA & MORONI COLLECTION with ZUMTOBEL With two ALTAIR armchairs, design Daniel Libeskind, 2011, for SAWAYA & MORONI www.sawayamoroni.com Photo © Stone Victoria
Elon Musk envisages a Martian city, built and populated thanks to SpaceX’s Starship currently under development (Szocik et al., 2016; Musk, 2018). It may be interesting to consider how the architecture and furnishing of Martian bases might change as the occupants transition from being career astronauts, who might be willing to willing to sacrifice creature comforts at the altar of functionality, to commercial spaceflight passengers, who might expect certain levels of comfort and aesthetic ‘quality’.
It might be noted that while the construction of Lunar and Martian colonies is still very much hypothetical, there are examples of designed artefacts being projected into the universe. With satellites and stations in Earth orbit, and probes and rovers beyond (Matloff, 2006), human-designed objects have reached far further than humans ever have. Perhaps interestingly, this cutting-edge science, sending probes into deep space, mirrors the very early interactions between astrophysics and design – at its core, it is about trying to map and make sense of the universe which surrounds us. And that is a task to which design is intrinsically well-suited.
London-based Herbert Wright writes about architecture, urbanism, and art. He graduated in physics and astrophysics from the University of London. He contributes to European and Pacific publications, was contributing editor at Blueprint magazine 2012-2020 and now at C3. His books include London High (2006) and Instant Cities (2008), and Be:Hive (UK Pavilion at Milan, 2015). He curated Open House 2012, Lisbon, was a 2017 Graduate Thesis juror at SCI-Arc. He is currently working on a book about artificial intelligence and the city. www.herbertwright.co.uk
The outpost is designed as a modular system which can be extended in the future © ESA / Foster + Partners
EDGES Anna Talvi Anna Talvi is a microgravity wear designer and researcher, and founder of Microgravity Technolgies. She has a BA in Design and Technology, and an MA Menswear from the Royal College of Art. Talvi is currently an MPhil/ PhD candidate at University College London, undertaking a research project in partnership with the European Space Agency, and her most recent exhibition was at Moving to Mars at The Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology.
Robert Lang Dr Robert Lang one of the foremost origami artists and theorists in the world. He is also a former researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. At Brigham Young University in 2013, he worked on the incorporation of origami into the design of folding solar arrays.
Anastasia Prosina Anastasia Prosina is a practitioner in space architecture, and is co-founder and CEO of Stellar Amenities, a company that designs experiences and interiors for space habitats to help astronauts to increase their productivity & support their wellbeing.
Neil Leach Dr Neil Leach is an architect and theorist, a visiting Professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and at Tongji University, as well as an adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California. He has an interest in space architecture, and the role of AI in architecture.
Melodie Yashar Melodie Yashar is currently the Director of Architecture & Building Performance at ICON, a startup developing advanced construction technologies to shift the paradigm of homebuilding on Earth and beyond, and has been a co-founder of Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+), and a Senior Research Associate with San Jose State University Research Foundation at NASA Ames.
In developing his theory of general relativity, Einstein came to understand that space, time, and matter are interwoven. Indeed, space and time are the fabric in which matter sits. Described succinctly by the physicist John Wheeler, spacetime tells matter how to move, matter tells spacetime how to curve (Projecting Particles Program, 2015). For astrophysicists and astronomers, this concept has profound and deeply meaningful consequences. And yet, for architects this sentiment may also ring true. They configure matter to manipulate time and space, but what they create is also confined by these factors. So, what can these two seemingly disparate fields tell each other? Classically, the role of architecture in astronomy has been to provide a way to better observe and venerate the skies. Civilisations across history have aligned buildings with celestial events, manifesting the status and influence of the stars and planets in religious beliefs and culture (Brosch, 2011; Castellani, 2004). The Maya people (300-900 AD), for example, were dedicated astronomers and the heavens played an intrinsic role in their everyday lives (Milbrath, 1999). Ceremonial buildings that survive today indicate that Maya architecture was purposefully constructed to align with astronomical occurrences and in such a way that light could be manipulated to represent or to revere gods. Still now, thousands of tourists visit the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico, where the ruins of the Maya city, Chichén Itzá, stand. At the centre is the stone Temple of Kukulcán. Around the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow begins to creep and undulate down the stairway of the pyramid in the late afternoon. It is said to be Kukulcán, a feathered serpent deity, descending from the heavens to Earth (Atlas Obscura, n.d.). Whether or not this was the intention of the Maya who built the stone temple, the fact that this interpretation remains to this day demonstrates the close relationship between architecture and astronomy humans have created. Today, the work of James Turrell might be the closest modern version of Maya temples. Turell’s architectural practice centres on the manipulation of light and ways of seeing (Rellihan, 2018). His Roden Crater, built on an extinct volcano in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona, is described as a ‘gateway to observe light, time,
Mars Lava Tube Pressurization Project, 2019. Interior © Stellar Amenities
Video link: Anna Talvi on her Microgravity-Wear designs. © Design Museum Image on facing page: Microgravity-Wear by Anna Talvi. Photo © Benedict Redgrove
and space’. When completed, its structures will allow the viewer to make nakedeye observations, and to track celestial bodies and events. It is engineered for immersive experiences of celestial and geological time (Turrell, 2021). More explicitly, the observatories and planetariums built today could be interpreted as modern temples of astronomy, such as those from architectural practice Snøhetta, where visitors can not only learn about the universe, but cabins surrounding the main building were designed to imitate orbiting planets around the sun (Block, 2018). Away from modern interpretations of classical forms of astronomical architecture, space travel is opening up new horizons for architects and designers with an interest in the cosmos. For Dr Neil Leach, it is the ability to push the boundaries that he finds ‘most intriguing’. ‘Anyone who lived through the Apollo missions was fascinated by the technological advances,’ he claims. Rather than the architecture itself it is ‘what’s out there and what we can aspire towards,’ that provides a pathway to new frontiers in the field.
‘I have an aesthetic framework, but it is always driven by the function’ – Anna Talvi | 157
While NASA continues to be a driving force in space exploration, explains Leach, ‘We’ve had this shift towards these kinds of rock star figures like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who are pursuing it in a different way.’ He finds Elon Musk inspiring because ‘he has a view of stepping out of our existing way of thinking, and opening up new ways of operating’. Anna Talvi agrees that this presents tantalising opportunities for the spaceminded artist: ‘I think it’s hugely important and really wonderful that the space industry has got a very strong private investment base’. She also suggests that this element provides ‘the most rewarding thing’ in her work, as it enables designers to really push new boundaries. ‘When you design for space, whether it’s a space suit or Mars habitat, you are really forced to stretch your mind and use your imagination at its very edges. To rethink your practice as a designer.’ Melodie Yashar, too, sees the potential for innovation through the involvement of private companies. ‘NASA and ESA have very systemised and constraint-driven rules and requirements,’ whereas, she believes, private endeavours have the chance to be less inhibited in how things are done. ‘The more that private companies enter this space, the more those requirements are going to be rethought and rewritten. It presents an opportunity for innovation and creativity.’ The drive to put people in space, and to expand the possibilities of space travel, is presently the remit of billionaire-funded projects. Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX was initially founded with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets, with Mars as its first target (SpaceX, 2021). Although it has since been focused on reducing the costs of space travel by developing reusable rockets, it was recently awarded a 2.9 billion USD contract to build the lunar lander as part of NASA’s Artemis program – a first step in the leap towards sending astronauts to Mars (Luscombe, 2021). Such far-off missions, as well as those focused on space tourism, require new kinds of design and architecture. Expecting astronauts to hunker down in tiny capsules surrounded by wires, buttons, and sensors becomes unreasonable in the context of longer journey times. The whole of the Apollo 11 mission took eight days.
‘We are extremely 158 |
– Anastasia Prosina
sensory as a species’
A one-way expedition to Mars would be at least six months long. Adventurers to the red planet are likely to be away from home for at least two years, if they return at all. This escalation, from just over a week to years on end, presents many new challenges. ‘In space, especially with the human body, the number of unknowns is infinite,’ suggests Talvi. ‘We understand so little about our bodies here on Earth, let alone what happens to them when we live in microgravity for extended periods of time.’ Of course, the central design point around which everything else must pivot, is the survival of the crew. ‘The risks are extraordinary,’ says Yashar. In her experience, the constraints of designing for space are drastically different from those on Earth, when you need to protect humans from the outside, rather than creating a delineation between the two. ‘It’s extremely challenging to change the ways in which systems engineering workflow happens. But I do think that, slowly but surely, people in the community are beginning to understand the benefit of design thinking, creative processes, and reimagining new ways of engineering the future of spaceflight.’ As a result, the design process is, in some way, tipped on its head. Rather than starting with a vision and employing engineering to actualise the idea, designers and architects must first focus on the engineering constraints, and then look at how these can be creatively explored to synthesise something innovative – that can potentially meet higher-order needs. ‘I have an aesthetic framework,’ Talvi says of her process, ‘but it is always driven by the function, and driven by the materials and techniques you need to use.’ For Dr Lang, having moved from physics and engineering to creating art using origami, the process depends on the final goal: ‘If it’s an artistic piece then the constraints are mostly aesthetic.’ With something highly engineered, however, the process first has to be captured quantitatively, taking into account all the factors involved. This was the case with NASA’s Starshade, a project Dr Lang collaborated on, to engineer a shade which aligns with a space telescope to block out light from stars, thus allowing the telescope to observe orbiting exo-planets (Rodriguez, 2021). Elements like mass, size, where, and how, the object will be deployed, ‘drive and narrow down the toolkit that one can use for designing.’ Nevertheless, even if the toolkit is narrowed, for designers like Talvi, Yashar, and Anastasia Prosina, constraints can act as a point from which creativity follows. Setting out a difficult problem allows for inventive solutions.
160 | Salyut Space Station Redesign, 2018-2021 © Stellar Amenities Image credit: Excaliber Almaz
Mars Lava Tube Pressurization Project, 2019. Landing and deployment video © Stellar Amenities
Designers creating spacecraft for such long journeys will also inevitably need to manage the tension between the requirement for minimalism and the need for comfort. Even with the price reductions afforded by SpaceX’s technological breakthroughs, it still costs around 2,720 USD to send just one kilogram of matter into space (Whitman Cobb, 2019). Yet, to keep astronauts psychologically well, some ‘non-essential’ items will have to be included on any mission to Mars and beyond. ‘There’s a healthy friction between engineering constraints, delivering a product that can keep people alive, versus providing added value through design and aesthetics, and things like access to greens,’ Yashar explains. The importance of the latter, she admits, is not yet always acknowledged by the engineers. In this way, designers are faced with a multifaceted challenge. They not only need to take into account the different ways people will interact with their surroundings in zero-gravity or in the confines of a closed habitat on another planet, but also to consider the higher-level needs of explorers, and the symbolic value of objects. The pillow, for example, isn’t strictly necessary for sleep, and yet it may act as an artefact that provides a bridge to home, relaxation, and some sense of normalcy during an otherwise extraordinary and unfamiliar experience (Balint and Lee, 2019). As Talvi puts it, ‘when you speak to astronauts, one of the things you hear is that they really want to feel more human when they go to this alien environment.’ ‘There are
other issues, psychological ones,’ explains Dr Leach. ‘On a mission to Mars, you’ve got to spend months in the same cramped space as your colleagues, which presents different constraints.’ For long-term space exploration or off-Earth settlement, the seriousness of mental health during a space mission shouldn’t be underestimated. The impact of stress, isolation, sleep disruption, and continuously novel sensations and experiences can undoubtedly have a significant impact on psychological wellbeing and, in turn, physical health. ‘I’ve always been really fascinated, and have spent a lot of time thinking about, what happens to the body in extreme situations,’ says Talvi; ‘how important what we wear is, the role it has on our performance – both physical and psychological.’ ‘You’re seeing this trend,’ says Prosina, ‘whereby space architects are becoming more responsible for astronaut wellbeing and taking a more human-centred approach, rather than just being an engineer merged with an architect’. For Yashar, this is an inevitable part of designing orbital spacecraft for tourists, where future explorers may be ‘citizen scientists’ rather than hyper-trained astronauts. ‘We need to be thinking about what it means to design for people’s comfort, for a pleasurable and aesthetic experience,’ she adds. But, she also points out that ‘it is an ongoing point of research to determine what features and aspects of architectural and interior design have direct impact on crew performance, happiness, and positive psychology’. This is something that fascinates Prosina and
her team. Within their work, the ideas for interior solutions involve reflecting upon what emotions and feelings the designs convey. This might include colour theory, where shades of colours are chosen depending on the message they communicate to the viewer, or creating a space that is visually interesting, such as employing patterns or surroundings like plants. Although the possibility of virtual reality has been suggested as a relatively lightweight way to meet some of these needs (the equivalent of a e-reader for space environments), Prosina points out that this is unlikely to be totally sufficient. ‘We are extremely sensory as a species,’ she explains, ‘and sensory deprivation can play a huge role.’ The pop-culture visions we have had of spaceage interior design aren’t likely to serve us well. ‘In science fiction, surroundings are depicted as white and pristine and so on. It’s really lacking sensory features.’ Instead, future designers may want to think about the tactility of spaces, or what sounds astronauts hear – interspersing the whirr of spaceflight with birdsong, or a breeze playing in tree leaves. For Prosina, it may be even more basic than this. ‘The notion of where light reflects off surfaces, things like that, can boost wellbeing and productivity.’ Yet, how soon aesthetic considerations can be prioritised remains a question. Certainly, as Dr Leach points out, the influence of popular culture on spaceflight is yet to be actualised, even if, as Yashar notes, NASA engineers have looked at fictional reference points such as Star Trek and Star Wars when designing interfaces for the first time. ‘If you look at movies like 2001, A Space Odyssey,’ Dr Leach adds, ‘they had advisors from NASA, and the vision they have there is a very aesthetic outlook. The interiors of all those spacecraft are very beautiful. But then we see the reality of the International Space Station – and it’s just full of wires and technology. It’s a mess.’
Image: Mars Ice House, 2015. © SEArch+ / Clouds AO Video: Montage of work, including Mars Ice House, 2015 © SEArch+ / Clouds AO and Mars X House, 2019 © SEArch+ / Apis Cor
Mars X House, 2019 © SEArch+ / Apis Cor
Mars Lava Tube Pressurization Project, 2019. Concept Studies © Stellar Amenities
There is an argument that the dream of space can inspire new ways of thinking about shape, form, and construction. ‘I think that development for space must propel us to become explorers, but should also be thought of as a way to bring technology and development back to Earth, so that it changes the way we’re doing things terrestrially,’ says Yashar. ‘Fundamentally, the work that enables us to be interplanetary, should also provide benefits on Earth.’ One example Dr Leach looks at is 3D printing. As future missions won’t be able to take resources for building habitats with them, 3D printing might be a solution. Nevertheless, there is a balance to be struck. Dr Leach reflects on ‘a comment that Roland Barthes made about architecture – that it’s always a combination of dream and reality. In some sense, you have to be pragmatic, but at the same time you have to dream. If you’re just pragmatic you’re going to stay in the same place, but if you dream you can move into new territories’. This point, perhaps, also rings true for Talvi. ‘I don’t think I would come up with those design moments if I wasn’t designing for space, and instead was designing for Earth,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how to explain it, other than it makes me push things to the far ends of my brain.’ Can astronomy and astrophysics themselves inspire new forms of design, without the need for space travel? ‘In a broad sense, it can,’ remarks Dr Lang.
Straightforwardly, designers can look at the discoveries of distant celestial objects for inspiration, from moons to black holes. These scientific fields can also influence the ways in which design is practiced. As we developed an understanding of different types of spaces, curved spaces, and ideas like spacetime, which were necessary for general relativity and higher dimensional objects like black holes, explains Dr Lang, we were able to take these concepts and apply them more generally back on Earth. ‘There’s a particular class of origami structures, origami structures that have a very beautiful geometry, classic origami like the crane, the jumping frog, and so forth, have this geometry,’ Dr Lang reflects. ‘We found recently that one way of looking at these structures, in a mathematical way, involves embedding them in a 4D space.’ Thinking of origami in 4D, and then projecting it down into a flat 2D object to manipulate with paper, demonstrated to Dr Lang how abstract astrophysical concepts can turn out to be fruitful in other areas, including artistically. Talvi too sees the value in astrophysical discoveries informing her work designing microgravity wear. ‘The human body is a 4D object,’ she explains. “We are never still, our body dimensions are ever changing. But if you think about what a garment is today, it’s flat 2D pieces of textile sewn together into a 3D surface geometry. Why are we wearing these stitched together 2D pieces if our bodies are so 4D?’ In this
way, an innate understanding of spacetime could perhaps inspire designers and architects to see objects and buildings not as static 3D entities, but phenomena that exist in time, and relative to the observer.
Engineers can also benefit from a closer relationship to the arts. As Dr Lang’s experience shows, traditional art forms like origami can be profitable sources of inspiration. ‘The connections between origami and technology have grown much stronger over the past 20-25 years,’ he explains. ‘The concepts that are inherent in origami, basically the concept of folding, have been part of engineering for thousands of years. What’s new is realising that this art of origami is a rich trove of folding structures and mechanisms.’ For example, origami provides a way for engineers to create an object that can transition between substantially different states. Talvi also
thinks that a strong knowledge of design can be beneficial for technological spacebased problems. ‘All the knowledge I have about garments essentially comes from one of the most traditional garment practices there is; menswear tailoring.’ Nevertheless, even with new topologies, materials, and methods for manipulating space and the time spent in it, architecture will remain a way to delineate an outside from an inside and create a shelter for humans. This may not be on Mars but, as the last year has proven, our own planet doesn’t always afford us the safety we need. Developing our knowledge of design and architecture for space will give valuable insights into the practice of design on Earth – whether it’s a more efficient use of small spaces, better sustainability, or creating interiors intended to boost our wellbeing.
Madeleine Finlay is a writer, presenter, and producer. Specialising in science, her work has featured across The Guardian, the BBC, and New Scientist magazine. Finlay is also author of the children’s non-fiction book Beetles for Breakfast (2021), about the weird and wonderful science and technology that could help us live better in the face of the climate crisis. https://www.madeleinefinlay.com/
Video link: Origami in Space: BYU-designed solar arrays inspired by origami, 2013. © Brigham Young University
Laura González Salmerón
ASTROPOETICS 174 |
When literature collides with astrophysics, we discover ‘infinite … sparks that are thrown’ (Homer, n.d.). Writers and poets never lacked an interest in the stars, but, as fascination with the night sky has moved from observation towards a field of equations and theories, how has the literary imagination evolved to engage with the ‘physics’ which is taking over the simpler ‘astro’? Is it even possible to reconcile the connotative language of literature with narrowly denotative scientific terminology, and its air of inaccessibility? The field of astrophysics offers an interesting case study of the wider interactions between literature and science in general. There was a time when science and popular science could be one and the same. These days, scientists tend to communicate with their peers through papers and conferences, while specialised science communicators translate the message for a lay audience. But, when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of the Species (1859), no such translation was needed. It was a work of scientific literature that presented a revolutionary theory, but it was also an instant bestseller, which reshaped the social and cultural landscape of the nineteenth century. As Gillian Beer demonstrated in her influential book Darwin’s Plots (1983), writers like George Eliot or Thomas Hardy read Darwin’s work and incorporated the Darwinian worldview into their writing, with notions of inheritance, determinism, or taxonomy, underpinning the structure and themes of novels such as Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871) and Daniel Deronda (1876), or Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). The twentieth century also saw a paradigm shift, this time in physics instead of biology (Griffiths, 2012). However, the ways in which society and artists engaged with relativity and quantum mechanics differed significantly from the reception of evolutionary theory; Darwin’s text was accessible to non-scientists, whereas no lay person could understand Einstein’s contribution (price, 2012). It could even be argued that the dawn of the ‘New Physics’ (Eddington, 1928) was a turning point in the relationship between science and public; a relationship which would, henceforth, be marked by disorientation. Sabine Sielke observes that one relevant difference between the biosciences and pure sciences like mathematics or physics, is that the former can be narrativised more easily (Sielke, 2012). The biosciences concern the world of living beings, of which we are a part, and deal
‘The field of astrophysics is an odd beast’ – Laura Salmerón
with biological processes that are acutely familiar to us. Above all, these processes are underpinned by a temporal nature that we can understand; there is a story to be told about the evolution of a species over centuries. It is more difficult to accept the world of quantum mechanics as our own, even if we intellectually understand that atoms and numbers define the underlying structure of reality. As Sundar Sarukkai has noted, the image of mathematics that is usually projected is one influenced by Platonism, containing no concept of time: ‘the stasis embodied by the principle of self-identity, that 1=1, for example, is timeindependent’ (2002, p. 31). In the realm of physics, on the other hand, time is an apt concept, but relativity proved that this ‘time’ had little to do with any common understanding of the word. In Loving Faster Than Light (2012), a thorough exploration of the reception of relativity in Britain, kitt price puts it bluntly: ‘one key feature of the new
space and time stood out: almost nobody could understand or explain it’ (price, 2012, p 1). Within this framework, the field of astrophysics is an odd beast. On the one hand, it relies on mathematics, a science that remains unintelligible to most, raising ‘issues about the kinds of people who have the right and skill to judge [its] quality’ (Iliffe, 2003, p. 33). On the other hand, its object of study has captured human imagination for thousands of years, despite its inaccessibility. In the words of poet Simon Armitage, ‘It would be boring to run through the number of poets who have made the heavens the object of their writing, and quicker to say that very few authors throughout the history of poetry have failed to include the stars and planets within their repertoire’ (2006, p.118). The stars, even if unreachable, are a quotidian presence that humans have grown used
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Planetesimal, 2021. View over Rheasilvia Crater, 4Vesta © Star Holden
to, and long for, ‘remain[ing] gloriously unavailable except as things to look towards, guess at, and wish on’ (ibid.). You’re (not) here. In the popular imagination, astrophysics blends the beauty and awe inspired by astronomy with the intimidating abstraction of physical and mathematical formulae. Furthermore, the history of literature’s engagement with the universe underscores another interesting tension: that which exists between the understanding of the universe as a fundamentally human place or, on the contrary, an inhuman void. Mark L Brake and Neil Hook (2007) point out that there has been a shift from the former to the latter interpretation, a shift that actually started significantly before the twentieth century, with Copernicus’ heliocentric model, which posed challenges to the notion of the centrality of humans in the universe. ‘Not only did Copernicus make earths of the planets, he also brought the alien to Earth. The Universe of his ancestors had been small, static and Earth-centred. It had the stamp of humanity about it’ (Brake and Hook, 2007, p 216). The apparent paradox captured in this quote is that the further humans probed the universe, the more they understood and demystified celestial bodies, but also the more alien they confirmed them all to be – including Earth. From then on, humanity kept being pushed towards irrelevance and confusion. In the eighteenth century, William Herschel proved that all stars are in constant motion, evolution, and decay (Herschel, 1783). Writers, artists, and even some scientists, refused to engage with this discovery at first, and continued to hold on to ‘the idea of fixed stars as a sign of permanence, immutability, continuity’ (Gaull, 1990, p. 38), or as John Keats’ famous sonnet states: ‘Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art …’ (Keats, 2009, p. 365). This did not last. The vision of a fragmented, ever-changing Universe did eventually impose itself, and the Universe was revealed to be an unfriendly place – inscrutable and indifferent to
humans’ need for knowledge and meaning. This sentiment of abandonment was captured in art, including literary work, such as Thomas Hardy’s novel, Two on a Tower (1882). One of its protagonists, Swithin St. Cleeve, an astronomer himself, makes the strong statement that ‘the actual sky is a horror’, lamenting that ‘whatever the stars were made for, they were not made to please our eyes. It is just the same in everything; nothing is made for man’ (Hardy, 1882, p 37). Over the last century, this frustration of irrelevance and incomprehension has persisted, and possibly grown. Welsh author Martin Amis summarises this perception best in his novel The Information (1995): ‘The history of astronomy is a history of increasing humiliation. First the geocentric universe, then the heliocentric universe. Then the eccentric universe – the one we’re living in. Every century we get smaller’ (Amis, 1996, p. 129). Eccentric indeed. Here, as it is often the case, an overlap between scientific jargon and ordinary language results in an interesting polysemy. In mathematics, the eccentricity is a number that characterises certain shapes (for example, the eccentricity of a circle is zero, and the eccentricity of an ellipse is greater than zero but less than 1 (Kenna, 1959). When talking about
space, the word eccentricity usually refers to orbital eccentricity, describing the shape of a body’s orbit (Van Eylen et al., 2019). The phrase ‘the eccentric universe’ may be understood to point to the ellipsoidal shape of the universe (and its ellipsoidal expansion), as well as capturing humans’ peripheral position within it (Berera et al., 2004). Still, for the lay reader it may point to a much less technical but no less true intuition: it’s all really weird out there. The stuff of stars Although already confronted by heliocentrism (Copernicus, 1543), and by the fact that the universe was not an immutable stillness, society was still not prepared for what lay ahead. The early twentieth century, brought revelations that light could be a particle, but also a wave at the same time (Einstein, 1905); that there are more than three dimensions (much to the creative benefit of science-fiction, which exploited this finding enthusiastically); that time, the only absolute, and the variable that is independent of everything else, is actually relative; that there is no such a thing as a fixed moment in time. Furthermore, we could say that after the purely inhuman universe comes the
‘Whatever the stars were made for, they were not made to please our eyes’ – Thomas Hardy
posthuman one, defined by Katherine Hayles as the privileging of information over matter (Hayles, 1999). Thus, it is no longer humans who are decentred in the universe, but materiality itself. The tangible world that can be seen and felt would then appear to have been displaced in favour of the Platonic timelessness of mathematical formulae. And yet, the posthuman is rarely conceptualised as a straight negation of the human, but rather as an opportunity to envision a ‘new human’, a reflection on who we are and who we might end up becoming (Rosendahl, 2013). In a similar vein, recent literature has endeavoured to find common ground between the familiar and the incomprehensible, the tangible and the theoretical. Many of the most captivating examples of such productive engagement can be found in contemporary poetry. Of course, narrators have told stories about space for almost as long as there have been stories at all: from A True Story by Lucian of Samosata, who dealt with themes of space travel and encounters with alien life in the second century AD, to Jules Verne’s visionary From the Earth to the Moon (1865), not to mention most of contemporary science fiction. However, as outlined above, physics, like mathematics, has an intemporal character that may not always be best communicated through narratives for which time and causal structure are key constituents. The poetry collection Life on Mars (2011), which earned Poet Laureate, Tracy K Smith, the Pulitzer Prize, exemplifies many of the issues discussed. Its very title seems to capture the tension between the foreign and the
familiar, potentially underscoring humanity’s reach (finally arriving in Mars), but also, perhaps, human irrelevance (the potential for contact with non-human extra-terrestrial life). Furthermore, the collection has been described as an elegy for her father, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope (Chiasson, 2011). Paradoxically, she honours him through a grand, galactic-scale lens which minimises him, situating the trauma of his death against the backdrop of a universe that does not care. Equally, poems like ‘Sci-fi’ are inspired by a posthuman imagination, picturing what humans could become, while making a note of the loss that this change would entail. In this way, the whole collection may be considered an impossible exercise in equilibrium, simultaneously erasing and re-centring the human subject, exploring the human through the inhuman, and vice versa. A common trope in poetry that deals with astronomy, physics, or a combination of both, is the parallel between the universe and mundane life. For example, another of Smith’s poems, ‘The Universe is a House Party’, familiarises the universe and other poets have also used the language of physics to talk about daily experiences. Simon Armitage’s ‘Newton’s Third Law’ (1989), which applies a scientific law to a social situation, or ‘Carnal Knowledge’ by Rebecca Elson (2001), which analogises the abstract jargon of mathematics with bodily experience, both explore these parallels. What all these have in common is the use of astrophysical phenomena as metaphors that illuminate ordinary human experiences. It is not surprising then that astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell has even incorporated poems and non-scientific pieces of
Ice Giant, 2020 © Becky Probert. More from this artist on pp 372-373.
writing into her scientific talks, to help non-scientists in the audience relate to the topic (Bell Burnell, 2006). Bell Burnell echoes Carl Sagan’s adage: ‘That we, human beings, are made from the stuff of star death, means we cannot ignore it – in an intimate and ultimate way we too are stars’ (Bell Burnell, 2006, p 136). The understanding of the universe and astrophysical laws as somewhat ‘inhuman’ or contrasting with human life is thus challenged. The universe and its laws are already part of our daily life, just as we are part of them. From an intellectual perspective, this might sound like a truism, but from an emotional point of view, poetry’s reminder still seems much needed. Science as Poetry And just as there is some science in poetry, there is poetry in science. Graham Farmelo is on record saying that ‘[My] nomination [for the twentieth century’s greatest English-speaking poet] is the theoretician Paul Dirac, honorary poet laureate of modern physics’ (2002). Farmelo goes on to compare equations to poems, both defined by their expressive efficiency, their desire to say something true about the world, and their beauty. Dirac would agree with him on the importance of beauty as an end in itself (but not so much on the equivalence of poems and equations). He once said that a good deal of his own work consisted of ‘simply examining mathematical quantities that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way, regardless of any application the work may have’ (Farmelo, 2002). His aesthetic strategy paid off, turning him into one of the most important physicists of the twentieth century, and a fundamental contributor to the development of quantum mechanics (Dirac, 1930). He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, sharing it with Erwin Schrödinger. Contrary to Farmelo, Dirac believed that physics and poetry were in opposition: ‘In science you want to say something nobody knew before,
in words which everyone can understand. In poetry you are bound to say something that everybody knows already in words that nobody can understand’ (Bussey, 2011). As it is now apparent, it is certainly not the case that the language of science is understood by everyone. Quite the reverse: it is poetic language that, perhaps, might help people understand and relate to science. Indeed, in contrast with Dirac, astronomer Alan Duffy has emphasised the importance of art when it comes to guiding interpretations and visualisations of abstract mathematics. ‘It’s clear what Einstein’s equations say in terms of predictions and effects,’ he explains, ‘but how you imagine that – how you explore that – takes the artistic side of our brains’ (Watts, 2018). Still, the understanding of poetry as exclusively a reaction to science is too simplistic. As Simon Armitage aptly notes, ‘poetry with its mythmaking power may precede, rather than simply follow, science’ (Crawford, 2006, p 3). The origin of chemistry, for example, could
be considered as literary given that the core of atomic theory was expounded by thinkers like Democritus or Lucretius, with minimal empirical observation (Labinger, 2011). Armitage gives an even bolder claim, stating that ‘science didn’t take man to the moon. It might have worked out the trigonometry, but it was a poetic dream that propelled us into the heavens to set foot on the lunar mass which has pushed and pulled at us from before we had eyes to see it’ (Armitage, 2006, p. 120). Poetry, then, not only serves as an interpretative aid for lay audiences to start visualising scientific discoveries in a way that makes sense to them, it also drives new scientific exploration by fostering what Rebecca Elson calls in her poem ‘We Astronomers’, ‘a responsibility to awe’, that is, ‘to ask questions’, and not just ‘count things’ (Elson, 2001). When we look into the night sky, we are literally looking into the past, receiving the light of stars which may now be dead. But we are also visualising the future, picturing a time when we might be able to visit those
Laura González Salmerón holds a BA in Comparative Literature, a BA in Mathematics, and an MA in Modern Languages. Currrently a PhD candidate in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, her doctoral thesis compares the ways in which contemporary novels from different cultural and linguistic contexts use the language of mathematics and physics as a strategy for literary innovation. She is interested in interdisciplinary research at the intersection of science and the humanities, including the representation of science and technology in fiction and the use of metaphor and narratives in scientific discourse. Salmerón is a founding member of the Society for Multidisciplinary and Fundamental Research (SEMF). www.linkedin.com/in/ laura-gonzález-salmerón
stars. In a similar vein, poetry can give us a sense of understanding the science that is, and has been, but can also help us to dream of the science that will be, and afford the impetus to turn it into a reality. Bell Burnell has complained that there are many poems which use astronomical topics, but few which really engage with modern astrophysics (Bell Burnell, 2006). Fortunately, this gap seems to be slowly filling, as more poets take the challenge of grappling with the obscure terminology of astrophysics and exploiting its metaphorical potential. As the last lines of Sarah Howe’s poem ‘Relativity’ tentatively wonder: ‘If we can think this far, might not our eyes adjust to the dark?’ (Howe, 2015).
