Ever since I started working with pattern, I’ve been interested in the maths behind what I do. I use a lot of numbers, sequences and grids to structure my work, experimenting with adding random elements or breaking rules that I have set myself. I find this a really satisfying way of working – the constraints and structure help me to organise and sort through the creative ideas and possibilities that sometimes seem overwhelming.
But I’ve always wanted to work with someone else’s numbers – what would happen if I applied my own way of working with number and pattern to the data from something else entirely?
A chat with the Lancashire Science Festival earlier this year was the perfect opportunity to start exploring this idea. After meeting several academics at the University of Central Lancashire who work with data in different ways – all of which left me with far too many ideas for projects before I’d even started – I was introduced to astrophysicist, Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, Director of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute of Maths, Physics and Astronomy.
Derek’s research is all about star formation, which seemed like a perfect topic for a family event like the Lancashire Science Festival. I loved the idea of using art to communicate some of the facts and science behind something that seems so magical.
I have no background whatsoever in maths, physics or astronomy, which I later realised was a great place to start as all my ideas came directly from our discussions. After a crash course in star formation, helped by Derek’s patience with my extremely basic questions, I started to see where my own working process could fit in. Derek’s team works with telescopes that capture information on scales and distances that I can’t even comprehend, and the images they work with help to identify exactly what’s happening in space when stars are created.
There are various elements that play a role in star formation: magnetic fields, filaments, cores and the stars themselves. These elements have formed the basis of my project and are the visual building blocks (what I usually call modules or motifs) that will appear throughout the series of prints that I’m producing. The images that I’m working from are all very different, so this visual system of identifying the key elements is helping me to create a cohesive body of work. I’ll save a write up of the work itself for another time though…
Collaborating in a cross-disciplinary way like this has been more inspiring, satisfying, exciting and productive than I had dared hope, and I’ve no doubt that it will inform my practice for a long time to come. Again, I’ll write more about this, and how I’m hoping to take it forward, once the dust has settled after the event.
I’ve been supported throughout this project by In Certain Places, as part of