FIRST TIME Alan Lightman Dr Alan Lightman is a physicist, poet, and science writer, as well as a well-known advocate of the synthesis of science and art. He is currently Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz Dr Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz is a Professor and Chair of Astrophysics and Astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research interests focus on energetic accretion processes in black holes and neutron stars
Pippa Goldschmidt Pippa Goldschmidt started out as a professional astrophysicist but is now a writer of non-fiction, poetry, and long and short fiction. She is currently a writer in residence at The Science, Technology and Innovation Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh.
Sunayana Bhargava Sunayana Bhargava is a postdoctoral researcher at CEA Paris-Saclay. Her interests focus on the X-ray emission from galaxy clusters and its relation to cosmological parameters. She is also an editor of Consilience, a science poetry journal.
Human connection to the cosmos is evident in even the earliest surviving literature. Ancient Mesopotamian text, the Epic of Gilgamesh (around 2150 BCE) considered this connection through tales of gods and goddesses, but, the Mesopotamians were also keen astronomers, carefully charting the movements of the stars, planets, and moon across the sky (Ball, 2016; Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021). From this they could predict celestial events and believed themselves able to determine an individual’s fate and the course of humanity (Rogers, 1998; Hunger, 2009). This combination of observation and folklore was also seen in early Western cultures, who admired the deep beauty of the night sky, considered with awe its untouchable vastness, and felt thankful for their positioning as humans at its centre. As Copernicus reconsidered the centrality of the Earth in the Solar System, the cosmos continued to expand outwards, and astronomers expressed their feelings of scientific wonder through poetry, describing observations with literary appreciation (Homes, 2009; Horrocks, 2012). Yet, as we began to traverse the boundaries between Earth and the heavens again, not with myths and gods but with rockets and spacecraft, astronomers found beauty in nature revealing itself through science. Facts were enough, and literature became the remit of the artist alone, not the astronomer. This duality is becoming less fixed. Artists now take residencies in science departments and at research organisations such as CERN, the famous particle physics laboratory in Switzerland (Arts at CERN, 2021). Similarly, astronomers and astrophysicists increasingly embrace literature, science communication, and art as a part of their work (Mack, 2020; Levin, 2020; Courtois, 2019; Wolchover, 2016).
‘In physics we nee
– Alan Ligh
Yet, as will have been the case for many, for Alan Lightman, the division between arts and sciences was drawn in his early years. ‘I did notice that when I was young, in high school, that I had two different and distinct groups of friends. I had the literary types, who wrote for the school magazine, and I had the science types, who relished their math homework. It didn’t seem like anything unusual to me.’ Pippa Goldschmidt similarly points to her school experience, reflecting that from the age of fifteen she had to decide between science or art. She chose science and maths, and ‘never did any arts at all’. In some ways, Dr Lightman regards this split as inevitable. Progress breeds specialisation. There is so much to learn in modern astrophysics, from observational methods to general relativity, that there is little to no time to learn about the culture and history of the cosmos, or how to construct a poem. Whilst the drive of scientific progress necessitates expertise that is increasingly specialised, Dr Lightman argues that this means ‘we have lost something of ourselves as complete human beings’. It’s a feeling also reflected in Enrico Ramirez-Ruis’ relationship with the cosmos. Born and raised in Mexico, Dr Ramirez-Ruiz had conversations with his indigenous grandfather, learning about the indigenous point of view and ways of knowing. ‘Indigenous people nurture these critical relationships with the stars,’ Dr Ramirez-Ruiz explains. ‘I think their knowledge of the sky is exceptional and it encompasses mind, body, heart and spirit. An incredibly important aspect of indigenous astronomy is how knowledge is connected to the sky, and how the sky is culturally encoded for both sharing and remembering, which is central to literature.’ Dr Ramirez-Ruiz recalls that the skies were mapped with stories and the excitement drawn from feeling close to the sky. Despite considering the
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz at the BH Art Exhibit at UCSC. Photo © Carolyn Lagattuta (UCSC)
possibility that this sense of excitement might be lost as he became an astronomer in an academic institution, Dr RamirezRuiz says: ‘I was incredibly lucky that astronomy relies on storytelling so deeply that I feel whole doing astronomy. Maybe that has to do with my roots and all the meanings that the sky has for me.’ Sunayana Bhargava, too, feels that the connection between storytelling and the skies has been artificially separated by western scientific culture. Having muted her poetic language whilst gaining her scientific training, she is now leaning back into the idea that her poetry and astronomical research needn’t be mutually exclusive. In particular, she explores the role of astrophysics within culture, and strips away the fallacy that astrophysics is entirely objective. Rewriting how astrophysics and astronomy has been done, as well as taking it out of its cultural and historical context, was something which led Goldschmidt away from academia, and towards writing fiction. The papers she wrote for journals didn’t reflect the feeling of doing the research. ‘I felt like I’d lost part of what I’d really wanted to explore,’ confesses Goldschmidt. ‘I began thinking about my research from a very unscientific perspective.’ She began to explore the complex emotions of doing astronomy, placing the culture and history of the astronomers back at the centre of the stories. This kind of reframing of astrophysical research, reintroducing the important role that culture plays in our understanding of the universe, is something on which Dr Ramirez-Ruiz has been ruminating. For him, there is a real need to consider the language we use to decodify and translate scientific observations of the cosmos. ‘When we talk about galaxy interactions we use words like harassment, we use words like violent, we use language that can be very non-constructive.’ Dr Ramirez-Ruiz’s own field – high energy astrophysics – is characterised as a violent and vicious form of physics. Processes are incredibly bright and often short-lived, with enormous energy releases, such as a supernova – the collapse and subsequent explosion of a star at the end of its life (Bicknell, 2021). To change their characterisation, in a recent review Dr Ramirez-Ruiz turned to Argentinian writer
‘Astronomy intrinsically has transportative power’ – Sunayana Bhargava
and poet Jorge Luis Borges’ Manual de Zoologia Fantastica (1957), or the Book of Imaginary Beings (Borges, 2002), which contains descriptions of 120 mythical beasts from folklore and literature. Dr Ramirez-Ruiz related each high energy phenomena to one of the imaginary beings. ‘I get a lot of inspiration from describing the universe in a way that brings us closer to the universe, rather than it appearing as something distant.’ ‘A lot of scientists think that language isn’t really that important,’ says Goldschmidt. Even though she recognises that a lot of astronomers and astrophysicists subscribe to the view that the maths is where the science is being done, in her experience, ‘even for communication between scientists, language is essential for the way we talk science to each other.’ As Goldschmidt points out, metaphors are ingrained in our language, so it is natural that we should use them in science. Certainly, whether or not researchers think it is the case, metaphorical and descriptive language is pervasive in science. As knowledge moves forward, metaphors allow researchers to develop hypotheses, follow arguments through to conclusions, interpret results, and communicate ideas. In astrophysics and astronomy, metaphors are a critical route for making sense of and contextualising abstract theories. Physics on both the minute and vast scales, and
processes that can’t be examined head on, benefit enormously. ‘We have no way of going to these places and actually seeing those events taking place in real time,’ says Dr Ramirez-Ruiz. ‘Everything we do is just interpolations of our knowledge.’ Black holes for instance, are not directly observable by their very nature – in that light cannot escape their gravitational pull. Bending the fabric of space-time, they are also a bizarre and complex phenomenon, explainable only through science so complex that they are incomprehensible to almost everyone without a PhD in astrophysics. To make sense of what is actually happening near a black hole’s event horizon, and within them, metaphors are required. ‘Words are a way to express our imagination,’ explains Dr Lightman. In his new book, Probable Impossibilities (2021), Dr Lightman quotes from seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who he notes often writes in a more literary way, with many passages not ‘posed in the language of science. He discusses how, if you took a small seed and cut it in half, and you kept cutting in smaller and smaller pieces, you would keep getting smaller and smaller objects, but you would never get all the way to infinitely small. So he’s imagining infinity. He’s taken this larger view of the world that science has given him and extended it in his imagination.’
As well as extending imaginative capacities, using poetic or literary writing to communicate ideas also allows others to enter into the world. ‘George Gamow wrote the Mr. Tompkins series (Gamow, 1993), in which he imagines a world where we would move around very quickly, so that the effects of relativity are apparent to the eye,’ Dr Lightman explains. ‘He conveys this in a very entertaining and whimsical story.’ In doing so, this offers readers a way of experiencing what were, at the time, the new discoveries of science. As Dr Lightman points out, many would have never touched a physics textbook. More recently, he says, Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia (1993) brought audiences into the world of chaos theory, even if its appeal was in the love affairs and complex human interactions in which Stoppard contextualises the science. This kind of mental transportation doesn’t just apply to the reader. Astronomers and astrophysicists must regularly convey their thoughts to far off times and spaces, and to phenomenon entirely unrecognisable on Earth. Stars an order of magnitude larger than the Sun, collapsed down into an object no larger than a few kilometres in diameter, light from galaxies formed billions of years ago, exoplanets that may be harbouring life, and even the birth of the universe itself. As Bhargava explains, ‘astronomy intrinsically has transportative power.’ In fact, Dr Lightman notes, the processes of doing research and writing are both transportative, and can provide creative moments – which he reflects he has been lucky to have as both a writer and a physicist. ‘You just lose all sense of your body. You lose all sense of time. You lose your sense of ego when you’re just in this pure state of seeing.’ Goldschmidt agrees. ‘It’s a state I try and aim to get to when I’m writing. At the moment I’m writing a series of short stories, and working on some essays, and when the writing goes well you do lose your ego and act as a flow for the work.’ When it comes to transporting himself in his work, it was Dr RamirezRuiz’s experience of magical realism that allowed him to navigate the universe and gave him a framework to think about the cosmos. ‘Alberto Rios said that the translation of magical realism is slightly lost,’ explains
Pippa Goldschmidt at Edinburgh Book Festival. Photo © Chris Scott Video link to Pippa Goldschmidt reading her poem ‘Physics for the Unwary Student’
Dr Ramirez-Ruiz. ‘In this context, magical actually means marvellous, which implies an appreciation of the real, rather than a replacement or distortion of it.’ Bhargava agrees, pointing to the inherent wonder and awe that can be found in astronomy. Describing the asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the universe (CERN, 2021), she points to the poeticism of the existence of the whole of the physical world lying in an imbalance of the scales at the start of the universe. According to the current scientific understanding, there is no clear reason why the Big Bang should have made more matter than antimatter. Yet, it did (Crane, 2020), resulting in a complex universe in which some of that matter – humans – can contemplate the reasons for its own existence. Magical realism has also been important in Dr Lightman’s literary work. His novel Einstein’s Dreams (1993) imagines a world that is different from reality but with the purpose of exploring human nature. ‘I’m doing what Gabriel Garcia Marquez does with magical realism,’ Dr Lightman says. The inclusion of scientific elements and scientific language enables him to ask questions about humanity: ‘How would people behave if time was a circle and we kept repeating our actions? Or how would people behave if there was no connection between cause and effect?’ Although this is an exploration of human nature, Dr Lightman also points out that literature allows us to live lives we’ve never lived before, and never will, ‘so I do think that it can be a vehicle for understanding science.’ As well as taking imagination to a place where the mathematics or telescopes can’t yet follow, Goldschmidt argues that the use of literature and poetry can also open up scientists to thinking in different ways about their subject matter, or using new techniques to explore it. She feels that literature has been a space for play. Nevertheless, Dr Lightman argues that creativity in science must have limits – constrained by method and consistency with earlier theories. He points to an articulation of these restrictions by Richard Feynman; ‘When he’s talking about developing new theories,’ Dr Lightman says, ‘in physics we need imagination, but imagination with a terrible straight-jacket.’ This reflects the tension that often arises between literary endeavours and scientific accuracy. Very few authors will be well-versed in the equations and principles that lie behind ideas like the multiverse, chaos theory, or relativity, and even those who are often need to make a
choice between accuracy and aesthetics. Dr Lightman suggests, however, that within literary pieces this tension doesn’t need to be too tightly strung; ‘literature is the wrong vehicle for pedagogy,’ he argues. ‘If you want to teach astronomy or astrophysics then do it with a textbook.’ What about scientists who, like the astronomers practicing hundreds of years ago, want to include prose or poetry as an integral part of their scientific work? ‘There’s a feeling that you’re making a compromise, that if you want to communicate a scientific concept in a poem you are going to have to make some concessions – there’s going to be some loss of information,’ Bhargava explains. ‘There’s always this idea that in order to turn science into art, you compromise on the accuracy, and somehow the truest way to communicate science is using the most technical, heavy jargon.’ But for her, this is bizarre. ‘If you read the majority of scientific papers, the ability of those papers to actually communicate information that people are able to retain and understand is alarmingly low.’ Writing in this way, in Bhargava’s view, comes from a desire to satisfy the community and hit a benchmark, rather than attempting to transfer information in a meaningful way. Without metaphor and symbolism, writing gains very little traction with its readers. Bhargava also argues that science comes with a spin of its own – researchers are constantly having to sell ideas and new hypotheses, meaning that the idea of impartiality being innately wound into the machinery of the sciences is a fallacy.
‘Poetry as a medium hammers home that science has always been at the beck and call of awe, fear, and mystery.’ Dr Ramirez-Ruiz recalls this question of what it even means to be accurate in astronomy was something that occurred to him when studying quantum mechanics and hearing an extract from Chilean writer Isabel Allende. ‘I began to wonder whether anything truly existed, whether reality wasn’t an unformed and gelatinous substance only half captured by my senses … If that were true, each of us was living in absolute isolation.’ Suddenly, Dr Ramirez-Ruiz says, there was no proof that everyone perceived reality in the same way. In particular, there is no intuition when it comes to many areas of physics, like quantum mechanics. ‘It seemed just made up,’ he recalls. ‘To me, that’s why the value of the description is so important. You know, those scientists who are centre stage, are really individuals who are able to convey their ideas in ways which make them relatable. Very powerful scientists sometimes are incredibly powerful storytellers.’ So, in the future, what role can astrophysics play in literature? As Dr Lightman proves in his writing, emerging astrophysical concepts can be an extremely fruitful place to explore human nature, and to continue to ask some of the oldest questions humanity has had about itself and its place in the universe. Looking back at what it has given us in the past, Goldschmidt thinks that ‘one of the biggest lessons that astronomy has for humanity is the Copernican principle –
Still images of Common Envelope Evolution © Jamie Law-Smith and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz
The Victor Blanco Telescope, located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, is responsible for cataloguing millions of galaxies in the night sky © Sunayana Bharghava
we are not special. We are interwoven, we came from the universe, and we’re interwoven with what we see and what we observe.’ Reflecting on her own research, looking at quasars – objects billions of years old – she notes, ‘astronomy teaches you perspective about our place in everything’.
Madeleine Finlay is a writer, presenter, and producer. Specialising in science, Madeleine’s work has featured across The Guardian, the BBC and New Scientist magazine. She is also author of the children’s non-fiction book Beetles for Breakfast (2021), about the weird and wonderful science and technology that could help us live better in the face of the climate crisis. https://www.madeleinefinlay.com/
And what can literature bring to astronomy? Both Dr Ramirez-Ruiz and Sunyana believe that making the communication of science more accessible, and decolonialising the language, will bring new and diverse perspectives. ‘I don’t think astronomy has the richness or the depth to communicate the emotional investment of science, and we will always need literature to help us understand these things.’ says Sunyana. Like Dr Lightman, she looks to Gabriel Garcia Marquez for inspiration. Describing an early scene in One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), where the senior patriarch of the family takes his son to the circus, she explains, ‘he sees ice for the first time, and the ice is unlike anything they’ve ever seen in the village. It’s immediately a trigger for everything that we can’t understand, but we know is there.’ That, to her, is a fitting metaphor for modern astrophysics and astronomy, and a perfect example of why stories can help us to understand the scientific world a little better.
MUSIC + SOUND
MUSICA UNIVERSALIS For thousands of years, a spiritual link was perceived between music and the cosmos. This bond dates back at least 2,500 years, to a philosophy known as musica universalis – the belief that the movement of the stars and the planets create a form of music (Godwin, 1992). In his own interpretation of this theory, the ancient Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, advocated a theory called ‘harmony of the spheres’ (James, 1993), where the celestial bodies were held to create their own unique sounds, inaudible to the human ear, and to exert causal influence on earthly things. Many of the most influential thinkers from antiquity agreed on the close link between the subjects; Plato even wrote in the Republic, ‘As the eyes […] seem formed for studying astronomy, so do the ears seem formed for harmonious motions: and these seem to be twin sciences to one another’ (Plato, 375BC, VII. XII*). This concept was not restricted to Western civilizations, it had global appeal, including, for a group of tenth century Muslim philosophers known as the Ikhwān aṣ-Ṣafā’, who passionately adopted related views (Nokso-Koivisto, 2011). The ubiquity of Christendom in Renaissance Europe remoulded the general notion of musica universalis into something specifically purposeful and goal-directed. In the treatise Harmonices Mundi (Kepler, 1619; for English translation, see Kepler, 1997), the astronomer, Johannes Kepler, claimed that God had intelligentlydesigned the ordering of the planets, and constructed a deeply interwoven relationship between music, geometry, and the heavens. For Kepler, harmony was not strictly a musical idea (Kepler, 1997). It was a larger term, that spoke to the idea of congruence in nature, and an all-encompassing unity between Earth and celestial bodies (ibid.). This might not be surprising; the word ‘harmony’ comes from the Greek harmos, meaning ‘joint’, and from the Latin harmonia, or ‘joining / coming together’ (Ilievski, 1993). Although these terms seem to have amorphously holistic connotations, they were also used in reference to very tangible, everyday things like the hinge of a door (ibid.). Implicit in the word usage, is the thought that music was somehow both other-worldly and an intrinsic part of ordinary existence. Musical heritage aside, the idea that the positions of vastly-distant heavenly bodies have a noticeable effect on people, is not strictly limited to the long-gone theory of the ‘harmony of the spheres’. 204 |
Woodcut by Gafurius of Pythagoras called Theorica Musicae (1492) © Photo Researchers Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo
We would be hard-pressed to call much of Pythagorean activity empirical science (Burkert, 1972; Thom, 2020). Still, according to legend, Pythagoras himself happened upon an analogy between concordant sound, mathematical ratios, and the physicality of strings. A string divided in half, for instance, would produce the most concordant sound – what we know today as an octave (Crocker, 1963). A string divided 2/3rds would produce another extremely stable interval, the perfect 5th, and so on (ibid.). As it turns out, certain objects in our Solar System are, indeed, in these simple resonances; Pluto, for instance, has the relationship of 2:3 with Neptune, meaning that it completes two orbits for every three of Neptune (Peale, 1976). Accordingly, while the planets do not actually create sound, as was previously thought, Pythagoras had an early insight about resonance that was true. A related stance can be found in ancient Chinese folklore, in the character of Ling Lun (Yang et al., 2008). Chinese writings claim that in 2697 BCE, Ling Lun travelled to the western mountains of China in search of the perfect bamboo, in order to make flutes that would bring the current emperor’s reign into harmony with the universe (ibid.). The quest for the bamboo would also bring about a ground-breaking codification of musical pitches. This is, in fact, the world’s oldest account of a music-theoretic system concerned with specified pitches and the intervals between them (see: von Falkenhausen, 1992). Much like the more well-known Pythagorean account, the bamboo pipes were arranged in simple mathematical ratios. And, although scholars are unsure of the exact date of these writings, it is safe to say that China’s tonal discovery predates the Greeks (Ayers, 2008). These early discoveries in both Asia and Europe were pivotal to the way we conceptualise music, and the ways in which we understand some portions of Newtonian physics, like acoustics. The dominant understanding of music today might be scientific, rather than mystical. That which is interpreted on a human level as sound can also be described as longitudinal oscillations of waves, passing through a medium such as air (e.g. Pierce, 1999). The reason why specific sounds move us so powerfully is theorised to have roots in our evolutionary past, and psychologists, biologists, and neuroscientists are still working
to crack many such puzzles (e.g. Nikolsky, 2016). A few basic things, however, have been discovered. We generally prefer consonance (when sound waves interact smoothly), and dislike dissonance (when there is a “beat frequency” between waves, such that they are not expressed by a basic mathematical relationship (Bowling and Purves, 2015)). Nevertheless, this is a simplified story as these norms can easily be violated depending on musical-context and culture. Since human ears and brains evolved on Earth, to perceive waves within a specified sonic spectrum, it should not be surprising that this same evolved tissue does not allow us to hear things in outer space – human hearing is optimised to detect sound waves propagating in air (Errede, 2017). After all, the naked eye can only see the range of electromagnetic radiation we call visible light (Soffer and Lynch, 1999). If our eyes could perceive other types of radiation, our impression of outer space would be incredibly different – especially since our optimisation for visible wavelengths, and pathology reaction to other wavelengths of radiation, is one of the many medical risks for astronauts spending time outside the Earth’s atmosphere (Seedhouse, 2015; Dickens, 2019; Harris, 2020). Another intersection of sound and space can be found in the Voyager Probes. Launched in 1977, to fly past Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s moon Titan (Traphagan, 2021), the probes have continued drifting into interstellar space – Voyager 1 left the Solar System in 2012, and Voyager 2, in 2018 (Witze, 2017). In the 44 years since their launch, Voyager 1 has earned two record-breaking titles; both as the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space, and as ‘the most distant human-made object’ (Bizony, 2013, p46). How far will these probes go? What will they encounter? The probes’ ‘Golden Record’ feature was created in light of such questions. Along with audible greetings in 55 languages, and various ‘field recordings’ of Earth’s everyday sounds, is a compilation of humanity’s music – everything from a Beethoven string quartet to a traditional Peruvian wedding song (Nelson and Polansky, 1993; Helmreich, 2014; Traphagan, 2021). ‘What’s the point?’, you may ask? The theory was that on the chance that one of the Voyagers stumbles upon an Earth-like planet, that planet may have complex life which has evolved
Arc, 2019. © Jerod Barker
In Harmonices Mundi (1619) Johannes Kepler © Photo Researchers Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo
sense organs much like our own (Sagan et al., 1978). In this case, it would be increasingly probable that they would be able to perceive the record, understand that we exist, and that what they are ‘hearing’ is one of our defining cultural activities (Sagan et al., 1978; Nelson and Polansky, 1993). The concept that possible extra-terrestrials might evolve analogous body parts to us is grounded in what biologists call ‘convergent evolution’ – that natural selection finds similar solutions in an organism, given similar environmental problems (Stern, 2013). Given that the phenomenon is widespread on Earth (e.g. Arbuckle et al., 2014), it is not unreasonable to extend the idea out to planets with Earth-like properties. As molecular biologist, Claudio Flores Martinez, poetically puts it, ‘it would be no surprise if the symphony of life were, likewise, to resound in closely related keys’ (Flores Martinez, 2014, p.348). Don’t hold your breath, though. It will take Voyager 1 about 40,000 years to drift within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of the star Gliese 445 (Traphagan, 2021). Even then, because it is a red dwarf (a type of star smaller and cooler that our Sun), the likelihood of the star supporting life is not high (Littmann, 1988). To further add to the astronomical odds of the endeavour, although the record’s construction of gold, aluminium, and copper makes it incredibly robust, designed to last about 5 billion years (NASA JPL, n.d.), Voyager’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator will only be viable until about 2025 (Bizony, 2013), meaning that it will no longer be able to send data back to us. Despite this, however, Voyager and the Golden Record will persist on, encountering almost endless turmoil in its eonic quest, in the form of interstellar dust. Given a couple of billion years, could the music of Chuck Berry be piped through the air molecules of a far-flung planetary atmosphere? There are less probable events.
213 image Cover and disk of The Sounds of Earth Carried aboard Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft Enhanced |NASA © J Marshall - Tribaleye Images / Alamy Stock Photo
For the time being, the Voyager probes continue to be generous with their data. Since 1977, they have opened many new doors of astronomical discovery, including pictures of the rings of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune — Voyager 2 being the first to visit the former two planets (Bizony, 2013). Apart from the scientific knowledge Voyager has yielded, it has also been the impetus for novel works of art. In 2017, physicist Domenico Vicinanza, and life sciences professor Genevieve Williams, used data sent back entirely from Voyager 1 to create a musical composition which made its world premiere at a scientific conference in Denver, Colorado (Davis, 2017). The short musical piece used information from the Voyager’s Low-Energy Charged Particle (LECP) instrument — designed to recognize protons, alpha particles, and heavy nuclei. Each musical note represents 26 days of data collection, creating a melody which maps the trajectory of the spacecraft, since its launch (ibid.). The aesthetic result is a contemporary classical work using timbres like strings, winds, and pitched percussion. Fittingly, a change in instrumentation and key can be noticed toward the end of the piece, marking the probe’s exit from the solar system, into interstellar space. The Voyager composition is not a rarity, though. Astronomers at NASA have turned data received from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope into gorgeous, shimmering clusters of notes — with the music spanning space activity 400 light
years across (NASA, 2021; Rigues, 2021). In NASA’s music compositional methodology, stars are represented as single notes, while gas clouds are signified by long drones. Light objects are represented as higher pitches, and heavier objects, as lower ones (ibid.). Perhaps counterintuitively, NASA’s composition for the ubiquitous ‘Pillars of Creation’ (a gas cloud in the Eagle Nebula) does not sound majestic or awe-inspiring (see: NASA, n.d.). To the contrary, it is uncanny and eldritch, but certainly beautiful in its own way. All sorts of scientific fields now use data sonification as a tool to solve real-world problems, including medical research teams (Chiroiu et al., 2019.). Instead of looking at data as points on a visual graph, the numbers become individual pitches — offering researchers a new way to find outliers in statistical noise. Of course, musical creation inspired by the natural world is nothing new, and composers have been specifically mining the heavens for musical inspiration for quite some time. The music of Brian Eno seems to perfectly capture the whole gestalt of outer space. The documentary film For All Mankind (1989) tells the story of NASA’s Apollo missions and uses Eno’s ambient soundscapes to accompany space’s great expanse. Ambient music accompanied by visuals of galaxies and stars are commonly produced as content fit for meditation and relaxation. Ambient music even accompanies the live feed YouTube video of Earth from the International Space Station. Why does so-called ‘ambient music’ seem
to go with the scenery of outer space so ideally, though? Why would we find it strange to hear the sound of a compressed ukulele accompanying an image of the Milky Way? The answer might be that there is a deep cognitive link. In a phenomenon known as the ‘Bouba/Kiki effect’, neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran, showed that people may not arbitrarily connect speech sounds to objects and visual shapes (Ramachandran and Hubbard, 2001). The experiment involved asking participants which of two shapes should have the names ’Bouba’ and ‘Kiki’ (ibid.). One of the shapes was rounded, much like a cartoon cloud, while the other, angular, like a caricature of a star. The experiment found that the “rounded” speech sounds (Bouba) were more readily associated with the curvier image, while the percussive, jagged speech sounds (Kiki), with the angular image. It may not be farfetched to hypothesize that the human brain makes the same deep connections between images and music, but further study ought to be done in order to make more definitive claims. If Elon Musk is right, it is possible that humanity will, in the next few centuries, begin to colonise Mars, followed by other rocky entities in the Solar System (Williamson, 2017; SpaceX, 2021). How might music be created in the absence of Earthly conditions? What might music made on other worlds sound like? It might be tempting to imagine that interplanetary composers will make sleek electronic music, equipped with its fair share of beeps and zaps. This is because science fiction often portrays humanity as a forward-looking species. The other side of the story is that nostalgia has a strong pull on us, too — meaning that we see the past as a ‘simpler time’, more positive than the present. This is what psychologists often call ‘rosy retrospection’ (Mitchell et al., 1997*). Maybe space-colonising musicians, then, will consciously react against the present, opting for the romanticism of quaint, organic instrumentation. Indeed, a slew of recent space-based video games have soundtracks which prominently feature the banjo (Polygon, 2020). If our successors wish to enjoy music that is not crafted solely from the software of future smart devices, they will of course, have to deal with the dexterity of playing an instrument in differing gravity conditions (until engineers can perfectly simulate Earth’s gravity, elsewhere).
Researchers at KU Leuven tested fine motor skills in subjects while simulating Moon, Mars, and microgravity environments (Van Ombergen et al., 2017), and found that subjects’ hand and finger movements adapted quickly to Mars’ gravity, which is about 38 percent of the Earth’s. The researchers suggested that if one can eventually acclimate their dexterous motions to zero gravity conditions, it would not be all that difficult to then operate in conditions that reside somewhere between Earth and no gravity at all. A skilled player could quickly adapt to pulling off a Bach violin sonata on Mars, but there may be a bit of a learning curve until they feel as comfortable as they would be playing back on their home planet.
Italian designer, Massimo Vignelli once said, ‘It’s the space you put between the notes that makes the music’ (Hustwit, 2015). It is also vital to point out, though, that it is because of space that we know about those notes, and it is due to those notes that we know about space.
Michael Mroz is a Chicago-based music teacher, composer, and writer. As a teacher, Michael has created novel middle school curricula that blend musical and mathematical concepts, including the use of the Wolfram Language for music theory and composition. Michael also runs the program Whereabouts Music Labs, which applies evidence from the music psychology literature to teach instrumental performance. As a composer, he has worked on music projects at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and his piece, Syllogism: For Percussion and Electronics was selected to be presented at the Irish Sound Science and Technology Convocation. www.michaelmrozmusic.com.
Negative Space by Alun Kirby © Alun Kirby. More from this artist on pp 338-339
TUNE Nicole L’Huillier An artist and musician, Nicole L’Huillier works with sounds, vibrations, resonances, and multiple transductions. She holds a Masters in Media Arts and Sciences and is currently a PhD candidate in Media Arts and Sciences at MIT Media Lab. She has been awarded prizes including the 2019 SIMETRIA prize residency at CERN, Paranal, and ALMA Observatories, and a DAAD fellowship. Her work has been exhibited widely including at the Guggenheim, Sonar D+, and Ars Electronica.
Matt Russo Astrophysicist, musician, and sonification specialist, Dr Matt Russo, is currently a physics lecturer at the University of Toronto and a planetarium operator at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. He has completed a PhD and postdoctoral research in theoretical astrophysics and is also a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Jazz Guitar Performance programme. Russo is a cofounder of SYSTEM Sounds, a sci-art outreach project that converts astronomical data into music, sound, and visualisations.
Mario Livio Dr Mario Livio is an astrophysicist, author, popular speaker, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has made significant theoretical contributions to topics ranging from cosmology, supernova explosions, and black holes to extrasolar planets and the emergence of life in the universe. He has received awards and recognitions for his research, including the Danz Distinguished Lecturer by the University of Washington, authored seven books, including The Golden Ratio, and given talks across the globe, including at The Smithsonian, The Royal Astronomical Society, TEDx MidAtlantic, and the World Science Festival in New York. Livio is also Science Advisor to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Paola Prestini Composer Paola Prestini has collaborated with poets, filmmakers, and scientists in large-scale multimedia works that chart her interest in extra-musical themes ranging from the cosmos to the environment. She has created, written and produced large scale projects such as the largest communal VR opera, The Hubble Cantata, and the eco-documentary currently on PBS, The Colorado. Her work incorporates improvisation, live electronics, foley, and spatial elements.
There is, perhaps, a human tendency to experience the rest of the natural world as separate (Vining et al., 2008). This perceived dualism can lead us view our environment through a distancing lens. We may, for instance, anthropomorphise animals, describing a dog with their mouth open as ‘smiling’, rather than ‘releasing heat from its body’. We may also find it disconcerting to be reminded of our similarity to nonhuman life; while it may seem logical that we share over 95% of our genome with chimpanzees (Mikkelsen et al., 2005), it may feel surprising that approximately 70% of human genes have an orthologue in the genomic sequence of zebrafish (Barbazuk et al., 2000; Howe et al., 2013). This is a bias which cognitive psychologists call ‘anthropocentric thinking,’ (Coley and Tanner, 2012). For artist Nicole L’HuillIier, it is something to move beyond. A PhD candidate and research assistant at MIT Media Lab, L’Huillier calls her work ‘antidisciplinary,’ as she considers the relationship between art and science to be porous. Her work explores fascinating links between sound, music, space, and the possible future of space travel. L’Huillier thinks about sound, in particular, as a uniting medium, and for her, it is more fundamental than the visual. She explains: ‘the visual perspective gives a place to be detached from the other bodies that we are observing, but sounds tie all these bodies together, and allows them to resonate at the same time and vibrate at a particular molecular level’.
The fundamentals of music come from matter and energy behaving in certain ways, and nature is partially responsible for organizing the sounds that we find pleasing to begin with ‒ albeit, unintentionally so. L’Huillier is interested in and experiments with the effect of sound for creatures we rarely acknowledge in our everyday lives. ‘I have also been studying different extremophilic microorganisms and the way they react to certain types of frequencies,’ says L’Huillier. ‘By looking at their behaviours, I was able to understand whether they are more susceptible to certain vibrations or not, and if they have certain ‘preferences’. You may have heard, for example, of bacteria that are able to grow near hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. They perpetuate through the most extreme levels of heat and pressure, but again, this is only ‘extreme’ in human terms. By studying these ‘preferences,’ L’Huillier hopes to discover the kinds of microorganisms that might be able to thrive on other planets. L’Huillier isn’t only concerned with the passive thriving of microscopic life, though. In her piece, Tardigrade Radio (L’Huillier, 2018), she incorporates tiny life with an active presence. One portion of the work is the musical interpretation of 0.1% of the tardigrade’s genome sequence scaffold (ibid.). Also known as a ‘water bear,’ the tenacity of the tardigrade was first realised in 2007, when they were brought into low Earth orbit on the FOTON-M3 mission (Rebecchi et al., 2009). One of the most striking findings was that the harsh vacuum of space did not have an effect on the tardigrade’s ability to lay
The Hubble Cantata at the Ford Amphitheatre, LA, 2017. Photo © Jill Steinberg Photography
eggs – meaning that, like the hydrothermal vent bacteria, these microorganisms have the ability to persevere in extreme environments. (Jönsson et al., 2008). In 2011, Italian scientists brought tardigrades aboard the International Space Station, and they found that elements like microgravity and cosmic radiation did not significantly affect their survival. The scientists concluded the tardigrade to be a useful animal for space research (Weronika and Łukasz, 2017).
Although a better understanding of the tardigrade may provide incredible utility to science, Tardigrade Radio encourages us to also see these infinitesimal beings as important in themselves – as dynamic, complex life with whom we share the universe. Astutely exhibiting this complexity, the piece consists of a 5,740 character string of the tardigrade’s 4 nucleobases of DNA (ACGT), creating an arpeggiated sequence using an A minor 7th chord.
While L’Huillier contends that reflecting on the cosmos ought to fade perceived boundaries, composer Paola Prestini finds a parallel tale of the human condition in the idea of space exploration. Her Hubble Cantata (2016) is a rigorously classical yet immensely imaginative multimedia piece, combining instrumentation with oral narration, VR goggles, and a children’s choir (Prestini, 2016). Its storyline centres around the death of a woman whose husband, an astrophysicist, is trying to comprehend her life and his own grief. Prestini describes the human experience of grieving as ‘beyond science’. She explains that ‘the whole Cantata is based on the life cycle of a star and that becomes the inspiration for the arc of human loss, love, and sorrow.’ Even the music is grounded in something archetypically human, the voice. ‘My music is often vocallydriven, then supported by a more complex counterpoint harmony,’ says Prestini. ‘I also thought about the forces that I had at hand, which in this case were two choirs, two singers, a narrator, and electronics.’ The finale of Hubble Cantata is a 3D perspective of the Orion Nebula – one of the most highly photographed celestial features (Gendler and GaBany, 2015). The nebula has a mass of about 2,000 times that of the Sun, and is about 24 light years across. In 2006, scientists discovered the masses of a pair of eclipsing binary brown dwarf stars, residing within the Orion Nebula. The scientists were surprised to find that the more massive of the two stars turned out to be less bright (Stassun et al., 2006). The Orion Nebula is also a prime example of a stellar nursery ‒ a place where new stars are formed. Quite fittingly, the deceased woman of Hubble Cantata becomes a midwife ‒ in her post-corporeal residence among the cosmos. This existential foundation of Hubble Cantata might be unexpected; as winner of the ASCAP Victor Herbert Award (Oteri, 2014), former PD Soros Fellow (P.D. Soros, 2021), and Founder of the New York City based venue National Sawdust (National Sawdust, 2021), Prestini’s own philosophical beliefs foreground human collaboration and interaction. She explains: ‘as you become used to being involved in complex relationships in the arts, you learn how to fine tune your interactions so that you gain something meaningful out of each experience.’
The Hubble Cantata at Celebrate Brooklyn, BRIC, 2016. Photo © Jill Steinberg Photography
The Hubble Cantata at The Kennedy Center, 2017. Photo © Jill Steinberg Photography
One of Prestini’s most notable collaborators is the physicist, Mario Livio. Livio’s voice plays the role of the fictional astrophysicist in Hubble Cantata. ‘I got to know Dr Livio because I fell in love with his blog,’ says Prestini (see: Livio, 2021). ‘He has this ability of explaining the most complex things in ways that everyone can understand. I was pleasantly surprised to know he was game to work with an emerging artist, and his profound understanding of musicality ‒ his dedication to get involved on so many different levels – makes him such a wonderful collaborator,’ says Prestini. ‘Music composition can be a very solitary field, especially in classical composition, which is my musical background.’ With an extensive career devoted to the study of supernovae and the expansion of the Universe, Dr Livio has contributed to hundreds of peerreviewed astrophysical papers (e.g. Livio and Mazzali, 2018; Martin et al., 2019; Martin et al., 2020; Smallwood et al., 2021). He has been a Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is cited in the biographical reference work, American Men and Women of Science (Gale, 2020). ‘The Hubble Cantata was my first experience working with a musician,’ he explains. ‘After that, I was appointed Science Adviser to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I’m far from an expert, but I do love classical music, and I try to attend concerts on a regular basis.’ Livio fully understands Prestini’s desire to write music inspired by Hubble telescope imagery. ‘Hubble is more accessible to non-physicists, and the images that it produced have captured the imagination of the public worldwide,’ says Livio. ‘Some have described it as the Sistine Chapel of today, as the images are so beautiful (Livio, 2020), and these images represent things that actually exist out there.’ Livio thinks a lot about the public understanding of science, and has written | 225
several books for general audiences. His book Why: What Makes Us Curious? (Livio, 2017), would provide relevant commentary on Prestini’s success as a composer. ‘I discovered that there has been a study that looked at a hundred extremely creative individuals from different disciplines,’ says Livio, ‘and the one common element among these people was their curiosity (see: Livio, 2017). Curiosity is a necessary ingredient for creativity. Sometimes this can mean that one borrows ideas from one area and applies them to a different one. The only way for this to happen is through curiosity.’ This theme of curiosity carries over into Livio’s recent book, Galileo and the Science Deniers (Livio, 2020), where the curious Galileo, promoting heliocentrism, counters the dominant religious view at the time, supporting an Earth-centred model of the Solar System. This story shows us that there isn’t always a correlation between the truth behind a scientific claim, and the number of people who believe it. In modern science, at least, what seems to bring us closer to convincing discovery is an arduous process of different people asking questions, collecting data, and making predictions about similar phenomena. In other words, scientific consensus about one thing or another is not akin to a vote on what ought to be collectively believed. Rather, a clearer picture of what’s real emerges slowly. In a certain sense, the groundwork for Galileo’s inquisitiveness was set before he was born. His father, Vincenzo Galilei, had been a musician and music theorist
who made major contributions to our understanding of music from a physics perspective. He had quantified the nonlinear relationship in physics for a stretched string – that the pitch varies as the square root of the tension (Cohen, 1984). This discovery built on the tradition of Pythagorean tuning, which found that subdividing a string by whole numbers produces a consonant ordering of pitches – a scale (Caleon and Ramanathan, 2008). For Galileo, music and astronomy were complementary subjects; it was commonplace in his time to assert that the proportionate motions of the planets created a kind of celestial music (Godwin, 1992). While the movement of planets doesn’t literally make music that one can hear outright, University of Toronto physicist Dr Matt Russo, points out that there’s still something fundamentally true about this early view. ‘The planets are orbiting at a certain rate,’ says Russo, ‘therefore by speeding that up by a certain amount you can hear that as a rhythm, and if you speed it up even faster it becomes a pitch.’ In essence, Dr Russo describes a thoughtfully-considered aesthetic overlay to a deep musical structure that already exists in different planetary systems. ‘In the planetary system K2-138 there are orbital resonances between every planet but the whole system doesn’t repeat very often the way the patterns are lined up,’ says Russo, ‘so I heard a very floaty and unsettled sound, because that’s what the rhythms are actually doing. I chose a harp sound, as I thought that suited the dreamscape of the system. This particular system is tuned in stacked perfect fifths, so by collecting all
‘My musical background was essential for my scientific career’ – Matt Russo
Video link: Screenshot from True Love Waits - The Inner Solar System Plays Radiohead, 2018. © SYSTEM SOUNDS (M Russo and A Santaguida)
Trappist Sounds, 2017. Animation and sonification of TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanetary System © SYSTEM SOUNDS (M Russo and A Santaguida)
Alongside his physics career, Russo is also a guitarist in the band RVNNERS, and has a soft spot for Jimi Hendrix’s album Axis: Bold As Love (1967). ‘My musical background was essential for my scientific career, as what I’m doing is not just converting data into sounds, it’s telling a story, and part of that is making an emotional connection with
music.’ While many people are often quick to point out the similarities between art and science, Russo is also careful in expressing where they diverge. “A scientific theory has to be tested against reality,’ says Russo, ‘whereas a piece of art gets tested by people’s responses. But, when I’m creating music or when I’m working on a scientific model, it feels the same. I’m still trying to discover something that works and fits together right.’ In Russo’s work on the sonification of planetary systems, he uses the metaphor of planets as musicians, playing music to one another. Although there’s nothing particularly anthropocentric about mere metaphor, L’Huillier brings to our attention that, ‘we are as much part of nature as we are part of culture.’ With this in mind, the combined insights of L’Huillier, Prestini, Livio, and Russo demonstrate the potential for collaborative thinking to take us even further. It might, perhaps, even help us to hear the universe more clearly.
Piergiorgio ‘PJ’ Ciarla is a drummer and music producer. He began with jazz studies at Saint Louis College of Music, then continued at the Institute of Contemporary Music and Performance, London. Ciarla has worked as music director and musician with bands including Rival Karma, Begut, and Marsela Cibukaj. He is also an artist under the name of Korouno.
those notes and putting them in one octave, I got a pentatonic scale.’ Russo further explained that there are several ways that a planetary system can become tuned. ‘In many cases that happens when they are early on in a disk of dust and gas,’ says Russo. ‘Inside that disk there is a drag force that lets the orbit adjust. If they adjust slowly enough, they can get locked in tune with another planet, and maybe stay there. In the example of Neptune and Pluto, those were tuned as Neptune’s orbit expanded and it was interacting with other planets in the solar system early on. That’s how Pluto got locked into a resonance with Neptune, and they are still in tune today.’
THEATRE + DANCE
TO KNOW OTHERWISE Felipe Cervera
The histories of astronomy, astrophysics, and astronautics are closely linked to the ritual, cultural, artistic, and scientific practices that human societies have developed as a way of accessing the sky. Coincidentally, this is the same genealogy of practices which bred early dance, performance, and theatre in various cultures around the world. These practices stemmed from the basal human impulse to ritualise our relationship with the Universe, to access other planes, and to know things ‘otherwise’. In this way, the histories of the performing arts and astrophysical knowledge are entangled, running in parallel and influencing each other; from shamanic ritual performances, to ancient Greek dances, to early modern drama, to contemporary science plays, to dance and physical theatre in low earth orbit. In order to contextualise this history, we need to start by looking at the exciting field of cultural astronomy. Cultural astronomer Antonio Aveni (2003) defines cultural astronomy as the study of ‘the diverse ways in which human societies perceive and integrate the sky and its contents into their worldview’ (Aveni, 2003, p 152), aiming to understand astronomical practice in connection with politics, economics, religion, and culture among other factors (ibid.). Cultural astronomers usually take an initial archaeological angle (hence cultural astronomy is also known as archaestronomy) to map the connection between cultural, ritual, and artistic performance practices and situated astrophysical knowledge. They tend to start by studying archaeological sites where ancient dance, theatre, or performance might have happened, as well as the artefacts that may have been used during such events, in the pursuit of an understanding of ancient astronomical epistemologies and practices. However, taking archaeological sites as the only connections between culture
and pre-twentieth century astronomy would be limited. More than the ruins, it is the enactment of rituals, plays, dances, and cultural performances themselves which matter the most when we consider how our knowledge about the universe shaped who we are. Eventually every building, artefact, and city becomes a ruin. Embodied performance practices, however, remain alive as long as the people practicing them are alive. Indeed, what value will the first landing on the Moon have, if future generations can only access the ruined spaceships? Surely the narrations by the astronauts themselves – as well as their reenactment – have powerful significance. In what follows, I offer three key examples that highlight the mutual interplay between the entangled histories of performance and astrophysics. Across the examples, there is a commonality of the potential for travel, and knowing elsewhere. Crucially, the way in which travel is performed, determines how we produce and transfer knowledge about our physical interactions with the universe. There are multiple examples of ritual practices in ancient civilisations, through which priests or performers would access
altered states of consciousness, which in turn were understood as accessing other planes of existence. The function of these rituals varied. Some were rituals offered to specific gods, as was the case of the Dionysian mysteries (which would go on to breed the roots of Western theatre), while others were exclusively reserved for healing and magic purposes. A common denominator among these rituals was that they also presupposed a divine or ritual cosmography. That is, they enacted a cosmos, and placed humans in specific physical and symbolic relation to it. These ritual or ceremonial performances were meant to performatively actualise that specific cosmovision, by having an elite set of individuals accessing other planes. In doing so, these individuals became bearers of a kind of knowledge not ordinarily accessed on this plane/planet. One example of such practices are the rituals and ceremonies conducted by shamans – practices which remain active to the present day. In its briefest definition, a shaman is a healer and spiritual leader whose powers enable them to access and perceive other worlds, in order to bring balance between the living, the dead, and the eternal. The work of anthropologist Mircea Eliade is a
common starting reference point for the inclusion of the shaman in a proto-astronomical analysis. In his now-classic Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964), Eliade notes that one constant he observed during his study of shamanic practices, in regions such as Western Siberia, Australia and South America, is the idea of shamans as healers. This healing role is achieved through an ‘ecstatic faculty’, which enables the shaman to perform spiritual healing or to accompany a soul to the nether regions of the under and over worlds. Significantly, Eliade notes that: ‘through his own ecstatic experience [the shaman] knows the roads of the extraterrestrial regions’ (182, my emphasis). It is also important to note that the notion of ‘outer space’ simply does not exist in the shamanic cosmography. There isn’t a big ‘outer’, against which human civilisation must thrust itself. Instead, the extraterrestrial regions in the shamanic context include the skies and the underworlds, the above and the below, the realms of the dead and the eternal. Eliade notes that the basic cosmography of shamanic cosmology is that of three cosmic zones or regions: the sky, earth and the underworld. These ‘can be successively traversed because they are linked together by a central axis’ through which ‘the gods descend to Earth, […] the dead to the subterranean regions, [and] the soul of the shaman in ecstasy can fly up or down in the course of his celestial or infernal journeys’ (1964, 259). In the conception of this cosmography, not only does the shaman embody the bridge but he also starts to evidence that there is a history of ‘the extraterrestrial’ and its relationship to the terrestrial, which extends much further back than the birth of astronautics in the twentieth century. Secondly, the shaman also demonstrates ways in which the boundaries between the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial are mediated and defined through the enactment of their boundary, by means of transiting through it, thus demonstrating how embodied practices and cultural performances form part of the history of our relationship with outer space.
‘Astroaesthetics may even redefine the concept of physical theatre’ – Felipe Cervera
Through the Veil, 2018. © Amy Wetsch. More from this artist on pp 342-343
Whilst the history of theatre before the twentieth century is littered with examples of dramatic works that make reference to the thencurrent state of astronomical and related knowledge, it is perhaps more interesting to look at how the nineteenth century marked a pivotal moment for the conceptualisation, enactment, and insertion of popular culture of physically traveling elsewhere. Crucially, it is during sixteenth century when the notion of ‘outer space’ began to be rehearsed on the European stages. Significantly, the performing arts explored, shaped, and inserted the idea of lunar travel into the popular culture of the twentieth century. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, major observatories were established in Europe and in North America, which stimulated both an in depth catalogue of stars, and questions about whether there was life on the Moon or other planets (Leverington, 1995, 355). However, while observatories were representing the Moon as an object of scientific observation and technologically mediated contemplation, in the theatre and venues of popular entertainment, the first trips to the Moon were already taking place. People were travelling to the Moon through spectacles of féeries (fairy plays), dark rides and pataphysic films. Encounters with a lunar civilisation and the Moon were first staged as far back as 1877 – with Verne’s, From the Earth to the Moon stage adaptation at New York’s Booth Theatre, in that year, titled A Trip to the Moon; as well as A Trip to Mars, performed by a company of ‘little people’ called The Lilliputians, at New York’s Niblo Theatre in 1893 (Miller, personal blog 2012). Furthermore, performances of this piece were taking place at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1892, the same year that renowned astronomer Garrett P Serviss was performing a lecture titled A Trip to the Moon, which employed sophisticated machinery and a magic lantern to depict the Moon with scientific accuracy (Willis, 2017).
Indeed, by the time Georges Méliès (1861-1938) released A Trip to the Moon in 1902, the trend had been going on for at least twenty-five years. The predictive tendency of science fiction has been a longstanding reference in the history of manned flight, with many of the pioneers in astronautics citing Verne, Wells and others as part of their inspiration for the development of rocket science and technology (Miller, 2007; 2012). However, little attention has been paid to the embodied experience of being immersed, both as an audience and as a spectator, in a physical trip to the Moon. These theatrical experiences enacted the encounter with a selenite civilisation, which was often pitched as being similar in societal structure to those found on Earth. That is: humans embodied extraterrestrial life, and such enactment was represented as the encounter with a radical other. These ideas paved the way for the contemporary notion of an astropolitical frontier, between the inner and outer. This can in fact be interpreted as the birth of outer space, which is also the reconfiguration of the physical relationship humans have with the universe. When US president John F Kennedy announced his nation’s plans to land a man on the Moon at Rice University in 1962, he was not acting in a contextual vacuum – he was reiterating and then actualising a performance history of astronomy and astronautics. This is to say that, as much as Kennedy’s speech was a crucial event for the future of space exploration and observation, it was neither the first of such performances, nor the last. Historically, performances and performative actions and utterances have been important for incentivising and publicising the discovery and exploration of lunar and planetary space. The 1950s showed a surge of astronautics in contemporary popular culture. Since then, outer space has remained as an active signifier for life on earth, as the actual practice of astronautics has become a backdrop to contemporary life. Indeed, humans have now been living on
| 243 Through the Veil, 2018. © Amy Wetsch. More from this artist on pp 342-343
board the International Space Station for over twenty years, since 2 November 2000, and this normalisation of life in orbit has opened up other possibilities. Outer space is increasingly being considered a place for artistic experimentation – a development which may influence a new conceptualisation of our place in the universe. One such example is the theatrical work of Dragan Živadinov, the founder of KSEVT: The Cultural Centre of European Space Technologies, located in Vitanje, a small village in northeast Slovenia. At KSEVT, Živadinov and his team have developed a cultural program for space, as well as hosted research programmes, in order to develop what they call ‘the culturalisation of space’. To advance and promote that agenda, one of the predominant activities of the company is postgravity art, defined as ‘all art created in zero gravity conditions’ (Živadinov, 2013, p 2). Živadinov’s postgravity art finds its key example in Gravitation Zero – Noordung Biomechanics, the first theatrical performance to have taken place in a zero-gravity environment. Indeed, his work investigates the ways in which the presence and dislocation of gravity is in itself another foundational factor in the history of performance and astrophysics. Slovenian author and cultural critic Marina Gržinić notes about Gravitation Zero – Noordung Biomechanics:
The actors wore special costumes redesigned from the time of Meyerhold theater research, and the internal space of the aircraft was re-arranged [sic] into a theatre space, decorated with objects from the Russian constructivist art period, which flourished immediately after the October socialist revolution, around 1920. The Biomechanics Noordung performance consisted of a repetition of choreographed Biomechanics movements (2004, 67). The reference to Meyerhold is crucial. Živadinov’s interest lies in the physical affordances of the human body when placed in a zero-gravity environment. As Gržinić observes, the actual performance of Gravitation Zero – Noordung Biomechanics, simply investigates human bodies experimenting with movement, in the absence of gravitational force. Indeed, the physical affordances vary, and this is not only to say that, in this environment, the human body can perform physical exercises which would otherwise be physically impossible – dancing in the air for a sustained period of time, for example – but also, the basic functions of the human body are altered. Meyerhold’s biomechanics are in themselves fundamental to the history of actor training in the twentieth century. As Živadinov’s work draws our attention to the physicality of inhabiting zero-gravity environments,
which astronauts on the ISS already do, his work also carries potential innovations into the future of the performing arts. It is the link he makes with Meyerhold’s work, which gives his artistic research the potential to redevelop our aesthetics of astrophysical knowledge. Astroaesthetics (Cervera 2016) may even redefine the concept of physical theatre to a radical extent. It provides a framework for humans to experience our relationship with the cosmos beyond Earth.. Indeed, what is the universe but a place to dance and to move?
Dr Felipe Cervera is a Lecturer of Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. He has published on collaborative research for theatre and performance studies with a focus on planetary methodologies in Global Performance Studies, Theatre, Dance & Performance Training, and in Text & Performance Quarterly; on the interplays between performance, astronomy, and astronautics in Theatre Research International and Performance Research; and on theatre and politics in The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics and Performance Philosophy. He is co-founder of the research ensemble, After Performance, and he serves as Co-editor of Global Performance Studies and Associate Editor of Performance Research. More at www.felipecervera.me
Through this brief history of ‘knowing otherwise’, we can detect a fundamental connection between the performing arts and the pursuit of astrophysical knowledge. Both fields can be seen as paths for us to learn more about our human selves. Not only do we employ theatrical metaphors to describe the universe, but we have also used our skies to stage our very greatest story: our own fate within that universe.
SPOOKY ACTING AT A DISTANCE Kurt Vanhoutte An Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Antwerp, and founding member and director of the Research Centre for Visual Poetics. He is also a member of the Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts (ARIA). His research investigates the effects of science and technologies on performance art as well as the ensuing impact on historical and contemporary notions of theatricality.
Kathy Romer Professor of Astrophysics and the Director of Student Experience for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, and a world expert in the discovery and exploitation of X-ray clusters of galaxies. She is principal investigator of the XMM Cluster Survey collaboration and is senior member of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration. Professor Romer was the astrophysicist who inspired Nick Payne’s Constellations.
Alexander Kelly A Reader in Theatre and Performance at Leeds Beckett University. He is also founder and co-artistic director of the UK based theatre company Third Angel, and their production 600 People, in collaboration with astrophysicist Dr Simon Goodwin.
Krister Shalm A Research Associate at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, CUBit Quantum Initiative, at the University of Colorado. His research currently focuses on developing tools to test foundational issues in quantum mechanics. In his science communication for TedX and Nature, among others, he has collaborated with a magician, musicians, and dancers.
On a trip to the theatre almost ten years ago, a conversation about multiverses was sparked. This was the premiere of Nick Payne’s two-hander science-based romance Constellations, at the Royal Court Theatre in 2012. Though the dialogue was taking place in my head, I had always wondered if my experience as a theatre practitioner might help me to identify with the greater concepts of physics and the cosmological universe. For this edition, I decided to seek out this common tongue with the people who I perceived to be voices in the relationship between theatre and physics; a collaborative theatre practitioner, a physicist-crossed-dancer, an academic dramaturg and an astrophysicist who helped inspire the play that started this train of thought. Might identifying with concepts of a ‘bigger here and a longer now’, non-verbal communication in partnered relation, toying with ‘double consciousness’ and the accumulative energy within a vacuum, help to further illuminate the interpersonal realm? Alexander Kelly, founder of the UK based theatre company Third Angel had a few enlightening conversations with astrophysicist Dr Simon Goodwin in a pub and together with the company’s director Rachael Walton, created critically acclaimed play 600 People (formerly 9 Million Miles) from their revelations on the subject. In fascination of a ‘bigger here and a longer now’, with fellow performer Gillian Jane Lee, their objective was to engage with the representation of scale; through ‘ritualistic performance’ they devised a
lived experience of space exploration. One thought being, how Kelly felt lonely on behalf of the long voyage of crewless space probes. A theme of frustration in not being able to grasp the topics too was touched upon in an off-shoot project, short film Technology by Chris Hall, an independent film-maker associated with the wider Third Angel collective. In the creation of a performance which has a time-restricted existence and non-transient engagement, Kelly also observed that his collaboration gave him access to ideas in the field of astrophysics and space exploration which he may never have engaged with otherwise. An example of this was in 2014 when the European Space Agency successfully landed a space probe on a comet, which Dr Goodwin had spoken to Kelly about its possibility some years before. Another tool of representation 600 People highlights is the physical demonstration of distance and size with commonly known objects such as melons and peppercorns. You can imagine the set-up; one being the sun and the other a planet and the distance between them showing their scaled-down relationship in space. Kelly was intrigued by Krister Shalm’s talk The Quantum Dance (TEDxWaterloo, 2012), a concept which describes how fundamental particles can be too far apart to communicate, and yet still have an effect on each other. This behaviour was famously dubbed ‘spooky action at a distance’ by Albert Einstein. Kelly saw a link with the way dancers communicate with one another and across distance, as Krister live-streamed with other dancers
Krister Shalm, ‘the dancing astrophysicist’ – dancing! © Krister Shalm
dancing the same routine, from around the world at the same exact time. . ‘That’s what fascinates me particularly with astrophysics and also quantum physics, that the scale (and the communication across them) is just so different to our day-to-day experience and how we share those ideas is for me the fundamental question why I’m interested in this sort of work.’ Dr Shalm, a self-described ‘quantum physicist who loves to dance’ is yet to incorporate his two passions into one project, though often uses the latter medium to help communicate the former. His separation of dance and his lab-based research in quantum mechanics is a very deliberate choice, as he recounts moments when in his early dancing days, he practiced lively swing-dance steps to the great annoyance of his colleagues working in the lab beside him, when he disrupted the sensitive tools during experiments. Whilst studying particles of light and their entangled relationship over distance, his understanding of the macro began to influence his ability to talk non-verbally with his dance partners. ‘You don’t need to use actual words to communicate with somebody … there’s a shared experience and you learn a lot about a person and how well you connect with them through dance.’ Dr Shalm, along with using dance analogies to better explain his research, he also uses dance to clear his mind when struggling with a problem ‘It kind of takes my mind off it and I get to be creative in a different way’. Though when it comes to using dance as a pedagogical tool in teaching physics, ‘it can give you the feeling or understanding or the intention behind it in a different way than 250 |
maybe a normal demonstration would.’ On the interchange, he continues; ‘I don’t think it’s a coincidence that styles like Cubism of the early 1900’s which referenced mathematical-like elements and has since been explored in connection to dimensions (Bodish, 2009) happened at the same time that science was starting to think about quantum mechanics, higher dimensions, relativity and space and time … I think the two have always influenced one another.’ The attempt to describe the multitude of events occurring when a dancer moves can be one of the most incomprehensible areas of study due to the extremely large number of small-scale processes going on simultaneously. The same problem applies to making sense of the microscopic behaviour of quantum mechanics, and we can only aim to understand such processes probabilistically. ‘There’s a very deep human need to answer those [larger] questions and I feel like the science work I do helped me answer a part of that question and the dance helps me to answer part of that question and together those two components help me to better understand who I am and what my place is in the Universe.’ On the topic of nineteenth-century relationships between science, performance and astronomy as a precursor to astrophysics in popular consciousness, I spoke to dramaturg and Professor in Theatre and Performance at the University of Antwerp, Kurt Vanhoutte. Having researched extensively the historical relationship of European theatre and astronomical developments, he recounts ‘Theatre in the nineteenth century had to be spectacular. Sensational entertainment
Video link: Dr Kathy Romer Why is the Universe expanding?, 2015 © University of Sussex
Video link: Technology, 2009 © Third Angel
and scientific demonstration were kind of a double helix, it was very difficult for the audience to tell them apart, it had to be entertaining and also insightful at the same time.’ It was also around this time, Dr Vanhoutte explained, that the new middle class began to feel a sense of wanting to be seen as ‘educated in science’ and so the table-top Orrery became the window into the representation of our solar-system. This tool was used regularly in performances also, with the aid of the early projection slide apparatus ‘The Magic Lantern’ to better illustrate the planets and stars and their progression through the zodiacs. This mythological or artistic element was heavily relied upon at the time to convey the topics, which Dr Vanhoutte says still plays a large part today. The recent NASA release of a photograph of a black hole, published in April 2019 with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, was the first actual observation of the subject. Prior to this, images were an artist’s interpretation of what one might look like which illustrates this heavy reliance on a medium we deem to be ‘realistic’ even when it’s not physically achievable. ‘I saw a show Move 37 by Thomas Ryckewaert, a Belgian artist, together with Thomas Herzog who had closely collaborated with Stephen Hawking, and the way in which they staged the black hole just with turning water and
filming it and talking about it, it reminded me of the nineteenth-century [theatre] because you had this ‘double consciousness’, a term coined by Tom Gunning and Thomas Herzog, a film scholar who wrote about early cinema. People weren’t looking at science and art, no, they were looking at both at the same time. It’s difficult for us to imagine but I think it’s coming back.’ This immediacy in sharing time and space with the audience, (touching on the concept of ‘liveness’) aided the feeling of immersion and encouraged a sense of belief in what, at the time of the nineteenth century, was extraordinary. The development of technologies like telescopes, Dr Vanhoutte recalled, came into theatre through street performers who would stand on Parisian bridges, renting out their telescope to on-lookers while constructing a poetic narrative, and though rarely accurate, would often be the audience’s first interaction with the stars. In a collaboration with Peter De Buysser and other practitioners on Tip of the Tongue (2017), Dr Vanhoutte has helped to conceptualize several immersive performances in planetariums in collaboration with CREW and several astronomers. One called Celestial Bodies (2014) aimed to better integrate a ‘lived experience’ in the understanding of different solar systems, especially for instance, those solar systems who have two suns
(such as Kepler-1647) which can be difficult to imagine if you inhabit a single sun solar system. Our ability to picture perspective in galaxies however has appeared to develop in direct relation to the movement of science from social settings into controlled laboratory environments, which has allowed for better funded and more sensitive equipment. Dr Kathy Romer, Professor at Sussex University and extraordinary astrophysicist taught me a multitude about nano-scale experiments and her exploration of dark energy, all the while confirming to me her muse-like influence in the field. Having been found by award winning playwriter Nick Payne as inspiration for his critically acclaimed show Constellations (2012) with the title role being an astrophysicist played by Sally Hawkins, many saw parallels between Marianne and Kathy, with her also being the only female Professor in astrophysics from Sussex. In actuality, Payne, Hawkins, and the show’s director had originally planned to speak with her colleague and head of their astronomy group, Andrew Lidl, at the recommendation of John Gribbin, (the writer of the controversial book In Search of The Multiverse (2009), Payne’s apparent reference point for the play’s themes). So even though the character had essentially been written before meeting Dr Romer, their visit still made an impression on her. ‘It was the best afternoon I think I’ve ever had in my career, and possibly in my life; it was brilliant because I was talking to such professionalism and creativity and insight.’ Though she jokes that some of the play’s uses of the topics at hand were a little clumsy, they actually name checked a project she was working on at the time, the XMM Cluster Survey. She remembers Hawkins spying the poster promoting the survey and still feels a great sense of excitement knowing her project was included in the final show. A self-described lab rat, she tends more to be ‘scrabbling around in computer archives with data and telescopes’ in comparison to the penand-paper ‘brainboxes’ who work in theoretical cosmology. As a member of the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a five-year survey that observes one-eighth of the sky using a 570-megapixel DECam, one of the largest cameras in the world based at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, she studies the force driving the Universe’s accelerating expansion – dark energy. The team comprises of more than 400 scientists and 30 institutions from around the world, and together
Celestial Bodies / CREW and University of Antwerp © Iris Luyckx / University of Antwerp
with the Department of Energy’s Fermilab, created Art of Darkness (2016) – an immersive exhibition using celestial images and 3D computer simulations, generated using the DECam. Measuring the speed of galaxies and the movement of our Universe has been a focus of her research since her PhD, ‘the most plausible explanation [for the acceleration in expansion] is that as the universe expands you’re getting more and more space creating an almost perfect vacuum. And because of quantum physics a vacuum cannot have nothing in it so … what we call vacuum energy density, which is where you have more vacuum, you have more space, you’ve got more energy density and that’s what’s pushing the expansion.’ This thought on vacuum energy density in the expansion of the universe took my mind to Peter Brooks’ pioneering theatrical concept of The Empty Space (1968) and its use in engagement of a reality, as seen on stage. (When the simplicity of a man walking across an empty space and someone observing it is all that’s required for an engagement of the imagination and its proposed reality.) A concept that nicely overlaps with a Newtonian question of the existence in absolute space. This also can be linked to ancient philosophy where the emptiness was also the term used for cosmic and transcendent, except by the Atomist School of Leucippus and Democritus who thought that emptiness is reality as much as matter. Upon my naïve remark on how galaxies might move Dr Romer confirmed that ‘galaxies inside clusters of galaxies do, as you say, dance! They move around, a lot like a swarm of bees. They are held together gravitationally but they have a random orbit.’ When communicating her work, she often uses analogies of common place objects such as coloured scarves to help explain the filters used with the DECam images that translate frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Ella has worked in the UK theatre and arts industry in varying capacities over the past decade, having trained part-time at reputed repertoires including Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Bristol Old Vic. She has performed in festivals such as Glastonbury and The Camden Fringe, written and produced independent shows for the West End with her creatives’ collective Fable Nova. www.fablenova.co.uk
ELLA K CLARKE
Thinking of moments of connectivity and effortless communication without a word exchanged in a partnered dance helped me to calibrate the thought of a co-relation of particles separated over space. In the writing of interviews of both scientists and artists, I found myself translating a type of ‘double consciousness’ in my words, foregoing a difference of style where the creativity and curiosity of both fields meet. And in posing the questions on ‘the bigger here and longer now’ I was engaging in a greater philosophical debate on the importance of understanding and picturing our place in an ever-expanding universe we still have so much to learn from. Perhaps unknowingly, all live performance has some interrelation with the complexities of our reality, both macro and micro.
VISUAL FINE ARTS
MIRRORING INFINITY Paul Carey-Kent
It is possible to track changing knowledge, attitudes, and expectations of astrophysics through the ways in which they have influenced artworks, from cave paintings to the modern day (Rappenglück, 1997; Powell, 2020; Wibowo, 2021). In the ancient Greek and medieval European worlds, the Earth was assumed to stand still while the heavens turned around it in accordance with God’s design (Livio, 2020). This geocentric, or Earth-centred, view of the universe – where the Sun, Moon, planets and stars are carried around by a series of nested spheres – is most closely associated with philosopher and polymath Aristotle (384-322 BCE) (Furley, 2003). The Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy was able to expand on this model through his own geocentric system, formulated about 150 BC (Carman and Díez, 2015). While philosophers at the time may have expected the planets to move in perfect circles, observations from the surface of the Earth showed apparently irregular movements (Jones, 2020). Ptolemy devised a model to explain this imperfection; he suggested that the elliptical paths observed ‘were a combination of several regular circular motions seen in perspective from a stationary Earth’ (Jones, 2020). Focusing on the more recent Western tradition and we might begin with the great Italian painter Giotto, who demonstrated an observational interest in astronomy. The ‘Star of Bethlehem’ in his Adoration of the Magi (c.1305-1306) is generally thought to be a realistic depiction of Halley’s Comet, which he would have seen in 1301 (Olson, 1979; Hughes et al., 1993). Indeed, Giotto was commemorated in the name of the first robotic spacecraft to fly close to this periodic visitor to our night skies in 1986 (Bowler, 2017). A fourteenth century Spanish illustration by Beziers shows a simplified cosmological diagram of the nested spheres of the Aristotelian system, including the four elements, seven planetary spheres, and the sphere of fixed stars, with four angels surrounding them, the cutting-edge of theories at the time (Furley, 2003). Following on, in approximately 1515, Albrecht Dürer collaborated with the mathematician and cartographer Johannes Stabuis, publishing both a perspective drawing of Earth as a
globe (Cosgrove, 2006; Gurevitch, 2014) and printed celestial maps which followed in the Arabic tradition of depicting each hemisphere separately (Warner, 1971; Phaidon, 2015; Phaidon and Hessler, 2015; Met Museum, n.d.) – the latter are woodcuts based on the work of Austrian mathematician Johannes Stabius and German astronomer Conrad Heinfogel. Ptolemy was one of the famous astronomers he added into the corners of the map, which is drawn as if the stars are distributed on the inside of a sphere (see: Phaidon, 2015). Dürer’s depiction of the constellations as animals was not only artfully arranged and evocatively characterful, but has proved enduringly influential for the art world. Although Sun-centred, or heliocentric, models of the Universe had been proposed previously, for example, in On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon by Aristarchus of Samos (c.310-230 BCE) (Heath, 2013), Nicolaus Copernicus is most famously associated with the demotion of the Earth from its position of centrality (Kuhn, 1957). And the Italian astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei was also a key figure in the Copernican Revolution, occurring in the decades following the publication of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (‘On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres’) by Copernicus in 1543 (Doak, 2005). Furthermore, Galileo played an important role in the early development and use of telescopes in astronomy, including making improvements to the design of the refracting telescope in 1609 (Cunningham, 2009; Biagioli, 2010). Only now, for example, could the distant moons of Jupiter be seen (Cunningham, 2009) and the Earth’s moon viewed in detail (Chapman, 2009). In 1610, he published his seminal work The Starry Messenger, which contained numerous drawings of lunar mountains and craters (see: Doak, 2005, p 52). They fed into a fresco painted by the Florentine artist Cigoli, a friend of Galileo’s, in the dome of the Pauline chapel of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (Ostrow, 1996). In it, the ‘immaculate’ Madonna stands on a craggy and imperfect ‘maculate’ moon, far from the mythically smooth sphere on which, following the edicts of the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic systems, Mary had stood in previous depictions of the assumption (Ostrow, 1996). By the nineteenth century, telescopes had increased in power (Cunningham, 2009), leading to the discovery of the outer planets and
other galaxies (King, 1979; Whitney, 1988). Some artist-astronomers, such as Étienne Léopold Trouvelot in France, blended the disciplines in poetic yet informative celestial observations (Corbin, 2007), and those then fed into more famous paintings, including the most iconic of all: The Starry Night, in which the swirling skies may reflect the recently enhanced understanding of spiral galaxies as much as van Gogh’s passionate and troubled state of mind (Olson, 2013). Then, the early twentieth century saw revolutions in art and science with some parallels; Cubism and quantum physics changed how we see the world, going radically beyond a ‘common sense’ point of view (Newbold, 1999; Plotnitsky, 2017; Schinckus, 2017). Picasso and Braque had little engagement with astrophysics. However, the move towards full abstraction, which they never embraced, frequently led to forms which suggested astronomical features: as in a fair proportion of Kandinsky, Delaunay, and Tobey’s work (e.g. Berry, 1995). Alexander Calder picked up the more dynamic theory of the world and beyond – as implied by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1916) – by making the first sculptures designed to move (Malloy, 2013). In A Universe (1934, see MoMA, 2021), a motor drives red and white spheres of differing speeds around a forty-minute cycle – the entirety of which Einstein himself is said to have observed, with interest, at Calder’s 1943 retrospective in New York (Crichton-Miller, 2015). Calder’s title suggests this is just one example among many demonstrating the ways in which bodies might move in the totality of space; this could be a precursor of the idea, which was not proposed in a scientific context in detail until Hugh Everett presented the manyworlds interpretation of quantum physics in the late 1950’s (Everett, 1957; Everett et al., 1973): multiple universes existing in parallel. One might call Calder’s mobile an imagined equivalent for astrophysical phenomena, and other artists have produced these since. Given his long-standing interest in Freudian theory (Warlick, 2001), the surrealist Max Ernst’s mandala-like painting Birth of a Galaxy, 1969 (see: (WikiArt, 2020), explores its own modest and largely subconscious creation as an analogy for the largest possible creation. Georges Lemaître first suggested the Big Bang in 1927 (see: Lemaître, 1931), a theory reinforced by Edwin Hubble’s observations (1929) that galaxies are speeding away from us in all directions, and the discovery of cosmic microwave radiation, interpreted as
Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life at Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Rooms Exhibition 2021 at the Tate Modern, London, UK Photo © Nathaniel Noir / Alamy Stock Photo
echoes of the Big Bang, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson (1965). Perhaps the most alluring artistic depictions of it are by Josiah McElheny (Weinberg, 2010). The American artist was inspired by the Lobmeyr chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera House, which were being made just as Penzias and Wilson published their findings (Browne, 2008): thinking they looked like pop renditions of the Big Bang, McElheny says he ‘had this quixotic idea to do modernised versions of the chandeliers as sculpture with secret information behind it’ (Browne, 2008). The first in the series, The End of Modernity (2005), uses 1,000 glass bulbs and 5,000 metal parts to depict the originating gaseous explosion (Spears, 2006), as informed by logarithmic equations devised by McElheny’s collaborator, the cosmologist David Weinberg (see: Weinberg, 2010). Island Universe (2005-8) quintuples the approach to suggest a multiverse: according to Weinberg ‘the rules for generating structure are different in ways that might correspond to varying amounts of dark matter and dark energy’ (Weinberg, 2021). Other works have looked to transmit the ‘experience’ of celestial encounters. Perhaps the most famous is Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (Tate, 2003), which used hundreds of mono-frequency lamps to create a hypnotic solar installation at Tate Modern. Simon Faithfull made an outdoor intervention with his Fake Moon, (2008) – a mobile facsimile which actually emanated from powerful film-making
lights housed in a 3m diameter helium balloon (Faithfull, 2013). Tomas Saraceno has engaged extensively with spider’s webs, presenting them as artworks and as the basis for alternative models for aerial habitation which chime with speculative possibilities for living in space (see: Ball, 2017; Da Silva, 2017; Saraceno, 2018). He had in mind the theory that the universe is structured like a sponge (Jones, 2008). That is suggested by the discovery in the 1970s that galaxies are not evenly distributed through space, as previously assumed, but are concentrated in highdensity galaxy clusters that are connected to other clusters in the universe thorough a complex network of tubes, filaments, and sheets, interspersed with voids which are almost galaxy-free (Gleick, 1986). Yayoi Kusama’s combinations of mirror and LED lights to create unending repetition have become cultishly popular as locations for selfies (Stromberg, 2018). Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013; see Kusama, 2013), extends the illusion into the suggestion of a starry cosmos. Such is the spectacle it is easy to forget that Kusama’s art stems from psychological trauma: she has hallucinated recurring patterns from childhood onwards, originally capturing them as painted dots and nets, leading on to her infinity rooms (Kusama, 2013). Leo Villareal’s Cosmos (see: Inselmann, n.d.), a site-specific installation at Cornell University in homage to its former astronomy professor Carl Sagan, achieves something comparable through
Contemporary artists also engage with the history and lore of astrophysics itself. For example, the influence of Dürer is obvious in Kiki’s Smith room-filling sculptural floorpiece Constellation (1996), made together with Venetian master glassmaker Pino Signoretto. We look down rather than up at 29 glass animals, many glass crystal stars and even more numerous tiny cast bronze animal droppings arranged upon a plane of nightblue Nepal paper (see: Nelson-Atkins, 2007). Both the positioning of the natural world in a celestial context and the equal weighting of mythical representation and the bodily presence indicated by the droppings are typical of Smith. Spencer Finch’s Star Map (2008), as installed in Stavanger, Norway, summarises our current knowledge through a multitude of illuminated painted glass globes: ‘their heights are determined by the star’s distance from the Earth’, and their colours by ‘the wavelength of light that the star emits’ (Finch, 2008). The power is provided via solar panels by our own star (ibid.). But the artist most prolifically connected to the theme in the past hundred years is, possibly, Joan Miró, who also connects heaven and earth in his 23 painting series The Constellations (1940-41), which is often seen as his greatest achievement (García Orozco, 2018).
main ways in which they have responded to that question: first, by using the latest technical innovations and extra-terrestrial explorations to feed into their art, giving the science a fresh inflexion; second, by moving beyond the known into more imaginative terrain (Rosson and Miller, 2021). On the technical side, becoming an artist in residence with a relevant research body has provided artists with new insights into the scientific process and access to the latest technology. For example, Dario Robleto at SETI (SETI, 2021), Aoife van Linden Tol at ESA (ESA, 2017), and Laurie Anderson at NASA (Anderson & Marranca, 2018). The latter, for example, has been associated with NASA since 2002 (ibid.). Her most recent completed project as artist in residence spanned three years leading up to an installation in 2018 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, in collaboration with mixed-media artist Hsin-Chien Huang (ibid.). Their VR simulation of the Moon allows for a trip blending science, fantasy and symbolism and is far from static – the different lunar phases are evoked and the Moon is at one point destroyed by mankind with radioactive waste from Earth. Viewers encounter constellations invented by Anderson, and symbols of things that have vanished – or seem about to: a dinosaur, a polar bear, democracy – ‘all of those things’, she has said, while introducing her Chalkroom VR installation, ‘that you think are so stable are so fragile, and can be lost’ (Jones, 2018).
It’s natural for artists to ask ‘what does space look like?’, and one can identify two
Our knowledge of astronomy has been greatly expanded by the Hubble Space
12,000 LEDs set in a 300 sq m ceiling: they follow Villareal’s own software to generate randomly mutating abstract patterns which evoke not just the look of the night sky, but also the ongoing evolution of the universe.
ma.r.s. by artist Thomas Ruff at the unveiling of the new exhibition titled Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979-2017, at Whitechapel Gallery, London. Photo © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Telescope (operative from 1990), and the subsequent programme of unmanned Solar System probes, including the Mariner flights to Venus, Mars and Mercury (1962-73), and the twin Voyager spacecraft that are exploring the outer planets (launched in 1977, with Voyager 1 entering interstellar space in 2012 (Murray, 1975; Meylan, 1991; Bizony, 2013; Witze, 2017)). There’s a sense in which astronomical photographs are already art: few images have had more impact than astronaut Bill Anders’ view of Earthrise taken looking back from lunar orbit during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 (Cosgrove, 1994; 2001; 2006); or such Hubble classics as Pillars of Creation (1995) (Greenberg, 2004) and The Whirlpool Galaxy (2005) (Mutchler et al., 2005). The German photographer, and serial non-camera-user, Thomas Ruff has made telling secondary use of such image sources. He’s said he almost became an astronomer (Ou, 2013), and for Stars (1989-92) he took details from negatives of the night skies shot in the Chilean Andes with a Schmidt telescope, which is designed to provide a wide field of view (Trimble, 1994; Ou, 2013). His selections were aesthetically grounded, setting up a contrast between their essentially abstract beauty and the representational and scientific purpose of the originating images. An interesting comparison is with Vija Celmins’ intense series of night sky drawings, based on photographic sources (see: Straine, 2010), which bring the macrocosmic vastness down to the intimacy of charcoal on paper. The ma.r.s. series (2011-13) also pairs science with aesthetics and equivocates – in a manner typical of Ruff ’s work – between fact and fiction. Named after the abbreviation for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Survey, they derive from roving satellite transmissions of images which Ruff was able to access online (Ou, 2013). He altered narrow black-and-white photographs of the surface of Mars, changing the perspective and adding colour (see: VAM, 2018) so that, he suggests, ‘the image turns into what you might see if you passed Mars in an airplane and looked onto its surface. Maybe it’s a view that we’ll have of the planets someday in the future’ (Ou, 2013). The images fed back from NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which touched down on the Red Planet in February 2021 (Taylor and Jackson, 2021), are the latest development in that narrative.
So, what of the future? Robotic exploration by unmanned spacecraft is likely to increase our understanding of space exponentially (Ulivi and Harland, 2012), especially if it becomes possible to explore planets in other solar systems in detail – the biggest question being, of course, is there intelligent life? Increasingly sophisticated computer simulations may well complement those explorations by helping us to understand what we cannot see (e.g. Taubner et al., 2020). Angela Bulloch’s Night Sky: Mercury & Venus (2010; see Harris, 2010) gives a flavour: the Anglo-Canadian artist programmed a computer to generate views of the universe through light-emitting diodes – but using space travel simulation software to show what would be seen from planets other than Earth (ibid.). She presented it in the particular context of Basel Münster in Switzerland: though she stressed that ‘it is not religious and neither am I’ (ibid.), the location reinforced such fundamental questions as where the world is and how it came to be.
David A Hardy (born 1936) (Gustafson and Nicholls, 1995). Hardy, who worked with Sir Patrick Moore for 50 years (e.g. Moore and Hardy, 1972) and painted the covers for many of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke’s books (e.g. Clarke, 1995) has explained that ‘with space art, you need knowledge of chemistry, physics, astronomy, and volcanology’ (Sayej, 2015). Antares 1 (1973) shows his informed expectation of the view from a planet orbiting a red super-giant star which has a tiny, bright-bluish companion. One might call such works evidencebased depictions now of what those future explorations may reveal. Sci-fi art shows more speculatively what may come about in the future. Both lie at something of a remove from the fine art mainstream, but such boundaries can be fluid. For example, painter Glenn Brown has based works on famous sci-fi illustrations. The Loves of Shepherds (2000, see: Lydiate, 2002) appropriates the cover of Robert A. Heinlein’s Double Star, originally painted by Anthony Roberts (see: Heinlein, 1973; Teilmann, 2007).
What will robot-crewed probes reveal? There is a long-running tradition of space illustration (see: Ramer and Miller, 2021), with notable figures including the French artist-astronomer Lucien Rudaux (1874–1947) (Miller, 2021a), the American Chelsey Bonestell (1888-1986) (Durant and Miller, 1983; Miller, 2021a) and Britain’s
Whatever the future holds, a fascination with space will remain a component of our culture, and artists will respond to that as well as to the astrophysics itself. Among the American artists to pick up on that, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol made possibly the most iconic works, and both were invited to join NASA’s ‘Artist’s
Visual Fine Arts Editor Paul Carey-Kent writes widely on art, including for Art Monthly, Frieze, World of Interiors and Border Crossings, and has a weekly column online at FAD Magazine. He curates shows regularly, most recently ‘A Fine Day for Seeing’ at Southwark Park Galleries. You can find him on Instagram @paulcareykent and read a wider range of writing, including photo-poems, at Paul’s Art World.
Cooperation Program’ (Miller, 2021b). NASA even invited a number of artists, including Rauschenberg, to witness the launch of Apollo 11 at close quarters (ibid.), and provided the maps, charts and photographs which he incorporated into his Stoned Moon series (1969-70) (see: Whiting, 2009). Warhol’s Moonwalk (1987) silkscreens are among his last works. Two decades on, Warhol’s combination of two distinct photographs of Buzz Aldrin and the American flag, both taken by Neil Armstrong, celebrates the subsequent place of the landing in the national consciousness as much as the original event (see: Rosenthal et al., 2012). This is emphasised by colours which are more glamorous than scientific, suggesting that the NASA programme was largely concerned with image. But, while there seems little doubt that artists will continue to engage with astrophysics, the nature of their engagement continues to evolve. One novel opportunity may soon be the possibility of going to the Moon for inspiration: SpaceX is planning a six day flyby trip taking Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa and up to eight artists there sometime around 2023 (Whyte, 2019). Who knows what might return?
Caroline Corbasson Caroline Corbasson is an artist whose work explores the scientific and natural worlds, particularly those reflected in the field of astronomy. She holds a BFA from Central St Martins, London, and an ENSBA from Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at Songwon Art Centre, Seoul, and BNKR, Munich. In 2018-2019, Corbasson was artist in residence at the Astrophysical Laboratory, Marseille.
The mysteries of the cosmos hold a special fascination for Caroline Corbasson. Her drawings, sculptures, prints, and films convey the dizzying sense of wonder that comes from gazing at the starry sky. Driving the young French artist’s multifaceted practice is an interest in human observation of the universe, and the technology that has been developed to help us better understand our place within it. Informed by science and the rich history of astronomy, her work mingles images of distant galaxies, star clusters, and deep space discoveries, with microscopic views of moon rock and stardust. Her research takes her from internet search engines and dusty libraries to advanced scientific laboratories and observatories, where she engages directly with scientists, and documents their activities. By traversing the space between casual observation of the visible heavens and cutting-edge advances in astrophysics, she hopes to challenge and shift our perceptions of space. Yet, while the objective eye of science is an important guide, it is the poetic and romantic possibilities of her subjects which animate her work. Astronomy is described as one of the oldest sciences (Rees, 2009), and Corbasson references this long history in her drawing Comet (2015), which depicts a Babylonian clay tablet recounting the observation of Halley’s Comet in 164BC (Corbasson, 2021). Her choice of charcoal, another ancient material that has been used since the days of cave painting, similarly speaks to the longstanding role that mark making has played in human progress and discovery. Indeed, the fundamental nature of drawing is extremely important to her. ‘I have always drawn, it has always been with me and is essential to me’, she explains. ‘Drawing is such an immediate practice and I really enjoy direct contact with paper’. In fact, it was drawing that first piqued her interest in exploring science from an artistic perspective: ‘I’ve always been attracted to science and its imagery, but it was during my time at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris that I discovered how important drawing was to its history’. Initially focusing her attention on anatomical studies, she soon shifted from human bodies to celestial ones, finding greater inspiration in the infinite reaches of the cosmos.
Comet, 2015, Charcoal drawing on paper, 105 × 75 cm © Caroline Corbasson
Touch (deep field), 2019. Charcoal drawing on paper, 240 × 215 cm © Caroline Corbasson
Corbasson’s early drawings often incorporated found objects, such as maps or scientific charts. Anomalia (2013), for instance, stemmed from the discovery of a vintage atlas of astronomy in which constellations were represented by multi-coloured dots. ‘When I saw these pages I was fascinated’, she recalls; ‘but I didn’t want to add any information, so instead, I tried to remove some’. Her solution was to draw a series of ‘black holes’ across the book’s pages, obliterating portions of the star charts with patches of dense charcoal. These stark forms visually disrupt the atlas, alluding to the gaps – or holes – in our knowledge about space and the nature of the universe, as well as mysterious black holes themselves. Astronomy has certainly made great advances since the atlas was first published in the 1950s, yet, as Corbasson’s drawing suggests, many more mysteries are waiting to be discovered.
- Caroline Corbasson
‘Astronomers hardly study coloured images’ 276 |
More recently, Corbasson has adopted a slick, photorealistic approach, rendering images of deep space with exacting detail. Huge charcoal drawings such as Touch (Deep Field) (2019), borrow from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Deep Field images, specifically the eXtreme Deep Field, which combines 10 years of Hubble images to reveal thousands of galaxies in a small area of sky in the constellation Fornax (NASA, 2012). ‘It’s known to be the deepest image of the universe ever made’, Corbasson explains. ‘It required an exposure time of two million seconds’ – that’s over 23 days – ‘and though the image represents only a tiny portion of the sky, it is full of celestial objects.’ In her drawing, the distinctive spiral galaxies and nebulous blobs resulting from collisions between galaxies shine against a pitch-black background. ‘Drawing this image with a poor and timeless material, was a way for me to appropriate this distance and immensity by making it more familiar, more tactile, and within reach’, she says. ‘It reminds me of a swarm of insects or a cloud of pollen’. Indeed, the drawing’s dynamism is a poignant reminder of the unseen energy and motion that fills the universe – it seems to teem with movement. Hubble, one of the most successful space observatories to date, was first launched into Low Earth Orbit in 1990 (Burroughs et al., 1991). Its observations have revolutionised astronomy and provided unprecedented views of the universe that have inspired a generation of scientists and artists alike (Mattice, 2008; Meylan et al., 2004). While NASA’s Deep Field images show a colourful array of stars, nebula and galaxies (NASA, 2019), Corbasson renders her drawings in black and white (Corbasson, 2021). In fact, she rarely uses colour, a decision which is at once aesthetic and conceptual. ‘Astronomers hardly study coloured images’, she notes; ‘and their data is often much less attractive than the way it is delivered to the general public.’ Many people are surprised to discover that Hubble’s images employ what is known as ‘false colour’; beginning as black and white, they are artificially coloured by NASA scientists in order to enhance details and other interesting features (Lynch and Edgerton, 1987).
‘I was quite disappointed to learn that the colours were fake’, Corbasson says; ‘there are flamboyant colours in space but the Hubble images we encounter are not faithful to reality.’ By removing colours, she causes us to see these images anew, returning each one to its essence, a record of distant light waves. Corbasson’s removal of colour also heightens the sense of mystery in her works. This is especially true of Collapse (2017), a towering image of the Horsehead Nebula screenprinted onto aluminium. The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most photographed objects in the sky (Gendler and GaBany, 2015); located in the constellation Orion, it is often used by amateur astronomers as a test of their observing skills. It was discovered in 1888 by the Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming, who captured the unusual shape on a photographic plate while working at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Waldee and Hazen, 1990). Modern eyes, however, are more familiar with vibrant composite colour images such as those released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which show the ghostly equine form gracefully rising from a mass of cosmic dust and gas (ESO, 2002). Conversely, Corbasson’s monochrome print, which is based on an ESO image, is more akin to Fleming’s initial grainy photograph of the dark nebula. ‘Personally, I am more moved by an old black and white photographic plate’, she says; ‘although such images are less defined and less colourful, they bear direct witness to the light deposited by the sky.’ While Corbasson’s palette appears less spectacular than ESO’s artificial colouring, it emphasises the Nebula’s enigmatic qualities, infusing the image with a poetic sensibility. A rare burst of colour is seen in JWST (2016), a series of ten hexagonal copper and brass plates that Corbasson heated and oxidised to stunning visual effect. Evoking images of deep space, their mottled surfaces appear like embryonic star systems in cosmic wombs of primordial gas; their shimmering palettes range from coppery red and vibrant orange to watery
JWST, 2016. Heated and oxidized brass and copper, 100 × 100 × 25 cm © Caroline Corbasson
Stardust, 2016. Charcoal drawing on paper, 150 × 210 cm © Caroline Corbasson
blue and silvery turquoise. ‘The various applications of heat and chemical solutions accelerate the ageing of the materials and reveal their properties’, Corbasson explains. ‘Each shade of colour shows the temperature at which the material was heated, referring us to the extremes of space, where blue is extremely hot and red is extremely cold.’ The series is titled for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which, unlike Hubble, is an infrared observatory (Gardner et al., 2006); the longer wavelengths of the infrared range enable scientists to see embryonic stars and planets that would ordinarily be hidden behind clouds of light-absorbing dust (Kalirai, 2018). As well as experimenting with colour, Corbasson plays with scale. For example, her huge drawing Stardust (2016), shows an actual fragment of cosmic dust as it appears under an electron microscope. Without this knowledge, the billowing form is hard to place, evoking smoke, a cumulus cloud, or even a large nebula. Such ambiguities are welcomed by the artist: ‘I like switching from one scale to another; one can totally confuse views made with a microscope with those made with a telescope.’ The interplanetary particle in fact measures just a few micrometres across and is only one speck from the thousands of tonnes of cosmic dust that are estimated to reach the Earth’s atmosphere and surface every year (Plane, 2012; Zook, 2001). A similarly disorienting effect is seen in the video installation Lunarama (2019), in which microscopic views of moon rock fragments bear an uncanny resemblance to actual photographs of the lunar surface. Their otherworldly nature is heightened by the accompanying electronic soundtrack with its unearthly humming and fluttering static noises. The formal elegance that characterises Corbasson’s drawings and prints is also present in her three-dimensional works, such as Blank I and Blank II (2015). These tall, freestanding sculptures comprise slender black steel frames that hold mirror blanks – the raw glass discs used in the fabrication of telescope optics. Each blank is screen-printed with a black and white image from Hubble’s Deep Field, showing clusters of stars and galaxies suspended in deep space. Unlike the artist’s drawings, however, they are
shown in negative, so that each celestial object registers as black, while areas of empty space are represented by thick, semi-opaque glass. ‘I had the opportunity to discover the incredible art of making telescope mirrors thanks to Emmanuel Hugot, a French astrophysicist’, Corbasson explains; ‘It left a deep impression on me. A mirror can require several hundred hours of polishing in order to achieve a perfectly smooth surface – down to the micron.’ With a diameter of 2.4 metres (Christensen and Fosbury, 2006), Hubble’s primary mirror is considerably larger than the modest discs of Blank I and Blank II and, unlike amateur telescopes, is capable of capturing light emitted from some of the farthest objects in the universe (Gendler and GaBany, 2015). But the raw, incipient state of Corbasson’s mirror blanks nevertheless chimes with the data they display; images of eons-old light emitted by celestial objects when the universe was similarly in its nascent stages. While it is truly mind-boggling to consider the time and distances involved, Corbasson is fascinated by the way that science and art can make such phenomena accessible on a human scale: ‘These data, which are beyond us, become almost tangible on this medium, on the scale of a domestic mirror, in which we could look for our own reflection,’ she muses. Indeed, peering into deepest space to observe slivers of the cosmos from a time before even our sun was born is not unlike looking in a mirror, since both activities can teach us something about ourselves and our place in the universe. Corbasson met Emmanuel Hugot and other scientists at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM), a scientific research centre in southern France where the artist undertook a yearlong residency in 2019. The state-of-the-art astrophysics laboratory is responsible for designing, manufacturing, and testing innovative on-board instruments for satellites and large ground observatories (LAM, 2021). ‘I have developed a particularly close relationship with the LAM,’ she says, ‘and I have been very inspired by my exchanges with scientists, which greatly nourishes the preparatory phases of my works.’ At the time of Corbasson’s residency, LAM was involved in the development of a near infrared spectrometer and photometer instrument for the Euclid space telescope, a project of the European Space Agency (Zamkotsian et al., 2010). The device will be an
Blank III, 2015. Screen print on telescope mirror blank, concrete, 35 × 30 cm © Caroline Corbasson
Still from Looking for you, 2019. Film, sound, 10’33 © Caroline Corbasson
Still from Atacama, 2017. Film, sound, 19’30 © Caroline Corbasson
essential tool in the telescope’s mission to map ‘up to two billion galaxies and dark matter associated with them’ (Nieto et al., 2020) and produce the most detailed threedimensional map of the universe ever (ibid). After its launch in 2022 (ESA, 2020), it is hoped that Euclid will help scientists better understand the nature of dark matter and dark energy – mysterious properties of space that are among the greatest challenges of contemporary physics, astronomy, and cosmology (Comelli et al., 2003). At LAM, Corbasson was fascinated by the pristine, dust-free environment in which the Euclid scientists were working. In response, she produced the short film Looking For You (2019), which poetically documents various elements of the laboratory environment. In order to film in LAM’s ‘clean room’, she had to don a special gown, gloves, mask, and shoe covers, while all of her equipment had to be thoroughly cleaned and dusted. Such rigorous protocols focussed her attention on the minutiae of the operation: the decor, the furniture, the colours, the specialised tools and processes, as well as a myriad of incidental details. Her camera lingers ‘on small, fragile details which seemed incongruous, sometimes sculptural, taking a playful look at this Mecca of scientific research’. Although Looking For You shows scientists performing experiments, testing equipment, and studying data, it was less the object of LAM’s research that fascinated Corbasson than its symbolism. As with much of her work, the film’s real subject is humanity’s relentless quest for knowledge. ‘Human beings are a curious, inquisitive, exploratory
species. I think that has been the secret of our success as a species’, declared Carl Sagan in his famed 1977 series of Christmas lectures at London’s Royal Institution. ‘But why must we seek?’, asks Corbasson; ‘What is it that we are really looking for?’ Such questions have become the beating heart of her practice. Looking For You extends the themes of Corbasson’s first film, Atacama (2017). Set at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, the film presents a discursive portrait of a site similarly animated by those searching for the origins of the universe. At 2,635 metres above sea level and enjoying clear skies with no light pollution, the arid, windswept desert is one of the best in the world for ground-based astronomy (Abbott, 2011). It is also the driest non-polar desert on Earth, attracting astrobiologists interested in studying how life might survive among the stars (e.g. McKay et al., 2003). Containing a world-class collection of telescopes, the observatory hosts ground breaking projects such as the Next Generation Transit Survey, which aims to discover new planets orbiting nearby stars (Wheatley et al., 2018). For Corbasson, however, it was the contrast between the advanced technology and its dusty environs that struck her. ‘I thought I was going to be spending nights gazing at the sky’, she recalls, ‘but it was the desert’s surface and the millions of rocks that caught my attention’. Demonstrating Corbasson’s eye for the abstract, Atacama brings together these two extreme environments, juxtaposing the observatory’s pristine surfaces with the hostile landscape they inhabit. That conjunction suggests that the terrestrial and the extra-terrestrial perhaps have
JWST, 2016. Heated and oxidized brass and copper, 100 × 100 × 25 cm © Caroline Corbasson
David Trigg is a writer, critic, and art historian based in Bristol, UK. He holds a BA in Fine Art Painting, an MA in History of Art, and a PhD in History of Art. He is a regular contributor to books on art and has contributed articles, reviews and interviews to publications including Studio International, Art Quarterly, Art Monthly, ArtReview, Frieze, The Burlington Magazine, Art Papers, and MAP.
more in common than we might at first imagine. Corbasson’s next film will take her deep underground, into the 3km-long tunnels beneath Mount Ikeno at the Kamioka Observatory in Japan. The site is home to the Kamioka Gravitational Wave Detector (KAGRA), which uses gravitational waves (the minute distortions of spacetime that Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted) to collect data about black holes, neutron stars and the early development of the universe (KAGRA Observatory, 2020). ‘I am so grateful to be able to access these singular locations and want to work in this direction more and more’, Corbasson enthuses. But as much as the cuttingedge apparatus and scientific expertise fascinate her, she will once again be searching for the site’s poetic potential as she observes the observers. ‘My work really consists in extracting the poetry of science, taking an offbeat look at these places and the data that is produced,’ she says. ‘You wouldn’t expect it in cold, aseptic laboratories and ultra-technological observatories, but poetry is everywhere.’
KATIE PATERSON APRIL - JULY 2022
INGLEBY GLASITE MEETING HOUSE 33 BARONY STREET EDINBURGH EH3 6NX WWW.INGLEBYGALLERY.COM
Walmer Yard forms a discreet and private set of four interlocking houses, set around an open courtyard. This building, designed and crafted by Peter Salter together with Fenella Collingridge, and developed by Crispin Kelly, is the reflection of a long education and the product of a decade of learning, thought and inspiration. From the play of light, shadow and colour, to the intense celebration of materials and constantly fresh sequences of spaces, these houses celebrate what architecture can deliver at the domestic scale. Here, we aim to increase the public understanding of what architecture can do, rooted in the experience of Walmer Yard. www.walmeryard.co.uk
Stay here, join us for a tour or take part in one of our events.
WRITTEN BY PIPPA COLE, CHRIS FLUKE, ABI FROST, ALASTAIR GUNN, & TOM HAWORTH
INTRODUCTION 0.1 Opening statement 0.2 Definitions 0.3 Paper Outline 0.4 This Paper’s Thesis
TACTILISATION 1.1 Introduction 1.2 A Multimedia Universe 1.3 The Cosmic Web 1.4 3D Printing 1.5 Conclusion
SONIFICATION 2.1 Introduction 2.2 The Technical Side 2.3 Case studies 2.4 Accessibility 2.5 For Artistic Reasons 2.6 Conclusion
3 4 6
VISUALISATION 3.1 Introduction 3.2 Visualisation in Astrophysics 3.3 The Use and Misuse of Colour 3.4 Cinematic Visualisation 3.5 The Future 3.6 Conclusion
COMMUNICATION 4.1 Introduction 4.2 Journal Articles 4.3 Conferences 4.4 Conclusion
DIVERGENT THINKING 5.1 Introduction 5.2 In Science 5.3 Conclusion
61 Opening 6.2 Summary 6.3 Concluding remarks | 291
0.1 OPENING STATEMENT It takes real imagination to comprehend the Universe, all thirteen billion light years of it. Whilst mathematics and statistics are, predominantly, the tools used to understand its mysteries, non-numerical insights are key in order to identify the right questions to ask in the first place. No astrophysicist has ever travelled back in time to the Big Bang, flown through the atmosphere of an exoplanet, or witnessed a galaxy form, and yet they are required to envision, develop, and methodise systems for understanding these processes. Symbols of the cosmos can be found in works encompassing all forms of creative practice. From Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), to golden stars swinging from necklaces, or the epic galaxy vistas of Hollywood blockbusters, there is widespread appreciation for the beauty of the night skies. However, the impact creative disciplines can have on astrophysics is more subtle, less appreciated and easily missed, even by practitioners.
0.2 DEFINITIONS Astrophysics can be defined as the application of the laws of physics to astronomical objects, including planets, stars, and galaxies. Astrophysics is closely related to the fields of astronomy, which is generally understood to be an observational discipline, and cosmology, which is the study of the laws of the universe as a whole.
0.3 PAPER OUTLINE There are three main sensory practices which are currently employed by astrophysicists: tactilisation, sonification, and visualisation. They have been harnessed both for their ability to communicate interpretations of scientific data amongst scientists and to the general public, as well as for encouraging creative and divergent thought processes in scientific research. In this article, we explore to what extent they have been successful on these two counts. We ask whether there is potential to make better use
of their unique perspective on the field of astrophysics, and where technological advances will play a role in the future of sensory-driven data handling and presentation. Creative disciplines can play a substantial role in communication between scientists, as well as to the broader public. From drawing doodles on blackboards, to plots in journal publications, to listening to chirps in amongst a noisy signal. Non-textual renderings of both theory and data are used for understanding and explaining scientific concepts at all levels from the classroom, the office or laboratory, to the conference hall. The same is true of public engagement and outreach. Visual, tactile, and auditory presentations of complex concepts have proved successful at explaining even the most abstract of thoughts to those who might think that astrophysics is out of their reach. There are tangible examples, such as the use of graphics and sound for data visualisation, where indigestible tables of numbers are replaced succinctly by images or audio. Creative works can provide an overall impression and conclusion, where inspecting each constituent datapoint individually would be unilluminating, and impossible on a large scale.
0.4 THIS PAPER’S THESIS Creative disciplines might also influence the ways in which scientists formulate ideas, in a less tangible way. Whilst science is often thought of as a rigid, rule-based endeavour, progress springs from creativity and abstract thinking. There are far more similarities than might be expected between the working processes of creatives and scientists. Picture the archetypal artist, in dungarees, with paint in their hair, and prototypes strewn across their cluttered loft. Now, picture an astrophysicist (admittedly a theorist), with rolled up shirt sleeves, chalk in their hair, and surrounded by crumpled, discarded pieces of paper. Both images conjure up the notion of free-thinking creatives. Could more space be made for scientists to harness the freedom of thought and expression that artists hold as a prerequisite for producing high-quality work? It is, in fact, a great shame that the arts and sciences are so often defined in very distinct and separate realms, even at the earliest stages of the education system. There are such complementarities to both the process and the output of creative and scientific disciplines, that it could be enriching and valuable to allow greater flux between them. Whilst many of the articles in this edition explore the ways in which astrophysics has been interpreted through creative disciplines, in this piece we aim to celebrate the converse. Namely, to highlight the valuable impact of creative disciplines on astrophysics, and to encourage room for creative influences in astrophysics research and the communication thereof.
1 TACTILISATION 294 |
1.1 INTRODUCTION Touch is one of the first ways humans start to explore and experiment; babies use their hands and mouths to literally get a feel for the world around them. Touch remains a powerful way of learning throughout our lives, with studies showing that learning methods employing hands-on activities help to instil concepts into long-term memory (Cridlin, 2007). Additionally, for some, tactilisation is not only a benefit, but it can be one of the only ways to learn. But how does one ‘touch’ the Universe? Thanks to recent efforts and developments, many tactilisation initiatives now exist, which assist both research and outreach, allowing an increasing number of people to get their hands on the heavens.
1.2 A MULTIMEDIA UNIVERSE Size scales are immediately tangible through touch. For example, a lesson developed by Bernd Weferling describes the size scales of the Solar System, with a grain of sand representing the Earth, a large marble the gas-giant planet Jupiter and a basketball portraying the Sun (Weferling, 2006). Another workshop by José Alonso and collaborators uses cardboard and felt to describe the phases of the Moon. The smooth cardboard represents the bright region of the moon, whist the felt represents the area in shadow (a new moon would be completely felt, whilst a full moon would be completely cardboard) (Alonso et al., 2008). The book Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy (Grice, 2002) developed by Noreen Grice (operations coordinator for the Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Boston Museum of Science) provides a way to feel the findings of the Hubble Telescope. This telescope has provided us with gorgeous images of various astrophysical phenomena, from illuminated shells of gas and dust around ageing stars to star forming nurseries or interstellar clouds known as ‘nebulae’. These images have inspired the public and astronomers alike, but given their visual nature, are not directly accessible to those who are visually impaired. The book presents
Stellar Spaghetti, concept dish, 2021. The textured surface of the squid ink tuile with sprinklings of finely grated lemon zest. Image credit © Julie F Hill. More from this artist on pp 396-397.
not only Hubble images, but also the telescope itself and our Solar System in a way the blind and visually impaired (BVI) can explore (Grice, 2002). Each image is embossed with different textures which translate to colours, shapes, and other aspects of the objects. For example, raised lines represent blue, rings are shown in dotted lines and gas is represented by waves (Grice, 2002). Grice also developed a similar book prior to this called Touch the Stars which included tactile line drawings of constellations and planets accompanied by descriptions in braille (see: Beck-Winchatz and Riccobono, 2008).
1.3 THE COSMIC WEB The so-called ‘cosmic web’ (Bond et al., 1996) describes how structures are interwoven throughout the Universe. If gravity acts as we expect, clusters of galaxies grow hierarchically from small galaxy building blocks, which then attract larger galaxies and eventually form clusters. The positions and filamentary patterns of the galaxies are a tracer for the underlying dark matter distribution. Mark Neyrinck portrays this concept in his project ‘Folding a Tactile Cosmos’. He uses origami to approximate sheets of dark matter, where the rules of folding are directly derived from the distribution of galaxies found by galaxy survey VIPERS (Neyrinck et al., 2018). Origami is governed by beautiful mathematics, and Neyrinck uses this as a tool for teaching in his course ‘Origami Mathematics and Cosmology’ at Johns Hopkins University, as well as for increasing engagement from addled conference attendees. The project itself was influenced by origamist and former physicist, Robert Lang (pp 146-161), who used origami and the underlying mathematics as inspiration for designing spacecraft solar panels that unfold after launch (see: Lang, 2007). The most ambitious example to date, the James Webb Space Telescope, is set to unfurl its golden primary mirror and 5-layer, tennis court-sized sun shield ‘like a transformer in space’ (NASA, 2021). It is even possible to download an origami template of the design from NASA’s website, ‘Webb and Origami’ (ibid.)
1.4 3D PRINTING Tactilisation is, by definition, a 3D endeavour, as the perception of texture and scale is always a result of the third dimension. With the advent of 3D printing, creating tactile depictions of astrophysical objects has become much easier and faster. Studies have found that 3D prints are an effective method for communicating the shapes of objects such as Eta Carinae (a stellar system with a huge dusty structure surrounding it from an eruption) which are still the focus of astrophysical study today (Madura, 2017). 3D prints of the Moon and planets allow people to quantify and compare their topologies and surface structures (Jones and Gelderman, 2018) in a more direct way than viewing a contour map or plot, which might
otherwise be used. In 2014, Carol Christian and Antonella Nota of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore revisited Hubble’s images using 3D models. 2D images of stellar clusters were re-imagined with 3D computer models and digitally sliced into layers, each with a different touchable pattern and Braille characters. When printed, the user can explore the cluster layer by layer, simulating a fly-through where all the different physical parts of the cluster (such as gas, dust, and stars) are independently identifiable (Christian et al., 2014; Grice et al., 2015). While the audience of this project was mostly high-school students and non-specialist adults, as 3D modelling and printing technology improve, more and more complex phenomena can be turned into tactile objects, and it is plausible that such techniques could be used to aid frontline research. Already, the methods that astrophysicists use to decompose images into layers for 3D modelling and printing have been adopted by researchers in the medical imaging community (Brewis and McClaughlin, 2019). A team from Northumbria University 3D printed heart tissue to identify which regions were presenting abnormalities, and state that they were directly ‘inspired by astrophysical methods’ (ibid.). This is an even starker example of how challenges in one field, namely astrophysics, can be overcome with the aid of tactilisation, and go on to rebound and influence another scientific field entirely. The University of Portsmouth’s ‘Tactile Universe’ project has also made use of 3D printing to communicate galactic science to those who are blind or visually impaired. 3D relief maps of a sample of galaxies allow comparison of their morphologies and display their inclinations (Bonne et al., 2018), which would be unfathomably difficult through description alone. The success of this project, which has just received two more years of legacy funding from STFC, one of Europe’s largest research organisations, demonstrates how tactilisation is serving astrophysics research by captivating and recruiting a wider audience. Some of them may go on to become astrophysicists themselves; many will remember and spread the notion that astrophysics research can discover and describe the indescribable.
1.5 CONCLUSION These pioneering works have shown that different astrophysical information, such as composition, morphology, and inclination can all be communicated through touch. Within astrophysics these are some of the core properties that we use to understand the behaviour of astronomical objects. With the expansion of these projects, novel techniques will be uncovered to be utilised by the whole astrophysics community, whilst at the same time promoting inclusivity for those who rely on tactilisation to learn and communicate.
2 SONIFICATION 298 |
2.1 INTRODUCTION Sound, music, and astronomy have long been intertwined. In Pythagorean cosmology the numerical proportions that govern musical perception are also considered to drive the evolution of the celestial bodies; the ‘music of the spheres’ or ‘musica universalis’ (see pp 194-205). From Haydn’s Il Mondo della Luna (1777) and Holst’s The Planets (1914-1916), to contemporary compositions such as George Crumb’s Makrokosmos IV (1979) and Terry Riley’s Sun Rings (2002), the myriad mysteries of outer space, and their relation with the human condition, are themes often explored in tune. The actual synergy of musical (or acoustical) expression and scientific endeavour is, however, largely a modern phenomenon (Hui et al., 2013; Volmar, 2013). Although Ridley Scott tells us that ‘in space no one can hear you scream’ (Alien, 1979), space itself is not entirely devoid of sound. Even the depths of space are not a complete vacuum, so sound is still able to propagate. But these sound waves are undetectable due to their extremely long wavelength and low amplitude. Astronomers have actually observed (although not heard!) the effects of sound waves in the environments of supermassive black holes and the bubbling surface of the Sun, and even in the depths of interstellar space (Ocker et al., 2021). And although there were no humans around to hear it, the Big Bang did in fact create sound; evidenced by tiny temperature variations in its relic radiation (Eisenstein, 2016). The echo of the Big Bang is loud, near the pain threshold of the human ear, but with wavelengths measured in hundreds of thousands of light years, it is completely imperceptible.
Fuel, 2018. Oil on canvas, 60 x 40 cm. Artwork and © Hannah Payette Peterson
But if the science of sound in outer space is largely hidden, within the dense environs of planets’ atmospheres it forms its own branch of physics; acoustics. As well as being studied scientifically, sound has also been utilised for scientific investigation; the stethoscope, the seismograph and the Geiger counter are all examples of instruments that process, register, or use sound for the purposes of science. However, until recently, the auditory sense was rarely used to represent or conceptualise scientific data, particularly data not originally of an acoustic nature. The process of representing data with sound is commonly called ‘sonification’; a term first used in 1989 to mean the ‘auditory counterpart of data visualisation’ (Reuter et al., 1990). A more precise definition is perhaps that given by Gregory Kramer; ‘the transformation of data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation’ (Kramer et al., 1999). A related technique, called ‘audification’, is the ‘direct translation of a data waveform to the audible domain’ (Dean, 2009), and is usually applied to data that has inherent periodicities or is a natural time series. Many scientific disciplines have employed sonification and audification techniques, as research aids, as a means of popularising science, to aid the visually impaired, for artistic exploration, or simply for entertainment. In recent years the use of sonification has become an important part of the scientist’s commitment to the public understanding of science and is now as much
a part of the ‘interactivity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ conversation as other sensory areas. It is also a recognised method of exploring the synergies and complementarities between the arts and the sciences (Supper, 2014. Since the 1990s, the process of sonification has begun to pervade many scientific endeavours in increasingly creative ways. It is no longer a neglected scientific tool, but one seen as complementary to other forms of data representation. Indeed, utilising the human brain’s capacity to process complex data streams with the auditory sense is demonstrably superior to other methods. Furthermore, for the visually impaired scientist, whose auditory processing skills are often heightened, auditory representations provide the opportunity for them to fully harness their additional insight.
2.2 THE TECHNICAL SIDE There are many techniques and processes used to convert data (or represent it) as audio signals. Commonly, a series of data points are mapped in pairs to time and pitch (frequency). Multidimensional data sets can also add timbre (or instrument) or loudness (amplitude), while many researchers also strive for personal creative expression in the sonification process (Ben-Tal and Berger, 2004). Some notable examples of the process, from diverse scientific disciplines, include the musical representation of amino acid sequences in proteins (Dunn and Clark, 1999), the sonification of meteorological data (Polli, 2005), the audification of ocean buoy data (Sturm, 2005), the acoustic
representation of molecular vibration spectra (Delatour, 2000) and the sonification of rainfall (Burraston, 2012). In terms of pure research, sonification can be extremely helpful in the interpretation of large datasets which can be compacted into sound, revealing patterns and features to the human ear that are not immediately apparent in the raw data.
2.3 CASE STUDIES NASA’s Wind mission (Wickes et al., 2016), has sampled the solar magnetosphere and interplanetary space eleven times per second for the past 19 years, generating more than 6.6 billion individual magnetic field measurements (Lepping et al., 1995). A scientist from NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center identified instrument-induced noise after audification of the data which they had not previously been able to filter out (Alexander et al., 2014). This is a crucial step, both for isolating interesting signals, and for understanding the uncertainties and errors of the measurements. Without the audification process, the analysis may have taken far longer, reported larger error bars, or even worse, misinterpreted false signals as real. Similarly, when Voyager 2 visited Saturn, micrometeorites were successfully identified from ‘hailstorm sounds’ in the sonified data which were indistinguishable otherwise (Scarf et al., 1982). In fact, the first radio waves from space were detected in 1933 when Karl Jansky reported audible hisses in his antenna (see: Gibney, 2020). These examples demonstrate the value that sonification can add to astrophysics research,
even amongst the sighted community. However, it is of paramount importance to consider how inclusive astrophysics research is to those who are blind and visually impaired, and how sonification can diversify the astrophysics workforce. Sonification is also an incredibly effective tool for the public dissemination of astronomical research. Notable examples include the sonification of Rosetta mission data (ESA’s Singing Comet), NASA’s Earth+ system (NASA, 2009), which makes satellite imagery accessible to the visually impaired, and the inspiring audible ‘chirps’ that accompanied the announcement of LIGO’s discovery of gravitational waves (Abbott et al., 2016). Sonification techniques are often applied to ‘light curves’, the variation of the brightness of an object with time. Here, the brightness (or ‘flux’ in scientific terms) is simply matched to pitch (or sound amplitude for wide spectral data in which frequency is matched to pitch). One of the simplest, and perhaps commonest, examples is the direct conversion of radio pulses received from ‘pulsars’, the compact, fast-spinning, highlymagnetised remnants of exploded stars (Roads, 2001). A direct audio conversion often produces a thumping for slow rotators or simple tones within the range of human hearing for fast rotators. Kiziltan (2014) has used these pulsar signals like instruments, to produce a composition for an orchestral quartet. Droppelmann and Mennickent (2018) have used optical brightness variations of variable stars so that one unit of normalized brightness corresponds to one musical semitone. The technique allows composers
Carina Nebula Dreamscape, 2016. © Daniel Ambrosi More from this artist on pp 328-329 Underlying imagery courtesy of The Hubble Heritage Project. 303 (STScI/AURA). Credit for Hubble image: NASA, ESA, N Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage| Team Credit for CTIO image: N Smith (University of California, Berkeley) and NOAO/AURA/NSF
the freedom to interpret and embellish a score based on the melodic line obtained from real astronomical data. Images can also be transformed into sonic descriptions. Recently, a project has been turning astronomical images from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes into sound (Arcand et al., 2021). In one example the translation begins on the left side of the image and moves to the right, with the sounds representing the position and brightness of the objects in the image. The pitch of the sound depends on the vertical position of the object, while the intensity of the light controls the volume. Stars and compact sources are converted to individual notes while extended clouds of gas and dust produce an evolving drone. The results are faintly eerie but full of rich detail. Matt Russo of the University of Toronto has also explored similar translations of the rhythm and harmony of the Cosmos into music and sound, with the sci-art outreach project called ‘SYSTEM Sounds’. (see pp 206-219).
2.4 ACCESSIBILITY Of keen interest to many researchers, and members of the public, is the accessibility of science (and its data) to the visually impaired. A leading researcher in this area is Wanda DíazMerced, one of only four blind professional astronomers in the world (Gibney, 2020). Despite losing her sight during adolescence, she was inspired by hearing an audio representation of a solar flare, and chose a career in astrophysics. Today she is a leading proponent of the sonification of astronomical data and a campaigner for better accessibility of science. DíazMerced follows the usual approach of converting aspects of data, such as the brightness or frequency of electromagnetic radiation, into audible elements including pitch, volume, and rhythm (Díaz-Merced et al., 2011). However, her work shows that the usual methods of data representation, in which different frequency components or dimensions in data are permanently separated, often hide important relationships. With sonification, astronomers can listen to all the different frequencies together, or hear all dimensions together, and pick out the sought-for signal from the noise. But perhaps her greatest success with sonification is in demonstrating that a combination of audio and visual interaction, even for sighted astrophysicists, increases the human sensitivity to these perceived signals (Díaz-Merced, 2014). Her work has opened new avenues of research into the accessibility of astronomical data by the visually impaired. For example, a simple system devised for non-astronomers, in which a star’s distance, position in the sky, brightness and colour are all encoded sonically, was developed by Ferguson (2016).
2.5 FOR ARTISTIC REASONS In 2007, the Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank, UK, was used as an instrument during a semi-improvised, specially-commissioned musical composition. The composers, Jem Finer (of The Pogues) and collaborator Ansuman Biswas, used live radio data fed from the telescope as it tracked celestial objects across the sky, while sounds of its motion from microphones attached to its structure (and buried beneath it) were seamlessly combined with the aural landscape. By relegating the performers to the background, and allowing different streams of sound to control the evolution of the piece, the installation highlighted the telescope itself, its terrestrial location and the deep expanses of space and time which it explores. A lesser-known technique is the modification of audio signals by space itself. The best example is Pauline Oliveros’ 1987 Echoes from the Moon, an installation and performance device for transmitting and receiving radio signals bounced off the surface of the Moon (Kahn, 2013). It eventually evolved to use a 150-foot-diametre radio antenna in Stanford, California. More recently, in 2007, artist Katie Paterson (see pp 028-045) created Earth-Moon-Earth in which a Morse code representation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was bounced off the Moon, transcribed into musical notation, and played back to the listener. A similar technique was used in 2010 by indie-rock band Doves, harnessing the altering effects of the Earth’s ionosphere and the motion of the Moon itself, to adjust a guitar phrase beamed by radio from an Earth-bound antenna (Bainbridge, 2010).
2.6 CONCLUSION The exploration of astronomical data with sound, and the pursuit of musical/sonic expression with astronomical data, are both still relatively new disciplines. For the former, techniques are being defined and refined continuously and will likely become more important as astronomers move into an era of truly staggering data gathering capability (Cooke et al., 2017), such as the 9 billion gigabytes of data to be collected by the upcoming Square Kilometre Array (Scaife, 2020). Sonification demonstrates a very real synergy between the subjects and their proponents, not only in the collaborations it engenders. In sonification, both disciplines use the same source material and processes; the only difference is whether the result is interpreted logically or presented aesthetically.
3.1 INTRODUCTION The cultural and scientific origins of astronomy are directly linked to the human actions of looking and seeing. Whether based on casual sky-watching or systematic observation, the emergence of the science of astronomy relied on knowledge of both predictable behaviours and the identification of objects that varied their positions (planets as ‘wandering stars’) or brightness (the rare appearance of a supernova or the passage of a comet). The regular behaviours of the Sun, Moon, and stars were a prompt for prediction (the Sun rose yesterday, the Sun rose today, so the Sun will rise tomorrow), a critical resource for navigation and way-finding, and a motivation for long-term record keeping (Hoskin, 1999; North, 2008). To the modern astronomer, the night sky is also a source of vast quantities of data. Astronomy has progressed over many thousands of years through improved accuracy in measurements of celestial data, and methods for preserving and presenting that data. What began with inscribing naked eye observations on clay slabs, or steles, in ancient astronomy hotspot Mesopotamia, has blossomed into a wide variety of collection and storage mediums. Today, astronomical datasets are gathered with optical and radio telescopes, particle detectors, or as the output of computer simulations. The majority of these datasets are stored in digital formats, which has simplified the process of sharing and archiving this information for future generations of scientists (and artists!). However, collecting data for their own sake is not enough. What good are data if they cannot lead to new discoveries, insight, understanding, or even wonder ? Data visualisation is the process of turning data into a visual form. The goal is to aid faster and more effective analysis than looking at tables of numbers. As visualisation expert, Edward Tufte, stated “Often the most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a set of numbers – even a very large set – is to look at a picture of those numbers” (Tufte, 2001, p 9).
Space Jelly by Bompas & Parr Photo credit: Jo Duckn. More from these artists on pp 368-369.
3.2 VISUALISATION IN ASTROPHYSICS In astronomy, and indeed all sciences, data visualisation plays many different roles. By supporting the exploration of data – looking for features, trends, or outliers – visualisation can aid discovery. As discussed in further detail in Section 4, once a discovery has been made, or new understanding has been developed, a visualisation is one of the most effective ways to explain and demonstrate this insight to other experts in the field. Astronomical data visualisation includes the use of two-dimensional images (equivalent to digital photographs), three-dimensional data projections, and many different graphing techniques (including scatter plots, line plots, histograms and bar charts). Visualisations are an efficient way to obtain a qualitative understanding of the properties of astronomical objects. They allow comparisons to be made between different objects, or with scientific models and theories. Finally, data visualisations can provide quantitative measurements of size, mass, or other properties that are not even visible to the naked eye. For example, false colour images can aid the visualisation of ‘invisible’ signals such as ultraviolet or radio emission, heat or ionisation mapping, or magnetic field lines and strengths. It is also possible that no data processing is required in order to create an influential visualisation. Astrophotography, both amateur and professional, produces stunning images, but it can directly impact astrophysics knowledge too. For example, Oumuamua, the first asteroid confirmed to have originated outside of our Solar System, was spotted by Luca Buzzi using his telescope and digital camera (Bartels, 2018). Visualisation also plays an important role in communicating concepts. Open any textbook on astronomy, and it is full of images, charts, and depictions of phenomena that were derived from the original scientific exploration and data gathering. Visualisation helps to provide inspiration and wonder to a very broad audience. Very few sciences are quite as accessible to the general public. Astronomy provides spectacular imagery, supported by stories of wonder, that take us away from our day-to-day concerns. Here we see a return to the cultural motivation of representations of our knowledge of the sky, and the important role that artists play in creating new ideas and interpretations of astronomical data.
3.3 THE USE AND MISUSE OF COLOURS There are many different ways that astronomical data has been recorded and conveyed in visual formats. Thousands of years ago, knowledge of the motion of celestial objects was encoded in architecture through iconic monuments such as Stonehenge or the solstice-aligned Temple of Amun-Re in Karnak, Egypt. Tables of information were etched into stone tablets by the Babylonians or inked onto parchments by the early Chinese astronomers (Hoskin, 1999; North, 2008). Astronomical knowledge was even embedded into costumes, songs and ceremonial dances, such as those of the peoples of the Torres Strait (Hamacher et al., 2018), with performance playing a key role in the display and transfer of understanding. None other than Galileo, the ‘founding father of modern physics’ according to Einstein (NHHSM, 2021), relied heavily on drawings to make his most ground-breaking inferences about the Sun and the Moon. He methodically drew sunspots at the same time each day, thereby monitoring their movement over time (Istoria e Dimostrazioni Intorno Alle Macchie Solari e Loro Accidenti Rome (History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and their Properties, 1613)) , as well as sketching the patterns on the dividing line between the light and dark side of the Moon, convincing himself of the existence of its mountains and valleys (Galileo, 1610; Whitaker, 1978). Out of these artistic renderings, the scientific method was born. Today, astronomers are building upon this long history of artistic and creative modes of representation. They can share and present animated visualisations of their findings on desktop monitors, mobile screens, or projected on largescreens to an audience at a conference or workshop. Through collaboration with artists, astronomers can even help to create new dances (8 Minutes, performed by the Alexander Whitley Dance Company (see pp 46-61), with planetary scientist and science-art advocate Dr Hugh Mortimer), interactive virtual reality experiences (One in the Universe, a collaboration between artist Anastasia Victor, astrophysicists Mark Neyrinck and Miguel Angel Aragón-Calvo, and neuroscientist Michael Silver), and textiles (Fabric of the Universe, by Isaac Facio and computational astrophysicist Benedikt Diemer). In a hi-tech extension of Neyrinck’s cosmic origami, Facio and Diemer 3D printed solid models of the cosmic web – since, for Diemer, 3D visualisation is a key component to scientific exploration of this topic. For example, wall-like features in amongst the tangle
of filaments that connect clusters of galaxies can’t be easily realised in two dimensions (Diemer and Facio, 2017). However, there are still a good proportion of astronomy research papers that exhibit unoptimized imagery. Some suffer from ‘chart junk’ (Borkin et al., 2013), and the rainbow continues to be a source of colour inspiration, despite the known issues it presents for perception and data representation (Crameri et al., 2020; Moreland, 2016). Astronomical observations are conducted across the electromagnetic spectrum, encompassing gamma-rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible and infrared light, and radio waves. It is only in the visible portion of the spectrum where colour, as we perceive it, has any meaning. Instead, it is necessary to appeal to the use of ‘false colours’ to provide a version, say, of an image from a radio telescope that can be compared with a visible light image. For detailed recipes for the creation of visually appealing colour astronomical images using digital image-processing software, see Rector et al. (2007) Tourney et al. (2015) summarise a series of works exploring the impact of technologies on engendering trust that an image being presented is a faithful representation of the true object. While a mapping between data and colour (including shades of grey) is unavoidable if the goal is to create a viewable image, colour can be highly misleading. Additionally, without detailed understanding of how a particular data gathering or display technology works, the technology itself may add artificial signals that are represented as misleading colour in the final image. When developing data visualisation for a scientific exploratory purpose, aesthetic quality is usually a secondary consideration. As long as the visualisation achieves the goal of providing the required qualitative or quantitative insight, then the choice of colour or the use of principles of composition can be overlooked. However, when the audience of the presentation becomes those not involved in the journey of discovery, more attention should be paid to the choice of colour mapping and composition to make the message clear to experts and non-experts alike. The need for an understanding of visual literacy, and the importance of combining the scientific and aesthetic possibilities of images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), was demonstrated by the Hubble Heritage
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Project team (English, 2017) for nearly two decades from 1998-2016. The goal was to utilise the HST’s unique imaging capabilities to deliberately take data that would have scientific value, whilst favouring objects that would inspire the public. This included presenting images of galaxies and nebulae that were rotated with respect to the way that astronomers were accustomed to viewing them, in order to better capture and retain attention. In what began as a bid to engage the public, the scientists behind NASA’s JunoCam program found themselves instead being inspired by their audience. Members of the public voted on when to click the camera shutter on board the Juno spacecraft, which is studying Jupiter. They could then process the raw data and create renderings of the images that were captured. Candice Hansen, who led the project, says it has provided a ‘whole new picture of what Jupiter looks like’ (Bartels, 2018), even leading to discoveries of unusual pop-up storms at the planet’s poles which were highlighted by the new perspective that members of the public brought to the images. Their use of colour picked out structures in a very different way to how scientists usually processed the data and demonstrates the unique benefit that an artistic perspective can bring to astronomy. Hansen reflects, ‘I thought I could, but I can’t draw that line (between art and science) anymore’ (ibid.) Smith et al. (2011) undertook a comprehensive survey of nearly 9000 respondents, including experts and non-experts, to understand how different audiences viewed astronomical images. They found that aesthetic factors were the initial ‘hook’ to draw a general audience in. Lindberg Christensen et al. (2015) identified the importance of photogenic resolution, definition (scaling between the relative values of bright and faint objects), colour, composition, signal-to-noise ratio, and the removal of artifacts introduced by the imaging technology. Together, these six factors were likely to have the biggest overall impact on the effectiveness of an image that was true to the science and captured the public’s interest and attention.
3.4 CINEMATIC VISUALISATION Astronomical datasets are often incomplete. This might be due to a technology limitation (e.g. a computer might not have sufficient processing capability to simulate all of the physical properties of a particular object) or the vagaries of astronomical observation (e.g. insufficient observing time was available on a telescope in order to detect very faint objects or the only night available for an observation fell victim to inclement weather). Additionally, some aspects of astronomical objects cannot, and will likely never be seen, from our sole perspective within the Solar System. For example, the underlying three-dimensional structure of galaxies must be inferred by analysing two-dimensional images combined with measurements on the movement of stars and gas (referred to as ‘kinematic’ properties). Recent work by Dykes et al. (2021) is providing new ways to explore and understand the true structures of galaxies. By developing their own computer software, they can break down one of the barriers to exploration – the computer programs available to astronomers for analysing data are often not suitable for producing aesthetically pleasing or cinematic quality visuals. A growing trend in astronomy visualisation is to look to advances in computer animation and digital media design. Software developed for computer generated imaging (CGI) effects in motion pictures is being used to generate ‘cinematic visualisations’ from astronomy data, which are best experienced on large-format screens (see the tutorial introduction to cinematic visualisation by Borkiewicz et al. (2019a). Of particular interest are finding new ways to explore and share results from computer simulations. Cinematic visualisations allow the viewer to become a cosmic explorer, traversing millions of light years in a matter of minutes, unconstrained by the billion-year timescales on which many of the Universe’s processes take to play out. In fact, while advising on the science behind 2014 blockbuster Interstellar, Noble prize-winning theoretical physicist Kip Thorne supplied the visual effects team with equations that would enable them to simulate space and time bending around black holes. What he didn’t expect, was that owing to the incredible resolution that their computer-generated images could achieve, they would actually further our scientific understanding of black holes. They found an ‘amazingly complex, fingerprint-like pattern of starlight near the edge of the black hole’s shadow’ (Merali, 2018), which time and moneylimited simulations by physicists had not been able to capture. Thorne says that the movie’s visualisations are ‘our observational data … that’s the way nature behaves. Period.’ (Rogers, 2014).
Image: Transmission Call, 2012. Still of sculpture.. Wood, glass, aluminium, ABS, full parallax holographic print, single point light source. 90 x 60 x 50 cm © Mark Eaglen Video: Transmission Call, 2012. Installation view, HD two channel video © Mark Eaglen. See pp 356-359 and p320.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing further development in cinematic visualisation is the need to convert from the arcane digital formats used by astronomers to something that can be loaded into industry-standard packages such as Houdini (Naiman et al., 2017, Borkiewicz et al., 2019b) or the opensource Blender software (Kent, 2013; Naiman, 2016). However, once a suitable workflow has been developed, astronomers can share their solutions and successes with others. By opening up astronomical datasets to the creative talents of the cinematic industry, astronomers and digital artists can work together to present an accurate yet compelling picture of the Universe that enhances the power of storytelling.
3.5 THE FUTURE As the quantity and complexity of astronomical data continues to grow, there is a need for collaboration and co-development of new ways of representing and exploring data. Too often, the astronomer’s visual exploration is impeded by the rectangular frame of the computer screen. What are the alternatives for viewing, and interacting, with astronomical data? Consider the possibilities presented by lowcost consumer-grade virtual reality (VR) or extended reality (XR) headsets. The fully
immersive nature of these devices is an excellent match to the three-dimensional nature of many astronomy datasets. VR presents an all-sky extension to the hemispherical planetarium dome, which has served effectively as a proxy for the night sky when presenting to the public. Yet there has been surprisingly little adoption or application of VR or XR in astronomy for scientific data exploration. While there are promising signs that this is changing (for examples, see Fluke and Barnes, 2018 and Jarret et al., 2020), the full potential of immersive environments for data exploration is still yet to be harnessed (Fluke et al., 2006). As with cinematic visualisation, barriers include the lack of appropriate software and a need to convert between data formats. There is also the vexing nature of interaction. Astronomers are used to sitting still to analyse their data – typing on a keyboard, fidgeting with a mouse. The untapped opportunity for creative collaboration is to experiment with movement. Does it make more sense to teleport between locations, walk around your data, or fly? How do we select data? What should do we with our arms, our hands, or our feet? Can VR provide us with a way to disconnect completely from the distractions of the office to reach a deeper level of connection with our data? Astronomers are often restricted
from experimentation by a need to focus solely on scientific questions. The display technology is there to serve them in seeking answers. Understanding the true role of XR technologies in advancing astronomy is likely to need guidance from dancers, performers, and digital artists. Incorporating head-mounted displays and other wearable devices into our scientific ‘costumes’, and performing intricate collaborative dances with colleagues distributed across the globe, perhaps the astronomer of the future is not so far removed from the traditions of the past. It is worth noting that the use of visualisation techniques in astrophysics are not, or should not be, restricted to the realm of observers and big data alone. Theorists, too, express abstract ideas visually or graphically in order to convey how a hypothetical model describes the Universe that we observe. The challenge moves away from a problem of how to represent huge quantities of data points, to how to best frame a mathematical description of a physical concept. Whilst a mathematical model with just two variables can be easily plotted with a two-dimensional line plot, many models have far more dimensions. For example, the simplest model of dark matter and dark energy has six parameters, the viable ranges of which are usually presented in pairs (Planck Collaboration, 2018). However, could some
higher dimensional visualisation technique, for example VR, combined with tactilisation and sonification, move towards describing and exploring theoretical models that transcend the 2D page or screen?
3.6 CONCLUSION By applying knowledge from the visual and creative arts, all types of astronomical data visualisations could improve. Why should aesthetics be reserved for creative industries? What if the process of visual discovery could be enhanced by breaking away from the limitations of the twodimensional screen and the Cartesian plane? If scientific software is the limitation, then it’s time to look to the creative fields for alternative ways of working. Creative practitioners can ask the questions that astronomers have forgotten to ask, or don’t know how to ask, challenging our perceptions of what our theories and data actually mean. Artists can also show astronomers new ways of visualising their ideas and working with data, offering alternatives in terms of modes of presentation or through experimentation with the use of technology.
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4.1 INTRODUCTION The ability to convey the findings of scientific research is paramount to progress. Collaboration and critique of each other’s work are crucial; varied perspectives aid problem-solving, and having a greater number of scientists from different backgrounds contribute to a piece of research has been shown to result in better science (Adams, 2013; Freeman & Huang, 2014). Additionally, through presenting and sharing the methods and data used in an astrophysical study, results can be reproduced, facilitating accountability, which ensures scientific integrity. That said, sharing astrophysical findings can be done in a number of ways, so what are the most successful ways of transferring knowledge between astrophysicists?
4.2 JOURNAL ARTICLES It could be considered that the primary form of scientific communication between astrophysicists is the journal paper. A paper is a scientific report where the authors introduce the context of the results they wish to share, explain how they obtained their results and present and discuss them. While the written word is the main form of information transfer in a paper, it is very rare for an astrophysics paper to contain solely text. A key component of many astrophysical papers is their figures, which take the form of graphs, plots, simulation results, and real astrophysical images. The saying goes that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and while this phrase is perhaps most commonly associated with journalistic writing, astrophysicists and researchers also know the value of a well-placed image. The benefit of using pictorial representations of scientific data has long been known; astronomical findings from ancient Egypt and Greece were documented in the form of drawings as early as 4000 BC and illustrated medical books represented a turning point for modern science (DiMaio et al., 2006). Aside from the abstract, figures are, perhaps initially, the most eye-
O.S.T.R.I.C.H. Jupiter worn by an earthling © Dawn Faelnar. More from this artist on pp 348-351
catching elements of a paper. They are used to convey facts and often the main results of the article. An equation can, often, be more easily absorbed by the reader if it is plotted graphically, as the relation between physical quantities that the equation describes are clearly displayed (Dansereau & Simpson, 2009). For observational papers, the data obtained from telescopes is presented, usually in the form of tables and graphs. Theoretical papers on the other hand present the results of computer simulations of astrophysical phenomena, which astrophysicists use to quantify the behaviour of physical phenomena occurring in the Universe instead of data from telescopes. These papers tend to present the mathematical equations used in the computations and graphs and plots to present the results. The value of figures in portraying astrophysical information has led to the development of increasingly advanced imaging and visualisation tools. We have come a long way from hand-drawn figures in papers, with journals now including electronic figures that are linked to papers online, allowing real-time views of videos of the simulations used in the scientific works. Furthermore, software such as GLUE (GLUE, 2021) allows for the development of multi-dimensional datasets, allowing the linking of different datasets and multiple kinds of visualisation simultaneously, greatly increasing the amount of information that
can be shared and explored. Aside from the visual aspects of journal papers, the writing style itself can, or should, draw influences from the literary arts. It is often assumed that research writing isn’t the place for pace, a compelling narrative, or the communication of tension or emotion. However, no matter the subject matter, information is communicated most effectively when there is a story in which the reader can invest. Popular science writer Randy Olson, who has devoted books to the cause of improving research writing, says ‘being able to communicate the science you’re doing is the be-all and end-all. Scientists are trained to believe that the facts speak for themselves. That’s just wrong. Science values large datasets, but human brains aren’t programmed to digest them. Rather, they’re programmed to follow a sense of narrative, which is strongest at the opposite limit, when focused on an individual and an emotional cause.’ It is exactly this injection of narrative into astrophysics that has led to Hollywood blockbusters such as Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), or The Martian (2016). But why should storytelling be reserved for the big screen? Attempts are made by some journals to structure paper submissions with distinct headings and ‘hard edits’, however many astrophysics journals do not review submissions on the basis of the writing style, solely the research content. Whilst this should of course be the main priority, there is certainly
scope for literary style and narrative to be incorporated in the paper writing process, so as to communicate the science most effectively, to the broadest audience.
4.3 CONFERENCES Sharing information through videos and graphics is also extremely important when astrophysicists communicate over short time-scales, which is often the case when astrophysicists share their work at conferences. Two primary forms of presentation occur at these conferences; poster sessions and oral contributions. Here, the combination of visual and oral transmission of information enables efficient sharing of scientific results and ideas. Talks at conferences can last anywhere between 5-40 minutes depending on the length and format decided for the conference. Most presenters will use presentation software that allows inclusion of sound and video, increasing how effectively they can convey the key messages of their research in the time allowed. Poster presentations at conferences also blend the oral and visual modes of communication. Posters are usually A3-A0 in size and available to view for the entire conference. A study within medical science has shown that 94% of people agree that
poster imagery is most likely to draw a viewer’s attention over subject content (Rowe and Ilic, 2009), so taking the time to design an eye-catching poster is arguably as important as having good results to present. When conferences are in person, ‘poster sessions’ or designated timeslots within the schedule allow conference participants to browse the posters between talks. Authors of the posters are encouraged to stand by their posters so they can answer questions, and expand on what is visually displayed on the poster. When online, poster ‘flash’ sessions are more common, where poster authors have a mini talk slot to advertise their work and signpost the audience to their online poster. This mode of presenting is particularly aimed at junior researchers, who have not been given a slot to speak in the main programme.
4.4 CONCLUSION Through the combination of all these different media, having eye-catching, clear and concise ways of presenting astrophysical results is necessary. While the papers, posters and presentations used to communicate in astronomy are currently made by the astrophysicists themselves, increased collaboration with artists could develop truly unique ways of promoting better communication between researchers.
Most people would probably agree that there is a fair bit of thinking involved in being an astronomer or an astrophysicist. However, most astronomers have probably never formally considered or reflected upon the unique forms that thinking can take, nor the frameworks for enhancing thinking in any particular way. Like most of us, thinking is just something that they do, like walking or talking. First of all, what is divergent thinking and how is it distinguished from other modes of thought? Sometimes it helps to define something by thinking about its opposite, which in this case is referred to as ‘convergent’ thinking. Convergent thinking refers to a process which draws upon known information to address a well-posed question or problem (Japardi et al., 2018; Razumnikova, 2013; Zhang et al., 2020). For example in teaching, a convergent assessment (Fry et al., 2008) might refer to a set of questions with clearly-defined correct answers (and therefore by extension, clearly defined incorrect answers, such as in standardized testing). This is a good description of most physics problems given to students, where the goal is usually to calculate a specific quantity, such as the orbits of planets or the luminosity of stars. Convergent thought – the application of established ideas like equations to well posed problems – is what most people would probably associate with physicists.
Transmission Call, 2012. Close up view of the holographic form within the sculpture © Mark Eaglen. More from this artist on pp.356-359 and p 313.
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So, what is the difference between convergent and divergent thought? ‘Convergence’ is the gathering of something to a point whereas ‘divergence’ is the spreading of something from a point (in mathematics and physics there is a quantity called the divergence to measure this). The left-hand panel of Figure 1 illustrates the concept of convergent thought as introduced above: established ideas and known information gather together (converge) to solve a problem or answer a question. In contrast, the right-hand panel of Figure 1 illustrates the concept of divergent thought: new approaches and ideas are generated (diverge) from the original question or problem. This notion of idea generation or innovation is at the heart of divergent thinking and has been associated with creativity (Abraham et al., 2012). To further clarify the distinction, it is helpful to return to the idea of convergent assessment, which embodies the typical kind of question posed to physics students (use equations to calculate some quantity based on a given scenario). In contrast, a divergent assessment could be an essay, performance, artwork, architecture, music or otherwise that is inspired by the problem, question, or theme. For a divergent assessment, the definition of ‘correct’ is much looser and as a result, a strong element of creativity has been introduced. For a further, more formal, overview of divergent thinking, see Baer (2014). The examples given previously for divergent thinking were (almost) all associated with the arts, whereas the example for convergent thinking was associated with the typical physics question. This has introduced a well-
established stereotype: that the sciences are a rigid application of established facts to solve problems, devoid of creativity, while the arts foster creativity at the expense of logic and established process. Ergo, that scientists are polar opposites of artists. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
5.2 IN SCIENCE So is the scientific framework devoid of divergent thinking and, if not, how does it manifest? First of all, answering a question might require convergent thinking, but what kind of thinking is required to identify and ask a question? This is a divergent, creative thought process in two key ways. The first is having the creativity to identify the general theme of the question as something of interest. The second is being creative in the way you ask that question. For example, asking a really big question like ‘How does a planet form?’ or ‘why are planets the way they are?’ leads to a series of other ideas and questions through divergent thought processes, such as ‘where do planets form?’, ‘when do planets form?’, ‘are different types of planets formed in different ways?’, ‘how many different types of planets are there?’. Each of these generated ideas subsequently leads to numerous other questions and ideas through further divergent thinking. These novel ideas can then be coupled with convergent thinking (drawing on available experience, such as proposed theories and existing observations) to ask new, wellposed questions which can be addressed through research and empirical evidence.
Figure 1. A naive astronomers view of convergent and divergent thinking
Figure 2. Illustrating how astronomers might use a combination of divergent and convergent thinking to pose realistic science questions
This is illustrated in Figure 2, starting with the big question ‘how do planets form?’. This question motivates a plethora of other questions, each of which could lead to additional divergent chains of thought. In this example, the secondary question ‘Is planet formation affected by environment?’ has been expanded further. It is known that most (if not all) planets are born from flattened discs of material around young stars (Brogan et al., 2015). However, these stars form in large groups called clusters, so early on in the planet formation process, stars within the same cluster can influence the development of each other’s discs. A star may fly too close (Dai et al., 2015) and gravitationally disrupt another star’s disc, or it could shine ultraviolet light upon another star’s disc, which causes it to evaporate (Haworth and Clarke, 2019). So, by a process of combined divergent and convergent thinking an astronomer arrives at a new question asking how the environment can impact disc evolution, and potentially, planet formation. This further triggers, through creative thought, a cascade of other questions. How common is it for a planet-forming disc to be affected by its environment? Which is more important, gravitational encounters or irradiation (see Winter et al., 2016 for an answer)? Does planet formation actually get affected by this environmental influence, or is it just the discs? This process goes on and on and at each step along the way, a researcher can draw upon their knowledge (using convergent thinking) to ask whether they can address the particular question at hand. Eventually the answer is yes, and then there is a viable new research project. In addition to the above, the process of drawing upon established ideas and the tools at one’s disposal to determine whether a question can be answered is also an extremely creative process, akin to an artist choosing how to express an idea through different possible media and techniques. Is a computer simulation required? Are the observations needed in visible light, infrared, radio waves? How faint are the objects that need to be observed to answer the question? How large are the objects that need to be observed? How should the light detected with the telescope be interpreted? In practice, these ‘convergent’ and established elements still require application in a way that necessitates divergent thought.
5.3 CONCLUSION What really takes a long time to develop in the training of a researcher (typically far beyond a PhD), is the creative ability to identify and ask the most important questions that can feasibly be addressed with obtainable tools and methods. Without such creative skills, researchers simply wouldn’t find anything new, because they wouldn’t be capable of asking the right series questions that lead to novel, yet solvable, puzzles. Given the overwhelming discoveries to have emerged from astrophysics research, it is clear that both notions of creative and divergent thought are necessary and abundant in the astrophysics community.
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6.1 OPENING Datasets don’t speak for themselves. Neither does maths, nor code, nor any of the other tools that an astrophysicist has in their box. Some form of translation is always necessary to interpret the output of the cosmos, which often only speaks to us in numbers. That translation process may take place inside the astrophysicist’s head, where a mathematical theory is linked to physical understanding through their own creative thought process. Or, more literally, visual, audio and touchbased representations of numbers and data lead to clarity and conclusions from the noise.
6.2 SUMMARY The sensory practices of tactilisation, sonification and visualisation have all shed light on astrophysical data in imaginative and innovative ways. They have been used to discover new interpretations of impossibly large volumes of data, and are therefore themselves, scientific research tools. They have also facilitated the communication of scientific concepts amongst scientists, in print, in discussion and on stage at conferences. Perhaps their most stark example of success has been in communicating astrophysics to the public. Their unique ability to re-cast data in forms that are able to reach those who are visually impaired or have hearing impairments have made incredibly inspiring and worthwhile astrophysics outreach projects a reality. However, tactilisation, sonification, and visualisation are not just about ‘learning playfully’ (Diaz Merced, 2019).
Whilst innovative modes of visualisation have had an undeniable impact on astrophysics research, tactilisation and sonification have only been modestly explored. Not only do they have the potential to discover signals and patterns hiding from plain view, the astrophysics community has the opportunity to diversify and become more inclusive for blind and visually impaired scientists via the implementation of these techniques. Finally, the process of divergent thinking, a creative endeavour, has been shown to be just as applicable in the scientific framework, in terms of posing questions imaginatively, which in turn aid the search for solutions.
6.3 CONCLUDING REMARKS Despite the inherent connection between creativity and astrophysics, there is plenty of scope for better harnessing the power that various art forms uniquely have for explaining the abstract. There has been a relative lack of attention shone on these creative influences in astrophysics, which suggests that there is opportunity for improvement and growth. New technology, both on the scientific side producing new data challenges as well as on the creative side facilitating new sensory experiences, will undoubtedly drive the connection and complementarity between the creative and scientific disciplines in the years to come. Rather than shying away from the fact that creative disciplines and astrophysics have more in common than the respective parties might like to admit, all the more fruitful to encourage mergers and crossovers between the two. When trying to make sense of the building blocks of our, at times, unfathomable Universe, it is never truer that seeing, (hearing and touching) is believing. Creative processes bridge, and make possible, that leap of faith.
02 STUDIO LAB
Daniel Ambrosi is recognized as one of the founding creators of the emerging AI art movement and is noted for the nuanced balance he achieves in human-AI hybrid art. Ambrosi combines computational photography and artificial intelligence to create exquisitely detailed artworks. His artworks have been exhibited internationally, installed in major tech offices, featured in multiple publications, and collected by patrons worldwide.
CREATIVE STATEMENT On April 24 2007, in celebration of the 17th anniversary of the launch and deployment of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers released one of the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble’s cameras. The image is a 50 light-year-wide view of the central region of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of star birth, and death, is taking place. Over nine years later, in late 2016, with access to a proprietary version of Google’s Deep Dream artificial intelligence software, modified expressly for my artistic purposes by two brilliant software engineers, Joseph Smarr (Google) and Chris Lamb (NVIDIA), I saw the opportunity to transform this spectacular image into a metaphor for human imagination and ingenuity.
Carina Nebula Dreamscape is the final installment in my art series, Dreamscapes 2: From Inner Space to Outer Space, which explores the creative application of artificial intelligence to ultra-high-resolution imagery ranging from microscopic to cosmic scale. In this piece, I intentionally chose a ‘dreaming’ style deep in the AI’s neural network, resulting in animalistic hallucinations only perceptible upon close inspection. In my view, the infusion of a myriad of AI-generated creatures into this Hubble image is quite fitting given that mankind has been imagining creatures in the stars for millennia. When one considers the science and technology that had to first be developed before this image could be created (optics, rocketry, astronomy, semiconductors, computer science, computer graphics, AI, deep learning), it boggles the mind. It is my hope that when viewers engage with this image, they are not only inspired by the sheer vastness and beauty of our universe, but that they might also sense the infinite potential of man-machine collaborations in both science and art.
Carina Nebula Dreamscape, 2016. Dreamscape Detail #1 image and link to 30 second, 60 frames/second, HD video loop © Daniel Ambrosi Full work and further work from this artist available at www.danielambrosi.com/Carina-Nebula-Dreamscape/ Underlying imagery courtesy of The Hubble Heritage Project. Credit for Hubble image: NASA, ESA, N Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Credit for CTIO image: N Smith (University of California, Berkeley) and NOAO/AURA/NSF More work from this artist on pp 302-303
Detail of Small spatial model of space viruses and their mutations, 2019/2020. Machine embroidery on fabric, objects. Photo credit: David Ertl
Alexandra Knie graduated in Fine Arts and, also, Social Science (20032007), and studied Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Genova (Italy) and Textil Design, Arts and Humanities. Her special interest lies in intersections between art, craft, and science, working in painting, drawing, screen printing, textile techniques, and most of all, machine embroidery. She has lectured, written, collaborated, and exhibited widely – most recently at the University of Paderborn and the 2021 MatterAntimatter exhibition, Castellón, Spain.
CREATIVE STATEMENT My artistic investigations concentrate on scientific illustrations, terms, and methods as they are applied in microbiology, astronomy, or astrobiology. Through application of microscopic and macroscopic images into a hand or machine embroidery, I aim to link two typically divergent areas: modern science and historical textile techniques. Small spatial model of space viruses and their mutations, 2019/2020 This installation creates a walk-through model of a speculative universe and simulated laboratory situation, and is based in an astrobiological assumption that viruses could also exist in space. I have designed serial scenarios of extraterrestrial viruses and their mutations, exhibited as machine-embroidered models. These space viruses combine electron microscope images of viruses present on Earth, such as the polio virus or the coronavirus, with creative alterations. The plexiglass tubes are reminiscent of petri dishes and test tubes
Detail of Small spatial model of space viruses and their mutations, 2019/2020. Machine embroidery on fabric, objects. Photo credit: David Ertl
Alicia Sometimes 334 |
BIOGRAPHY Alicia Sometimes is an Australian poet, writer and broadcaster. She has performed her spoken word and poetry at many venues, festivals and events around the world. Her poems have been in Best Australian Science Writing, Best Australian Poems and more. She is director and co-writer of the art/science planetarium shows, Elemental and Particle/ Wave. She is currently a Science Gallery Melbourne ‘Leonardo’ (creative advisor). Her TedxUQ talk in 2019 was about the passion of combining art with science. www.aliciasometimes.com Andrew Watson is a Melbourne-based video artist, violinist, guitarist, photographer and composer. Watson has worked in collaboration with a wide range of musical acts and has toured Europe extensively both as a solo artist and a band member. He weaves violin, guitar, noise and loops into a live instrumental soundtrack blending post classical, post rock and improvised styles. He is co-producer and musical director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival show, Particle/Wave. www.semiconductor-media.com
CREATIVE STATEMENT Talking to many scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics about the search for dark matter, I was inspired by the way it was (in a small way) similar to poetics – it was about how we notice the effects of something pervasive and integral to who we are but not the actual ‘object’ or ‘impact’ itself. In observing how the ways dark matter interacts with its environment have been eye-opening for scientists, the effects on the way galaxies curve and rotate, the way light bends – scientists learn more about what dark matter could be (see: Bertone and Hooper, 2018). Research into dark matter is ongoing, prolific, and perceived as important, with some authors identifying the topic as ‘one of the greatest challenges of modern physics and cosmology’ (De Swart et al., 2017, p 1). This is a poetic look at dark matter, what we can’t see, what we leave behind. I am the researcher, poet, and voice on this piece and I worked with a musical and visual collaborator.
BOSE-EINSTEIN CONDENSATE how we look at super fluidity and super conductivity states of matter
within a shiver of absolute zero
(the closer we are (we crumble into
atoms slow drawn-out languid
(black pools (we become one (scattering into
so cold they band
(time-thin (mantles cooling
(on the surface
every particle (we pulverise at once (into embers everywhere (teaspoonful wave packets swaying
(by teaspoonful (you are string
elongating (sleepless embellishing (we are soaring bosons
(into the thick
losing identity flow forming
(of things (listen
overlapping (to the numbing decoherence (dark where one ends another begins
(learn from (this wave-function
within a shiver
GRAVITATIONAL LENSING Our eyes crave baths of light— the flickering playground of shivering stars an image of a blue arc on the rim coiling around clusters of galaxies the vivid shimmer behind you in the garden as the torch frames your silhouette in the dark we long for a glimpse of planets in slow motion counting them long into the balcony of the night— So, after we see quasars in the distance distorted we want to understand how mass bends the light how dark matter halos—assemble over time by gravity their complex webs cushioning around baryonic matter or black holes infer their presence from distant stars or flowing accretion discs Gravity flexes the structure of spacetime (warping light from traveling in its straight line) as if a universal river pools at the sides of invisible stone—the brightness lit from behind When a large galaxy becomes the front-view focal lens far off galaxies are magnified and curved, arching at the frames. Strong and weak lensing enhance surrounding or further set stellar hives some nurseries billions of years in our past If the foreground mass, background and observer are perfectly aligned, this Einstein ring resembles the imprint of a cereal bowl abandoned for morning play,a seemingly concentric stain We try to see beyond what is immediately visible and illuminate what is known but concealed Our bare eyes, in the coldness of night, peering through a telescope, unable to locate most of the weight of the universe—missing out on all the things we cannot see
Absence of Seeing, 2021. Words and vocals: Alicia Sometimes. Music and visuals: Andrew Watson
BIOGRAPHY Alun Kirby has been making cyanotypes – camera-less photographs – for over 15 years. The pieces he creates can be 2D, but are often combined with origami to create something sculptural. His work focuses on our understanding of what memory is, and how memory influences us as individuals and social groups. His first major solo exhibition was held at Dean Clough Galleries in 2019/20. Kirby used to be a research immunologist who made art. Now he is an artist who can’t leave science alone. www.AlunKirby.com @AlunKirby
CREATIVE STATEMENT This work developed from a collaboration with Southampton University Astrodome, in which they invited artists to use old star maps. Both images use old acetate astronomical star charts – which are themselves negative images – to create the positive images of stars. Several charts were overlaid to give a ‘denser’ image. Using light from our own star, these images were printed in cyanotype (see: Ware, 1998), which can take anything up to several weeks to expose. The Great Lens reflects on our efforts to understand space by looking at things that no longer exist. The ‘lens’ here is printed from a paper-negative which was once an origami ‘tato’ (folded purse). Through it we see backwards in time, also represented by the vintage charts of stars used to create the image. The title references the Great Lens: the bulbous disk of light at the centre of the Milky Way. Negative Space We are even less than we think we are. ‘Normal’ matter makes up only about 5% of the universe, dark matter makes up about 27%, and dark energy about 68% (NASA, 2021). By folding the paper before exposing the image, dark matter is turned light, showing the gaps between things where the majority of our universe resides. The three lines are an imprint of humanity against this vastness; the lights of an airplane passing across the lens of the telescope as the original astronomical image was taken. This artwork shown on p 217.
The Great Lens, 2019. Multi-exposure cyanotype on watercolour paper.
Michelle Currie is currently Artist in Residence at The Glasgow School of Art Silversmithing and Jewellery Department after graduating with a First-Class Honours degree in 2020. Her graduate work has been shown exhibitions and online events including The Elements Festival of Silver and Gold, Visual Arts Scotland and Local Heroes x Incorporation of Goldsmiths: Scottish Still Life’s Exhibition, featured at New York City Jewellery Week. Michelle’s design work has received industry awards such as a Goldsmiths Craft and Design Council Award, Goldsmiths Centre’s Precious Metal Bursary Award 2020, and her graduate work has been awarded the Fife Contemporary New Maker Award 2020 and the Incorporation of Goldsmiths Graduate Award 2020. Her unique practice combines traditional silversmithing techniques with her love of science and astronomy.
CREATIVE STATEMENT For my recent collection, GRAVITY, I visited the Physics and Astronomy Laboratories at The University of Glasgow, learning from technicians and scientists about their research into black holes and gravitational waves. This collection is influenced by the unseen magnetic and gravitational forces that govern and shape our world. By combining silversmithing techniques and precious stones with ferromagnetic materials containing iron particles, I explore the variety of textures and movement created when exposing iron particles to neodymium magnets. These ferromagnetic materials include iron sands collected from Scottish beaches and Ferrofluid created by NASA to control the movement of liquids in space. In order to do so, I create my own mixtures of iron particles, which are then sculpted directly onto magnetic field lines using the invisible structure as a canvas to capture the explosive moments as static, ominous wearable sculptures.
FeAg Brooch, 2020. Iron shards, oxidised precious white metal, precious yellow metal and morganite, steel pin, 7cm x 6cm x 2.5cm. Image credit: Alex Robson
Amy Wetsch BIOGRAPHY Amy Wetsch is an artist, teacher, and writer. She has a BFA in Painting and Drawing, from Western Kentucky University, and an MFA in Multidisciplinary Art, from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has exhibited widely, including bat Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, Art Banquet, Fox Gallery, and is currently an Engaging Artist Fellow at More Art, New York, NY. Dr Sarah Hörst is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and focuses on atmospheric chemistry. Much of her research studies Titan and she is part of the team leading NASA’s newlyannounced Dragonfly mission.
CREATIVE STATEMENT Through the Veil was created through collaboration with Dr Sarah Hörst at Johns Hopkins University. By interpreting a significant amount of data, this large scale and immersive installation imagines what it would be like to break through a planetary body and reveal the mysteries it holds. Viewers walk into the hazy orange room and stand underneath the dome where sounds are playing from within the sculpture. The sound incorporated in this installation is a combination of sounds recorded from outer space and earth, and sounds created to visualize the acquisition of data by the Huygens Probe (see: Russell, 2003). This installation also employs recycled materials from the science laboratory at JHU. Work shown opposite and on pp 238-239 and 242-243
Through the Veil, 2018. © Amy Wetsch.
Marie Cosme BIOGRAPHY Marie Cosme lives and works in Rhode Island as a writer/poet and horticulturist. Her work is forthcoming in Prime Number Magazine, Wormhole Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently working on her first novel.
CREATIVE STATEMENT I became something of an amateur astronomer after discovering Carl Sagan at the book store ten years ago. The poem ‘Pale Blue Dot’ is an ode to his book by the same name. A reference to the awe and inspiration that comes from recognising our infinitesimal place in the cosmos. ‘Inventing Itself ’ is a reflection on what it means to be conscious and how that experience relates to the universe as a whole, and ‘Night Swim’ was written after a summer night of star gazing with a group of friends who were captivated by the idea that looking to the heavens is equivalent to looking back in time. Together these poems reflect not just the relative nature of existence, but the temporary nature of it all, and they were birthed through the study of astrophysics, a science that inspires my writing and my living every single day.
PALE BLUE DOT My walls, my roof: a thin blanket taking the hammer of God. My cellar, granular and infested: Will inherit my home
INVENTING ITSELF It’s easy to imagine an advanced alien species when you strip away the familiar meaty exteriors and motley skullcaps of our human forms. What’s left is three pounds of pink convoluted matter resting like butter at room temperature. And below fiber tracts descend. A silver eel with charged appendages branching out to the parts that merely respond to commands. We swoon at the mighty when all muscles do is contract. Because flesh and pigment are useful distractions And so our shields become our masks. We can hide behind the aesthetics and force of physical forms, but we are more than the weight of our atoms. We are firing synapses and electrical impulses. We are a composite of specialized tissue able to contemplate its own existence. Thinking matters, calling itself a mind, disguised by a fixed size, but bigger on the inside, and traveling through time and relative dimensions in space. An alien species encased in an anthropoid shell, manifesting itself through our actions, and reactions, and experienced sensations. What else is a mind if thoughts have no mass, and no force for gravity to attract? Like dark energy accelerating our expansion while mysterious forces bind us to this form like glue. Made of elements and energy but mostly empty space. Composed of destruction and indifference, in the belly of exploding stars through which we are invented, through which we invent ways of understanding the Cosmos. We must, then, be the Cosmos understanding itself.
NIGHT SWIM Rest has a voice like the moon’s climb, or satellites orbiting a world at a distance of roughly forty-two minutes ago.
Dawn Faelnar is a transmedia designer, artscientist, creative director, and advocate of multi/cross/inter/transdisciplinary collaborations. Through diverse mixed-media work, she explores the relationship between the physical and social sciences, and how they can be interpreted and made more accessible through art and design, with a penchant for combining digital with analog, and aesthetic eclecticism with serious socioenvironmental undertones. Originally from Los Angeles (US) and Cebu (PH), Dawn has been involved in multidisciplinary projects throughout the globe. Currently, her practice and research investigate transdisciplinary encounters, and spaces for the future.
CREATIVE STATEMENT O.S.T.R.I.C.H. (Outer Space, Terrestrially Resonated In Cloaked HapticExperiences) is a capsule collection of wearable earth suits, which transports the imagined experiences of different celestial phenomena down to earth. Inspired by the NASA space suit, EMU (Thomas and McMann, 2006), O.S.T.R.I.C.H. enables the wearer to sense cosmic events through touch – mimicking the experience of witnessing these events in the vacuum of space. Earthlings nowadays are quite excited about the very real possibility of commercial space travel. This prospect, however, still excludes the majority of Earth’s population, who may be keen on the idea but are unable to participate for a variety of reasons. By simulating various atmospheric conditions recorded on other planets during official space missions, O.S.T.R.I.C.H. aims to give those grounded on Earth, the opportunity to experience the cosmos – and the chance to better understand our universe. For more from this artist see p 317.
Detachable microcontrollers for O.S.T.R.I.C.H. Jupiter © Dawn Faelnar.
O.S.T.R.I.C.H. Spine Map Circuit Sketches © Dawn Faelnar.
O.S.T.R.I.C.H. Jupiter © Dawn Faelnar
| 351 O.S.T.R.I.C.H. Jupiter worn by an earthling © Dawn Faelnar
Joseph Estlack BIOGRAPHY Estlack Joseph William cheated during a first grade reading contest. Each student would earn a section of a book worm for every book they finished reading. The sections would connect to wrap along the entire hallway of the elementary school and the student with the most sections was the winner. As Joe read book after book, he won section after section. He felt proud until he realised the other students were reading books at a much higher level. He tried to tell his mother. But she, already embarrassed that the school had wanted to hold him back a year, told him to be quiet and heaved another pile of thin children’s books onto his lap as he soared victorious across the finish line. It’s taken Joe more than 35 years to come clean about the event. But it has left him neurotic about words ever since. He lives in rural Pennsylvania, where the worm still haunts him. He reads many science books which are way over his head. These notes are his best efforts to understand them.
CREATIVE STATEMENT EVENT HORIZON A poem is a black hole. A trace of light stands out from a mysterious space of text in the universe. Seeming to contain nothing at first glance in a telescope, it sucks us in like fish hooks. We catch ourselves chewing for a point, adjusting aperture until the flicker we find gets big enough for our finger. ‘Event Horizon’ is bite-sized. It is a simple sort of puzzle, like two nails coiled together. A bit of fuddling may provide a note of delight in confusion between fish and fisher. For what it’s worth, there is a word that lingered in my mind while writing it. It’s a great place for exploring, but spelling it out would spoil something.
SUPER POSITION Actors often say that the answers to building a character are in the script. This is true in a colloquial sense. However, questions are of much greater value to a performance. The performance itself demands ever-curious performers, hanging on by a thread, balancing a razor’s edge. The stakes of life and death must be harnessed in something as ridiculous as ‘playing make believe’. The questioning itself is what they must keep alive. The wrong answers are the necessary hurdles one trips over during rehearsal. By opening night, an actor finds himself convinced he has solved every problem in the text until he trips on a stage light. Suddenly the answers he saved up for the rest of the play are replaced with one beautiful blank spot. The audience is treated to watching him fall in love with the words, as if they were entering his mind for the first time. Even on screen, actors often require multiple takes until they get to a beautiful mistake. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve played one on stage. It seems answers are also slipping out of their hands. There must be a sweet spot between particles and waves, some position in which we can hold ourselves that keeps us satisfied. If scientists don’t trip on their lab coats, reality itself seems to change right under their microscope every time they get close to solving the mysteries of life.
EVENT HORIZON When a book is missing it catches your eye, reveals a ceiling. You look for footprints and find stories on the side. If you lose a tooth you eat a little light each time you grin. We’re compelled to feed the dark. That’s why we send canaries in.
SUPER POSITION There is no realism in movies. It does not matter how much dialogue overlaps or how subtle actors can get. If a real conversation was ever recorded, it’s tangled up with every other useless moment on the cutting room floor. In close-up, eyes are fireworks. A shoulder shrug is semaphore. The wide angle of a street can make two strangers out to be in ceremony. Reality is as elusive as an electron’s location. Our behavior is knocked askew upon coordination. If actors mapped all quanta to their exact positions, they’d forget their places. All particles would be lost like the uneventful gulps within the long periods of waiting in real police interrogations. They’d cut out every boring quark like the peace between cowboys and Indians. They’d unlock thieves’ handcuffs. They’d release gangsters from prisons. They’d return killers to the dark, reunite them with chainsaws. Even kittens give up when laser pointers settle in one spot. They seem to sigh when that red dot sits still on their paws.
BIOGRAPHY Mark Eaglen is a multi disciplinary artist who employs traditional processes alongside developments in technology and scientific discovery. His main focus lies in data manipulation, responsive forms, holography, interactive works and the playful exploration of concepts through open narratives. Scientific discovery and speculation inspire Eaglen, but rather than purely illustrating such source, his works seek to encourage wider connections and contexts of association. His approach is iterative, continuing to engage with the wider aesthetic and conceptual associations raised through responsive sculptural experimentation, interactive systems of autonomy and challenging modes of perception.His works have been exhibited nationally and internationally with key developments kindly supported and enabled by the Arts Council of Wales through residencies, solo and group exhibitions. This has resulted in works longlisted and shown in the International Emerging Artist Award in Dubai, the Lumen Art Prize, Ars Electronica and the Aesthetica Art Prize, with work published within the Future Now 100 artists anthology selected from over 3500 entries.
External View of the Observable Universe, 2016. Excerpt from 360 degree rotation loop, HD anaglyph 3D two channel video. Ima
CREATIVE STATEMENT External View of the Observable Universe was informed by data within the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) collected by the European Space Agency and incorporates associated visual connections within nature, alongside conceptual distinctions. The CMB is the earliest remnant of light transmitted from the origins of our Universe. The form has been digitally sculpted according to heat levels in the data, then translated as an external view, and the resulting piece is also viewable using anaglyph 3D glasses. External View of the Observable Universe was realised with the kind support of the Arts Council of Wales, with thanks, also, to ESA and the PLANCK collaboration for allowing the manipulation of their source data. The work has been presented internationally across different formats; digital image, video rotation loop, stereoscopic print, and as a highresolution Duratran light box. It was longlisted for the Aesthetic Art Prize in 2017 and featured in the Future Now anthology of the same year..
age: External View of the Observable Universe, 2014. Duratran llghtbox anaglyph,3D print, 120 x 100 cm both © Mark Eaglen
Transmission Call is a holographic sculpture exploring reciprocal dialogues between the transmitter and the receiver. The main body of its form is inspired by a television set from the 1970’s. Within its screen sits a full colour holographic print and the sculpture rotates below a high lumen light source to illuminate the content and create the form. The resulting holographic projection is derived from analogue explorations and experiments within video feedback, and has subsequently been through several responsive processes until it has reached the screen of the sculpture, seeking to break free and to feedback into the impossible space that surrounds it. The patterns and shapes generated within video feedback often result in visual parallels to those found within wider systems – such as Phyllotaxis and the Fibonacci sequence – as found across nature; in sunflower seed heads, spiral galaxy formation, and bacterial growth. Creation of this work was partly inspired by the capacity that television sets have to receive a remnant of the Cosmic Microwave Background in the form of white noise static. The work, also, alludes to the principle that the Universe itself may be holographic in nature. This work was longlisted for the Lumen Art Prize 2016 and exhibited in a curated showcase of selected Lumen works. This artiwork shown on p 313. images on this page: (higher) Floating Feedback Island (lower) Feedback Still Grid Further image from this artist shown on p 320
Reina Suyeon Mun creates and explores new media art, science, and technology. Often based in theoretical physics, her speculative projects are developed in the form of spatial or interactive installations and hybrid drawings, with the aim of engaging with science beyond an expression of aesthetic qualities. In 2020, Reina received her BA (Hons) in Architecture and she will shortly be continuing her studies at the MIT. https://reinamun.xyz
CREATIVE STATEMENT In the course of this work, I have collaborated and discussed astrophysical concepts with several researchers including, Gideok David K, MinCheol L, Terreng K, and Suk Jin M. Both of these pieces, Timeless Probe and ∆(x,y,z,t), are interactive installations which investigate the nature of space-time through the lens of Block Universe theory (see: Vaccaro, 2018) and Lorentz transformation (see: Marinov, 1979).
△(x,y,z,t) on Lorentz Transformation, 2020 © Reina Suyeon Mun
Reina Suyeon Mun 360 |
Timeless Probe is an interactive installation designed to create a narrative of Einstein’s model of space-time: the block universe. The narrative film shows how space-time is perceived from the Timeless Probe’s vantage point. As observers (we) perceive all entities of space and time, incorporated in the form of (x, y, z, t) coordinates. ∆(x,y,z,t) is an interface-based installation which explores the relationships between observers within the block universe. This relativistic relationship, although dominant at a speed value close to the speed of light, is highlighted through its inverse: a link which opposes the system of centralisation, enabling the functioning and thinking of a decentralised and distributed network, rather than relying on a single master node. The interactive installation acts as an ‘interface’ through which one is able to share readings of the same video, revealing changes in the sequence according to the speed at which the observer is travelling. These readings are all equally true.
Timeless Probe on Einstein’s Block Universe, 2019. © Reina Suyeon Mun
Further images of both works on following two pages. Top middle image: ∆(x,y,z,t), close up. Left and right images: Timeless Probe, full inatallation and close up.
Sun Notations, 2016-2018. Video animation of over 50 still pinhole photographs, 5 mins © Krista Leigh Steinke
Krista Steinke is an interdisciplinary artist working in experimental photography, video/film, and installation. Her creative practice revolves around the humanenvironmental relationship and how photography (both moving and still) helps us to better understand ourselves through the lens of the natural world. Her time based work has been exhibited and screened at museums, galleries, and film festivals internationally, including Currents New Media Festival, NM; Jersey City Art Museum, NJ; Earth Day Film Festival, CA; Symphony Space, NY; Sarai Media Lab, New Delhi; Goliath Visual Space, NY; the Green Screen Environmental Film Festival, Trinidad + Tobago; and the Asia Culture Center, Republic of Korea, among others. Awards include a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship, a grant from the Puffin Foundation, a Promise Award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and a Fellowship from the Howard Foundation. She has been a visiting artist at numerous colleges and graduate schools and has participated in several photo festivals and conferences either as an exhibiting artist, speaker, or curator. She holds a BA from Valparaiso University, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a MFA in Photography and Digital imaging from The Maryland Institute, College of Art.
CREATIVE STATEMENT For the past few years, my work has focused on the sun as both a subject and creative tool to reflect upon our physical and psychological connection to our planet’s closest star. timescrap: 10.13.20 is a short experimental video created last year when my sense of time felt warped, distorted, and irregular while ‘sheltering in place’. Similar to how I imagine an astronaut might feel while floating in outer space. The video sketch is a playful stop-frame animation created from a 2D collage project, coupled with vintage audio and sound bytes from the NASA free use archives. The video plays a part in a larger body of work titled Time Scraps from the Universe.
timescrap: 10.13.2020, 2020. Animated short video, 1 min © Krista Leigh Steinke
Sun Notations, 2016-2018. Video animation of over 50 still pinhole photographs, 5 mins. © Krista Leigh Steinke
Sun Notations is an experimental video that animates over 50 solargraphs – images created with homemade pinhole cameras (see: Fosbury and Trygg, 2010). This piece is a unique merging of analog and digital mediums. Using soda cans, cookie tins, and other small containers as cameras, the exposures lasted from a few hours up to one year. These cameras, which sometimes contain multiple pinholes, were rotated periodically, so the rhythm of the sun’s movement was similar to a drawing process or mark-making system, similar to
crossing days off a calendar. Light leaks, dirt, water damage, embedded dead bugs, even rips in the paper, are part of the visual aesthetics and function as metaphors for the delicate balance we share with the physical world. Here time and space expand, overlap, and then dissipate as clusters of dust appear like stars, the landscape morphs into abstraction, and the sun traces across the screen like a drawing in motion. The piece is edited in two versions, 10-minute theatre version and 16 min installation version.
Bompas & Parr
Bompas & Parr is globally recognised as the leading expert in multisensory experience design. The studio works with commercial brands, such as Coca-Cola and LVMH, artistic institutions, including The Barbican and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, private clients, and governments, to deliver emotionally compelling experiences to a wide variety of audiences. Genre-defining projects include Alcoholic Architecture, an inhabitable cloud of gin and tonic; the world’s first Multi-Sensory Fireworks display for London New Year’s Eve 2013; and the Taste Experience for the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Bompas & Parr also founded the British Museum of Food, the world’s first cultural institution exclusively dedicated to food and drink, and has published six books that explore humankind’s relationship with food.
CREATIVE STATEMENT In 2015, we curated A Celestial Lunch for Nike, exploring the future of food and the gustatory implications of the forthcoming space tourism industry. The menu featured sci-fi starters, food cooked with plasma, and ultraviolet jellies served with coffee which had travelled to space and back. Plasma is the fourth state of matter and the energy of which stars are made (see: Eliezer and Eliezer, 2001; Mondal, 2015). Gas plasma exists naturally as lightning flashes and as stars burn (Eliezer and Eliezer, 2001). Gas atoms, stripped of a few electrons by the application of strong electrical fields, enter a plasma state and become highly excited, displaying vivid colours (ibid.). The temperatures of gas plasmas can range from less than 100 degrees Celsius to the many millions at the centre of the Sun (ibid.). Here we created subdued gas plasma with the humble domestic microwave, by way of a vacuum pump and a quartz chamber. When the microwave was activated, the radiation created a charged atmosphere inside the vacuum quartz chamber, turning what was air into plasma and creating an intense heat of 1,200 Celsius inside the chamber. For this project, we partnered with Dr Andrew Wright, a consultant in Advanced Materials and Processing, to bring plasma to the dining table for the first time. More from these artists on p 307.
Images above and below: Nike Celestial Lunch by Bompas & Parr. Photo © Chris Lee
Gillian Rhodes is an American performing artist and storyteller. She majored in dance at Columbia University in New York. Since graduating, she has lived and worked globally: choreographing for television in Cambodia, dancing professionally in South Korea, and now a leader of the budding contemporary dance scene in Lahore, Pakistan. She is a longtime astrophysics enthusiast and hosts her own livestream talk show, STEAM Cafe with CosmoQuest, about the intersections of astronomy and art.
CREATIVE STATEMENT Explorer Ready (Or Not) is a piece created in collaboration with astrophysicist Paul Matt Sutter, who provided narrations from his book How To Die In Space (Sutter, 2020). It is a story of exploration and destruction, the personification of a black hole, and the dance piece was filmed at home in Lahore, during the COVID pandemic lockdown. Explorer Ready (Or Not), 2020. Clip of third section. © Krista Leigh Steinke
SOMETHING HAPPENED HERE A speculative poem proposing a dance performance Imagine witnessing a dance in the same way an astrophysicist witnesses the collision of two great bodies; waves of spacetime and flashes of radiation, or -in the same way a physicist witnesses the collision of two miniscule particles by the swirling signatures of exotic matter imprinted on a screen? Imagine: a dance of which all that can be seen are the traces of something having danced. The imprints of heat, the path of a hand moving through smoke or water; The dashing, dipping duets of lights held and thrown and lost: A dance which must be pieced together by separate pieces of evidence, Traces of collisions and explosions and energy exchanged, almost like --Does a particle remember? Of course, it must – it entangles and entwines. Certainly, the machines that observe it do, catching and capturing the traces of a path, but not the path itself. Does a particle remember what it lost in the heat? Does the trauma of exchange from energy to matter to energy live in its memory like hurt lives in the body? Does it miss the photons it’s given to the world to light the way, or are they nothing more than signposts, signals on the map to say a wondrous thing died here, and the best we can do is rebuild it from its bones and speculate on what it might have been? The dance does not remember, but the traces of it do. The dancer is not seen, but their traces are.
Becky Probert is a fine art photographer whose work focuses on astrophysics and environmental science. Since completing an MA in Photography in 2017, she has exhibited in group shows in London, Cambridge, Amsterdam, Glasgow, Nottingham, and the FestivalPil’ours in France, participated in a number of Arts and Science residency programmes, and produced two books of her work to date. In 2020 she won silver in the Science: Other Category of the Budapest International Foto Awards.
CREATIVE STATEMENT The Silence of the Universe I am interested in perceptions of the universe and the ways in which lenses and technology, such as probes and satellites, affect these perceptions, acting as translators and impediments to our experience of celestial bodies in our solar system and beyond. These images are created through a combination of astrophotography and the exploration of details from objects in my immediate environment. Dark Energy forms approximately 68% of our universe, but it cannot currently be seen or measured by scientific instruments (NASA, 2021). It exerts a negative, repulsive pressure, behaving in the opposite way from gravity, and it provides the only explanation we currently have for the accelerating expansion of our universe (ibid.). If we could find a way to see this energy, what might it look like, and would this change our perspective of the night sky? (Artwork shown opposite) Ice Giant. Since the first discovery of an exoplanet in 1992, over 4,000 have now been identified (Wolscan and Frail, 1992; Tamanini and Danielski, 2019). Using data collected through methods including transit spectroscopy, scientists can infer the composition of the atmosphere of an exoplanet and describe what we might experience if we were able to stand on these worlds ourselves (Seager, 2008). I use a macro lens to capture details of objects here on Earth and create speculative images of these exoplanets. This artwork shown on p 182
Dark Energy, 2020. © Becky Probert
Antoine Bertin works at the intersection of science and sensory immersion, field recording and sound storytelling, data and music composition. His creations take the form of listening experiences, sound sculptures and audio meditations. His work has been presented at Tate Britain, Palais de Tokyo, Serpentine Gallery, CCCB Barcelona, Centre Pompidou, KIKK, STRP, and more. He produces a show called, The edge of the forest, on the web radio NTS, and in 2018, he founded Sound Anything, a creative studio based in Paris, which designs listening experiences.
CREATIVE STATEMENT Hearing Gravity is an immersive installation inviting participants to experience the physics of black holes through the sense of hearing. Developed in collaboration with relativity theorist André Füzfa (e.g. Füzfa, 2019), the experience takes advantage of binaural technology to hack into the listener’s own sense of time. A fifteen-minute journey, experienced by one participant at a time, this work sits at the intersection of immersive theatre, science documentary, and spatial soundwalk. From steps in the sand to gravitational waves, sounds guide visitors through light, obscurity, and sensoriality, as they hear themselves in different times. ‘It’s fascinating and scary: what would happen you were to fall into a black hole? With the artistic and scientific installation of Antoine Bertin, it is now possible to experience it.’ – Margaux Dussert (l’ADN Magazine) ‘So provocative, moving, and alarming. A spectacular piece of work with real mastery of human perception.’ – Sam Bompas (Bompas & Parr Studio)
Hearing Gravity, 2019. Sound link. © Antoine Bertin
Kinda Studios CREATIVE STATEMENT Kinda Studiosis a female-led creative science studio which explores the intersection of science and the lived experience. Interdisciplinary to the core, we believe in the importance of open dialogue between science, art and the public. We are defined by collaboration, creativity, connection, and curiosity – which is why the ‘hybrid + experimental’ format spoke to us. We collaborate with partners at the forefront of science, technology, and the creative arts to help people think, experience, and feel differently. This hybrid work was created by a collective of female interdisciplinarians, whose work has, at some point, questioned humanity’s place in the cosmos.
AWE, WONDER + THE COSMOS
001: JO MARCHAT, PHD Award-winning science journalist, New York Times bestselling author, whose most recent title is of The Human Cosmos: A Secret History of the Stars Over a century ago in south London, in the garden of a house that no longer stands, was a pioneering observatory. William and Mary Huggins used a prism to split starlight into frequency bands and analyse the composition of distant stars. William saw the cosmos as a collection of facts that science would lay bare. Mary, though just as meticulous, was more poetic. It took faith to be as happy straining to see little patches of light or darkness, she said, as feasting her eyes on glorious skies. In 1899, the Hugginses published a grand atlas of star spectra, kickstarting a quantitative approach that’s fulfilling William’s dream, charting a reality that no matter how epic, follows mathematical rules. There’s wonder and beauty here. But it has changed our relationship with the sky. Astrophysicists, like the rest of us, glean their answers from screens; light pollution means we no longer see for ourselves the glittering depths that once hosted beasts and gods. Stargazers through history describe a raw, untameable power that stops our thought, dissolves the self, and connects us with the pulsing heart of creation. This cosmos cannot be explained, only experienced. Like Mary, I am sorry for its loss.
002: LAURA TENENBAUM Physical science professor and award winning climate science communication at NASA’s JPL, and selfproclaimed “freaky bitch” At NASA, I once held a chunk of Vestan meteorite in my hand. Vesta is a protoplanet in the asteroid belt. A billion years ago, an asteroid smashed into it and excavated so much material that 6% of the meteorites falling to Earth come from that one collision. The rock was dark black and heavy for its size. When I was a child, I had a rock collection. I loved those rocks; they were pretty and shiny. Each one different. All kids like rocks. Why? Because they’re freaking cool. Often, when someone found out I worked at NASA, they’d say: “I used to love science when I was a kid.” That’s because we felt passion, inquisitiveness and awe - about everyday objects as much as galaxies or faraway worlds. Humans are born scientists. Yes, all of us. We have an innate sense of curiosity and wonder. We want to understand how the world works. But as adults, too many people grew disconnected from science. Satellite images of planets, of stars, of the Earth gave me a window into places I’ll never go. I discovered that halfway around the world was my neighborhood. The solar system, the cosmos were my home.
003: ROBYN LANDAU Neuroaestheticist and Co-Founder of Kinda Studios In our endeavour to find order, humans seek maps to guide our existence. Oftentimes, looking to the map of our internal landscape to define our ‘sense of self’. And while fundamental to how we live in the outer world, this self perception is masked by the imagined narratives in the inner world. 47% of our days are spent mind wandering, lighting up the ‘seat of self’ in the brain, the Default Mode Network.
Yet high above us, at the doorstep of every human on this planet, lies the original map of our existence, the one that offers the key to inner transformation. Reconnecting to the primordial map, the cosmos, allows us to shift our definition of self, and reassess our role as part of this planet. When we do so, the activity in the Default Mode network visibility reduces. Our feelings about ourselves and others transform. Our states of being click into a new gear. The map of the night sky is a figurehead that unites the human experience. By mapping ourselves to these ancient illuminations, we can begin to feel moved by the sense of awe and wonder which transforms our brains, bodies, and environments.
004: KATHERINE TEMPLAR LEWIS Creative Scientist, Science Communicator and CoFounder of Kinda Studios Identified in 1987, The Overview Effect is a profound cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts viewing Earth, as they hurtle through space. A state of cosmic awe and cosmic insignificance. Cosmic awe at the expansive heavens, so vast that, at the speed of light, it would take 100,000 years to cross the Milky Way – at which point you would have made it across just one of the 2 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe. And cosmic insignificance at our tiny planet. As Carl Sagan said, a ‘mote of dust suspended in the sunlight’. The Overview Effect catalyses a sense of connectedness and drives protection of our planet. In the brain it causes a temporary cognitive desegregation. A dissolution of ego. It seems there is no place in the cosmos for ego. The universe has existed for 13.8 billion years. If you condensed this into one year, with the Big Bang occurring on 1 January, humans appeared only on the 31 December at 22:32:00. It’s now 23:59:59. The universe will continue, but we may not make it to midnight. What we find in the cosmos, is the importance of what we’ve left behind.
Cosmic Landscape, 2019. Installation at Lumen Gallery, London. Fabric, glass, aluminium, mirror, ground glass, 150cm x 23cm x 10m
ettibone BIOGRAPHY Lisa Pettibone is a visual artist, teacher, and curator, with a BA in 3D Design in Glass and an MA in Art and Science. Her practice investigates how the world is put together in terms of energy, forces, and form – with particular focus on astronomy and physics – and involves research into scientific concepts, collaboration, or site-specific work. Pettibone creates sculpture, installation, and printmaking with a variety of materials, including glass.
CREATIVE STATEMENT In 2018-2019, I was artist-in-residence at Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UCL), following the progress of the Euclid Mission, a European Space Agency initiative to explore the dark universe (see:Laureijs et al., 2012). Initially driven by the aesthetic implications of invisible structure and forces in space, my creative responses have merged with philosophical research into the nature of perception itself through the writings of philosopher Merleau-Ponty and thinker/physicist David Bohm. The exceptional technology of the Euclid telescope will allow man to peer deeper than ever into space, forming fresh perceptions of the cosmic landscape and testing existing concepts held by scientists and artists alike (ibid.). Using installation, sculpture, and imagery, I questioned how we are to imagine this emerging understanding of the universe though human sensory experience. This Arts Council England funded residency included interviews with scientists and engineers from the Euclid team and studying aspects of the VIS instrument (built at MSSL) that will record billions of galaxies and provide crucial evidence of the web-like structure of dark matter through optical phenomena called gravitational lensing (see: Laureijs et al., 2012). Research included extensive lab and engineering workshop visits, a trip to meet principal Euclid managers at ESA in the Netherlands and attending the annual consortium meeting in Helsinki. In order to promote creative thinking at MSSL Space Lab and get to know the staff, I led eight creative workshops including a collaborative artwork that will be placed on the Euclid spacecraft before launch in 2022.
Cosmic Landscape Grasping the perceptual perimeters of the cosmological horizon, the Euclid Mission casts its net deep into the geometry of space. Will Einstein’s beautiful theory of gravity still hold it all together? This artwork is composed of three screen printed glass sculptures (with images of earth, moon and universe) hung in fabric suspended from aluminium supports. Image 1: watery earth seen from Lizard Point in Cornwall. Image 2: Moon surface as photographed in 1971 Apollo Mission. Image 3: Synthetic Universe data pattern (showing galaxies as dots) provided by ESA (titled Flagship Mock Galaxy Catalogue). The assemblage hangs over three blue glass mirrors each the size of the overall size of the VIS detector on the Euclid Mission. Ground white glass is drawn in galaxy shapes on the surface and the public were invited to take part through creating their own galaxy shapes. Found Missing The conundrum of dark matter leaves us in staring at a tantalising blind spot. How can an invisible thing with the inexorable pull of matter evade our eyes? This work uses the European Space Agency’s commissioned Flagship Mock Galaxy Catalogue data (see: ESA, 2017). Using a tiny portion of the Swiss supercomputer generated pattern, it shows the evolution of a synthetic universe depicting the clumping of matter (visible and invisible) leading to the formation of galaxies like our Milky Way. The central shape in the print was traced from a meteorite found in Sweden in 1906, thought to be billions of years old.
Found Missing, 2019. Screen print, variable edition, 12cm x 35cm x 48cm
| 385 Part of Cosmic Landscape, 2019. Glass sculpture, ground glass, 150cm x 23cm x 10m
BIOGRAPHY David Ibbett, PhD, is a composer, educator and musical advocate for science. Based in Boston, he directs the Multiverse Concert Series, a project which combines music and science in live performance. David seeks a deep collaboration with musicians, scientists, artists and performers. He has worked with with physicists (Dr Mathew Kleban, NYU), biologists (Dr Paul Garrity, Brandeis), engineers (Dr Irmgard Bischofberger, MIT), sociologists (Dr Clara Han, Johns Hopkins) and oceanographers (Dr Sarah Davies, BU). Recent works include Cellular Dance, 2019, a ballet on a theme of cell movement with biologist Alexey Veraksa of UMass Boston, and Dendritic, 2019, a 360° video sonification with Dr Irmgard Bischofberger of the MIT Fluids Lab. In 2020, David was first Guest Composer at Fermilab, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and he is currently resident composer at Mindmics.
Octave of Light video link. Cover artwork by Marlena Bocian Hewitt
CREATIVE STATEMENT I composed this album, Octave of Light, as a musical celebration of exoplanet science. It was created in collaboration with Roy Gould of the HarvardSmithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and features soprano Beth Sterling and violinist Amelia Sie. Over 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered (Tamanini and Danielski, 2019) – are any home to life? And how might music communicate exoplanet science? The connection lies in the physics of waves. Most exoplanets are detected via the transit method – as shadows moving across their parent stars (NASA, 2021). Sensitive telescopes detect minute fluctuations in the light of a distant star as a planet passes across its surface. A telescope equipped with a spectrograph can split these images into their component wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum (NASA, 2019). Analysing these spectrograms reveals which wavelengths of light have been absorbed by the planet’s atmosphere as it transits, resulting in a unique spectral signature that indicates its chemical makeup (NASA, 2021). Although these lines correspond to colours, sadly, our eyes can’t see them. First, they are mostly in the infrared and, therefore, outside our visible range. But even when transposed into visible frequencies, they are spread too widely to fit within the dynamic range of our eyes (see: Sen and Aguerrebere, 2016). As a composer, I began wondering: If we can’t see exoplanets, could we hear them – as waves of sound instead of light? Compared with the one-octave range (one doubling of frequency) of our eyes, our ears can hear a massive 8-10 octaves, or 20 to 20,000 Hertz (Kuehni, 2012). This is an adequate range in which to fit the exoplanet data. Translating these spectral lines into musical notes gave rise to a rich collection of musical chords, which in turn became the album’s seven tracks. Water Romanza, Methane, and Red Edge are meditations on vital elements for life, as we know it, while Wanderers visits exoplanet WASP 17B and explores its complex atmosphere, with lyrics adapted from Carl Sagan. The climatic track on the album, Equals Life, combines four chemical clues and their musical equivalents into a potential recipe for life: Water vapor + red edge + methane + oxygen = life? We can see all of these clues in our own earthshine – the light reflected by Earth, then reflected by the unlit side of the Moon. By analysing the spectrum of earthshine, we might get a glimpse of how our own planet might appear from another solar system. This begs the question: If aliens knew where to look, would they know we are here? And what message does our spectrum send out to those looking back? It will shine in an octave of light! www.octaveoflight.com
Chris Sancomb is an interdisciplinary artist and designer. Exploring the intersections of art and science through a wide range of media, his creative research is focused on creating visual experiences that represent unobservable phenomena within the architecture of the universe. Drawing inspiration from the physics of space, his work employs materials and making as a means to render artistic research a visible and interactive component of science communication. His design practice has focused on the creation of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, Math) related informal learning environments, for science and children’s museums. His work in museums has focused on creating inclusive, self-directed, hands-on interactive learning environments designed to support varied learning styles, promote empathy, and help develop creative confidence in children.
CREATIVE STATEMENT Slice of Life was developed in response to the first human walk on the moon by Neil Armstrong in July 1969. The silver-toned radial pattern in the lower corner was created using electrocardiogram (EKG) data from Armstrong’s walk to give form to the electrical signals sent by the human heart. Here the heartbeat is a recording, a measurable data point used to reflect the sense of wonder felt among the stars. The EKG waveform was used to create a shaping blade, first to shape plaster to create the pattern, then cast it into metal. The surrounding dark space is a stark contrast to the bright radial wave. Composed of jagged, angular clusters of wood, the surrounding space appears as an empty and dark void, bursting with invisible activity, crafted to impress on the viewer a sense of scale. A beacon compressed against a dark particle stream of space.
Slice of Life © Chris Sancomb
Joe Volpe BIOGRAPHY Joe Volpe is a middle school English teacher in the Greater Boston area. Originally from Upstate New York, he attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where he studied English with a concentration in Creative Writing and Poetry. His work has been selected for publication in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Iris Poetry Journal, and Pinky Thinker Press by Mignolo Arts, among others. He is currently working on completing his first book of poetry and is documenting his poetic journey on Instagram @joespoemaday.
CREATIVE STATEMENT The poem ‘Eight Minutes’ was inspired by the concept of time and distance as it pertains to space. ‘Eight Minutes’ debates the line between present action and memory, especially when seen through the lens of the sun – if the sun’s light takes eight minutes to reach us (see: Varieschi, 2008), who is to say what is actually happening in the now?
EIGHT MINUTES There are ripples between stars, echoed radiation from the Big Bang, and we are the stuff of meteors — we are alien and perpetual. And yet we go out to dinner and ask the waiter to snap photos with our friends, plastic halide memories overexposed like our teeth in self-conscious smiles, or try to freeze in frame a moment of motion, waving from a rope swing in blurred contrast, stuck in time in cathodes on a phosphor screen. But criticize warily — by the time it reaches us sunlight is eight minutes old, making all we see a memory, and if you stubbornly smack the ice to make a ripple your hand will still lose heat.
Simone Tetrault Symphony of the Fourth Dimension, 2015. Photons dance following the death of a massive star; pictured left to right (standing): Priscilla Gomez, Alyssa Fuhrman, Madeline Bugeau- Heartt, (floor) Evelyn Dumont, Ariel Miles, and Nicole Chaffin. Image credit: Emily Briggs
BIOGRAPHY Simone Tetrault is the writer and director of Vice (2021), Letters to the Universe (2020), Through the Looking Glass (2016) and Symphony of the Fourth Dimension (2015). Her work has included workshops, readings, and performances at Griffith Observatory, Japanese American National Museum, Zephyr Theater, Odyssey Theatre, Abrons Arts Center, Access Theatre, THEATERLAB, and FIGMENT Festival. She is the Artistic Director and co-founder of Centrifuge Arts – a company of actors, dancers, musicians, writers and interdisciplinary artists, who develop innovative, integrity-driven performance works at the intersection of art, science and technology.
CREATIVE STATEMENT We lose track of time, spend time, give time, share time, have time, run out of time, fear the future, live in the past, race the clock, count the days, or seconds, or years. We feel it deeply when time stands still or when a moment slips away. Inspired equally by the work of astrophysicists and artists, Symphony of the Fourth Dimension is a series of poetic dance theatre vignettes which seek to unravel the profound relationship we have with time and space through the lens of the physical, emotional, metaphysical, and human experience. And so, from the streets of New York City, to the mystical world of lucid dreams, from the site of a supernova billions of lightyears away, to the silent death of an ancient civilisation, the audience is led by a precocious middle schooler on a quest through the universe to find an answer to the age-old question: What is Time? I wrote, directed, and choreographed this series, developed collaboratively with Centrifuge Arts and consulting astronomer Dr Grace Telford. Symphony of the Fourth Dimension was premiered at Access Theater in 2015, with the support of SciArt Initiative, and has since been performed at FIGMENT North Adams and FIGMENT Project NYC.
SYMPHONY OF THE FOURTH DIMENSION: A Phenomenological Exploration of Time and Space by SIMONE TETRAULT EXCERPT FROM MOVEMENT II. CELESTIAL SOLILOQUIES
(Pitch black silence for 20 seconds. Then a sudden rumble and blinding lights into a projection of a supernova; the image of the gaseous remnants reverses set to “In the Androgynous Dark”; we see the star’s life cycle sped up in reverse ending with the moments leading up to its birth; lights go out for a moment, then, dimly rising up from the same place the star had lived, its body appears in human form.) (The celestial body glows hot. Several dancers echo the movements of the star as its voice tells the story of a timeless existence and the travel of its light to a distant star- a would be lover.) CELESTE Hello - - - - My star. As I gaze out across the universe I find all other bodies to be small All planets void of color and the stars That spin and light a billion other worlds And moons which catching light to shine afar Cannot in slightest match your magnitude I find my gaze affixed. --_ And so I’ll say what long I’ve thought of you My mind composes music to your dances Inspired by the orbit of your light And poetry consumes my timeless longing As planets, moons, and comets frame your glow If only sounds could travel to you faster You’d hear sweet nothings whispered day and night How lonely is this fire set apart! And Truly dwarfed by galaxies between us The aching of my soul will seek your light -- - -- -
I know it will be long before you hear me -- - -- In fact I may be gone before you do And then, tis sure my voice will be a whisper If any sound remains__ _ _ We shall only ever see each other’s pasts I hope you will not judge me I’ve gazed at others stars before your light Who’ve heard my songs of love For lack of you Did skew my judgement Did make me hot Did make me weak But when the first of you, your light Did reach me And photons did so touch me The passion did so take me that I -Such foolish fire, burned white in all my shame I purge the history hurtling without ether Towards the comfort of your sweet, warm flame With not a hope of living in your presence For life is ceaseless, void of time, and this Is the great tragic fate which doth become us As bodies in the universe without rest Who traverse ’cross the vastness that expands And separates us lovers further -- -- -- -Yet if I live and love as I do feel I pray that if a single photon reach you In your warmth it at long last is home For when my precious fuel has all been spent And the last particle of my being races Off to reach you -- --I will hide away desperately in darkness Pulling space and time and matter -- --To the emptiness that in my stead remains
I plead that then you will not turn away That somehow the parts of me that find you May be just enough I fear my insufficiency, as is the crux of love From such a distance Bit by bit I send myself to you Bit by bit is all I can afford Bit by bit is such a sorry offer But love abounds in my accumulation So soak me slowly over passing eons And bask within my thinly stretch’ed presence Turn yourself, oh dance, that I may touch you In every crater smoldering desire Through the icy black this body sojourns Hell-bent, and unwearied on its course Tis worth the loss of heat and fuel and fire To revel in Fate’s promise, oh you gleam With such blue beauty. I can scarce Imagine tastes and textures love. Your raptures Take hold the lonesome burden of this body Revive the musings, kindle mine own heart Which ne’er before did beat. I face the challenge That words diminish, Love. Our looking dance Is all that I hold true -- - --- ----_ (Planets and moons orbit CELESTE , and her body moves with gravity around the center of the galaxy. The bodies dance through time as her light rockets through the fabric of space in graceful ribbons.) (A distant star, SYBIL , is impacted by the ancient light of CELESTE. The warmth peaks her attention. While the fresh light of CELESTE’S youth dances like a child, CELESTE’S body grows old and tired; the fire within her turns caustic as she ages, while her pasts stream over SYBIL , who sees all; the worst and best play out in dance and projection across SYBIL’S body. We hear the words of
CELESTE over time; dusty letters to lovers long gone, spiteful rage flung into darkness, goodbyes to brothers, sisters, friends, and welcoming new life, children of the stars.) (d.s. al Coda) (SYBIL’S light returns to CELESTE , who is now dying. As she expires and bursts into a supernova, CELESTE strives to send her last breaths to her love.) CELESTE My sweet My love You answer! But your light is far, your voice is soft I pray it reach me ‘fore the stroke of death I am so afraid I do not wish to die Your light is so warm So sweet So dear (All that CELESTE can see is the faint light in the distance, SYBIL’S answer to her letter, projected faintly and wordlessly; the beginnings of a sad smile. But even at the speed of light, the death of a star comes as final. CELESTE’S universe is shattered as her fuel is spent and the gravity that remains compresses her into a singularity at the center of a black hole; she cannot cross the shadow of her history.) (BLACKOUT)
Julie F Hill
Julie F Hill is a visual artist whose work responds to the vastness of nature as represented by modern science. She employs an expanded approach to photography and image-making, creating sculptural installations that explore conceptions of deep-space and cosmological time. Linked elements of writing, performance and culinary experiences are often devised as accompaniments to her installations. Julie studied at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art, and was Fellow in Digital Print at the Royal Academy Schools (2017–20). She was recently awarded the Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation as part of the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year, Royal Museums Greenwich (2020). She is currently the recipient of an Arts Council Developing Your Creative Practice grant for her research project Through Machine & Darkness which is looking at the use of AI and machine learning in examining astronomical datasets. Her recent exhibitions include Astronomy Photographer of the Year, National Maritime Museum & Jodrell Banks (2020–21) and Thinking Machines, National Gallery X/RUSI, online, 2021. www.juliehill.co.uk
CREATIVE STATEMENT In astrophysics, the term ‘spaghettification’ denotes the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long thin shapes – like spaghetti (Wittman, 2018). This occurs, for example, when deep space objects pass too close to a black hole and fall in (ibid.). In my dish, Stellar Spaghetti, a black squid ink tuile sits on top of a squid ink linguine: the stellar spaghetti the black hole has just made of a star that has ventured too close. Whilst adding texture to the dish, the squid ink tuile also has a mildly charred taste, bringing a sense of the combustion of gases and metals in this deep space environment. A sprinkling of finely grated lemon zest, represents the disintegrated material that has blown back into space. This dish forms part of my larger series, Sensing Space – culinary works inspired by astrophysics and deep space phenomenon. This range of dishes and cocktails, inspired by cosmic phenomena such as Saturn’s largest moon Titan, Sagittarius B2 (a giant cloud of molecular gas and dust) and Newton’s apple, have been presented at curated events, and have also served as accompaniments to my sculptural installations. More from this artist on p 295.
Stellar Spaghetti, concept dish, 2021. Close up image showing the textured surface of the squid ink tuile with sprinklings of finely grated lemon zest. Image credit © Julie F Hill
TEXT FROM COLOUR WHEEL DIAGRAM BY KATIE PATERSON The Primordial Era From Time Zero to seconds or minutes later, the energy/matter content of the Universe is dominated by interactions between subatomic particles and antiparticles, and very high energy photons of light are generated by matter-antimatter collisions. No astrophysical objects, like stars or galaxies, have been able to form. The Universe would be enormously hot at this time. From around one month, the temperature of the Universe is ≈ 10 million degrees. Once it has cooled to ≈ 70,000 degrees, radiation dominates, and the colour of the Universe would be very blue. Rare hot stars exist today with surface temperatures of this order. At 380 kilo years, Cosmic Background Radiation is produced. Although the Universe would have been opaque at the time, we can describe is colour in terms of a thermal ‘black body’ moving from blue at very hot temperatures to redder as the temperature cools. From the time when photons dominated, the temperatures would range from ≈ 70,000 degrees (blue) at a few thousand years to ≈ 20,000 degrees (blue-green) at ten thousand years, to ≈ 3,000 degrees (yellow-orange) at 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Colour: blue. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.239, y=0.239, z=0.522 Colour: yellow. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.352, y=0.356, z=0.292 Colour: orange. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.440, y=0.403, z=0.157
Dark Ages The Dark Ages is the period before any stars form. The Universe does not produce its own light. The only light is from the slowly cooling echo of the Big Bang (Cosmic Microwave Background), which becomes redder and redder, cooler and cooler, darker and darker, to a colour temperature of tens of degrees. Most of the light is now at a very low energy, beyond the visible spectrum – yet never completely dark. Colour: deep red. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.717, y=0.283, z=0.000 Reionisation and First Stars The colour of this early period will be dominated by hot, blue stars, emerging from the Dark Ages. The first stars form in the first galaxies around 200 Mega years. At 500 Mega years visible light is dominated by young galaxies. The light cannot be described by a unique temperature because it is a combination of many stars. The first stars to form are enormously massive, perhaps 150 times the mass of our Sun, and extremely hot, with surface temperatures of tens of thousands of degrees, and short-lived – a million years, perhaps. They will end their lives as violent supernovae, which will then trigger more waves of massive star formation. The first light may also arise from Active Galactic Nuclei, quasars, and massive black holes at the centre of galaxies; matter that heats up as it falls into black holes producing very energetic radiation (blue). At the midway point of 7 Giga years, half-way through cosmic star-formation history, there is a mixture of young and old stars contributing to the light. Colour: blue. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.270, y=0.279, z=0.451 Colour: yellow. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.330, y=0.332, z=0.338 The Stelliferous Era We now live in the Stelliferous Era, a time period when stars are actively forming, living and dying. ‘Cosmic Latte’ is the name assigned to the average colour of the Universe modelled over this period. To determine this colour, astronomers computationally averaged the light emitted by one of the largest samples of galaxies yet analysed. A single perceived colour was calculated from the measured cosmic spectrum. This colour has become a lot less blue over the last 10 billion years, indicating that
redder stars are becoming more prevalent. In about 5 billion years, our own Sun will swell up into a red dwarf and eventually die off into a small white dwarf. 30 billion years from now, the billions of other galaxies we now see will have faded since they will be so far away from us. The observable Universe will be dominated by the light of only the nearest galaxies. These galaxies will get redder and redder as the fuel for fresh star formation is exhausted, and the light is dominated by the low mass red dwarf stars. Once all the gas and dust for star formation is exhausted only elliptical galaxies remain populated by small M stars, which will gradually become dimmer and redder and deader as time progresses. Colour: ‘cosmic latte’. Colour co-ordinates: x=0.345, y=0.345, z=0.310 Colour: orange. Colour co-ordinates: 0.419, 0.401 The Far Future In the far future, red dwarfs will be the dominant population these low mass small M stars persist, slowly burning their nuclear fuel for billions of years. No visible radiation from ordinary stars will light up the night skies, warm the planets, or endow galaxies with the faint glow they have today. The Universe is colder, darker and more diffuse. At about 1 trillion years into the future the nuclear reserves in the lowest mass stars are exhausted leaving nothing but black. Colour: nothingness, black. Colour co-ordinates: 0, 0, 0
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CULINARY ARTS – INTERVIEW 120-135
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ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN – ARTICLE 138-151
Addey, D. (2018) Typeset in the Future. New York: Abrams. Addomine, M., Figliolini, G. & Pennestrì, E. (2018) A landmark in the history of non-circular gears design: the mechanical masterpiece of Dondi’s astrarium. Mechanism and Machine Theory, 122, pp. 219-232. Arnould, J. (2019) ‘Colonising Mars. A Time Frame for Ethical Questioning’ in Szocik, K. (ed.) The Human Factor in a Mission to Mars: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Cham: Springer, pp. 133-144. Asim, F. & Shree, V. (2018) A Century of Futurist Architecture: From Theory to Reality. Available at: https://www. preprints.org/manuscript/201812.0322 (Accessed 8 June 2021). Barrett, J. & Boyd, M.J. (2019). From Stonehenge to Mycenae: the challenges of archaeological interpretation. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. Bennett, J.A. (1975) Christopher Wren: Astronomy, architecture, and the mathematical sciences. Journal for the History of Astronomy, 6(3), pp. 149-184. Bizony, P. (2013) An odyssey into the future [Engineering Predictions]. Engineering & Technology, 8(8), pp. 48-51. Bizony, P. (2018) The ageless appeal of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nature, 555(7696), pp. 584-586. Buick, T. (2014). Orrery: a story of mechanical solar systems, clocks, and English nobility. New York: Springer Science. Buick, T. (2020) Orreries, clocks, and London Society: the evolution of astronomical instruments and their makers. Cham: Springer. Dacke, M., Baird, E., Byrne, M., Scholtz, C.H. & Warrant, E.J. (2013) Dung beetles use the Milky Way for orientation. Current Biology, 23(4), pp. 298-300. Emlen, S.T. (1970) Celestial rotation: its importance in the development of migratory orientation. Science, 170(3963), pp. 1198-1201. Eau de Space (2021) The Smell of Space. Available at: https:// eaudespace.com/ (Accessed 8 June 2021). European Southern Observatory (2020) About | Facts about the ELT curriculum. Available at: https://elt.eso.org/ about/facts/ (Accessed 8 June 2021).
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ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN – INTERVIEW 152-171
Atlas Obscura (n.d.) Pyramid of Kukulcan at Chich’en Itza. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/ pyramid-kukulcan-chichen-itza (Accessed 25 April 2021). Balint, T.S. & Lee, C.H. (2019) Pillow talk–Curating delight for astronauts. Acta Astronautica, 159, pp. 228-237. Block, I. (2018) Snøhetta to design Norwegian planetarium surrounded by a constellation of cabins. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/05/04/planetariumsnohetta-norway-solobservatoriet/ (Accessed 25 April 2021). Brosch, N. (2011) Thinking about Archeoastronomy. arXiv preprint, arXiv:1103.5600. Castellani, V. (2004) Reality and Myth of Archeoastronomy. Memorie della Societa Astronomica Italiana Supplementi, 5, p. 438. Luscombe, R. (2021) Nasa picks Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build spacecraft to return humans to moon. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/apr/17/ nasa-spacex-moon-spacecraft-elon-musk (Accessed 25 April 2021). Milbrath, S. (1999) Star gods of the Maya: Astronomy in art, folklore, and calendars. Austin: University of Texas Press. Projecting Particles Program (2015) Projecting Particles Program and schedule. Available at: https://indico. cern.ch/event/380964/attachments/758970/1041097/ Projecting_Particles_Program_and_schedule.pdf (Accessed 25 April 2021). Rellihan, K. (2018) How to Find James Turrell’s Art in the Most Unlikely Corners of the Earth. Available at: https://www. architecturaldigest.com/story/james-turrell-art-aroundthe-world (Accessed 25 April 2021). Rodriguez, J. (2021) Flower power: NASA reveals spring starshade animation. Available at: https://exoplanets. nasa.gov/resources/1015/flower-power-nasa-revealsspring-starshade-animation/ (Accessed 25 April 2021). SpaceX (2021) Mars & Beyond. Available at: https://www. spacex.com/human-spaceflight/mars/ (Accessed 25 April 2021). Turrell, J. (2021) Roden Crater. Available at: https://rodencrater. com/ (Accessed 25 April 2021). Whitman Cobb, W. (2019) How SpaceX lowered costs and reduced barriers to space. Available at: https:// theconversation.com/how-spacex-lowered-costs-andreduced-barriers-to-space-112586 (Accessed 25 April 2021).
LITERARY ARTS – ARTICLE 174-185
Amis, M. (1996) The Information. London: Flamingo. Armitage, S. (1989) Zoom! Hexham: Bloodaxe Books. Armitage, S. (2006) ‘Modelling the Universe: Poetry, Science, and the Art of Metaphor’, in Crawford, R. (ed.) Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 110-122. Berera, A., Buniy, R.V. & Kephart, T.W. (2004) The Eccentric Universe. Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, 2004(10), p. 16. Beer, G. (1983) Darwin’s Plots. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bell Burnell, J. (2006) ‘Astronomy and Poetry’, in Crawford, R. (ed.) Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 125-140. Brake, M. & Hook, N. (2007). Different Engines: How Science Drives Fiction and Fiction Drives Science. London: Macmillan Science. Bussey, P.J. (2011) Physics and Poetry. Contemporary Physics, 52(4), pp. 359-362. Chiasson, D. (2011) Other Worlds. Available at: https://www. newyorker.com/magazine/2011/08/08/other-worlds (Accessed 10 April 2021). Copernicus, N. (1543) De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. Nuremberg: Johannes Petreius. Crawford, R. (2006) Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Darwin, C. (1859) On the Origin of the Species. London: John Murray. Dirac, P. (1930) The Principles of Quantum Mechanics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Eddington, A. S. (1928) The Nature of the Physical World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Einstein, A. (1905) Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunkt [On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light]. Annalen der Physik, 322(6), pp. 132-148. Eliot, G. (1871) Middlemarch. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons. Eliot G. (1876) Daniel Deronda. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons. Elson, R. (2001) A Responsibility to Awe. Manchester: Carcanet. Farmelo, G., (2002). Physics + Dirac = poetry. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2002/feb/21/ maths.scienceandnature (Accessed 10 April 2021). Gaull, M. (1990) Under Romantic Skies: Astronomy and the Poets, The Wordsworth Circle, 21(1), pp. 34–41. Griffiths, D. (2012) Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Physics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hardy, T. (1882) Two on a Tower. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. Hardy, T. (1891) Tess of the d’Ubervilles. London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. Hayles, K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Herschel, W. (1783) On the Proper Motion of the Sun and Solar System; With an Account of Several Changes That Have Happened among the Fixed Stars since the Time of Mr. Flamstead, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 73, pp. 247-283. Homer (1998). The Iliad. (trans.) Fagles, R. & Knox, B. New York: Penguin Books. Howe, S. (2015). On “Relativity”. Available at: https://www. theparisreview.org/blog/2015/10/08/on-relativity/ (Accessed 10 April 2021).
Iliffe, R. (2003) ‘Authorship, Audience, and the Incomprehensibility of the Principia’, in Biagioli, M. & Galison, P. (eds.) Scientific Authorship: Credit and Intellectual Property in Science, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 33-65. Keats, J. (2009). Bright Star: The Complete Poems and Selected Letters. London: Vintage. Kenna, L.A. (1959) Eccentricity in ellipses. Mathematics Magazine, 32(3), pp. 133-135. Labinger, J. (2011) ‘Chemistry’, in Clarke, B. & Rossini, M. (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Literature and Science, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 51-62. price, k. (2012) Loving Faster than Light. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Rosendahl Thomsen, M. (2013) The New Human in Literature: Posthuman Visions of Changes in Body, Mind and Society after 1900. London: Bloomsbury. Samosata, Lucian of (2018) True Story. London: Alma Books Sarukkai, S. (2002) Translating the World: Science and Language. New York: University Press of America. Sielke, S. (2010) ‘Biology’, in Clarke, B. & Rossini, M. (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Literature and Science, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 29-40. Smith, T. K. (2011) Life on Mars. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press. Van Eylen, V., Albrecht, S., Huang, X., MacDonald, M.G., Dawson, R.I., Cai, M.X., Foreman-Mackey, D., Lundkvist, M.S., Aguirre, V.S., Snellen, I. & Winn, J.N. (2019) The orbital eccentricity of small planet systems. The Astronomical Journal, 157(2), p. 61. Verne, J. (1865) De la Terre à la Lune, trajet direct en 97 heures 20 minutes. Paris: Pierre-Jules Hetzel. Watts, R. (2018) Gravitational waves inspire arts festival show. Available at: https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/ gravitational-waves-of-emotion/ (Accessed 10 April 2021).
LITERARY ARTS – INTERVIEW 186-201
Arts at CERN (2021) Creativity across Cultures. Available at: <https://arts.cern/> (Accessed 10 April 2021). Ball, P. (2016) Babylonian astronomers used geometry to track Jupiter. Available at: https://www.nature.com/news/ babylonian-astronomers-used-geometry-to-trackjupiter-1.19261 (Accessed 10 April 2021). Bicknell, G. V. (2021) High Energy Astrophysics in Context. Available at: http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~geoff/ HEA/0_HEA_overview.pdf (Accessed 10 April 2021). Borges, J.L. (2002 ) The Book of Imaginary Beings. New York: Random House. CERN (2021) The matter-antimatter asymmetry problem. Available at: https://home.cern/science/physics/matterantimatter-asymmetry-problem (Accessed 10 April 2021). Crane, L. (2020) Neutrinos may explain why we don’t live in an antimatter universe. Available at: https://www. newscientist.com/article/2240543-neutrinos-mayexplain-why-we-dont-live-in-an-antimatter-universe/ (Accessed 10 April 2021). Encyclopedia Britannica (2021) Astronomy - Ancient Greece. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/ astronomy/Ancient-Greece (Accessed 10 April 2021). Gamow, G. (1993) Mr Tompkins in Paperback. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. García Márquez, G. (1967) Cien años de soledad. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana. Holmes, R. (2009) The age of wonder: how the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science. London: Harper Press. Horrocks, R. (2012) Jeremiah Horrocks, astronomer and poet. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 42(2), pp. 113-120.
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MUSIC + SOUND – ARTICLE 204-217
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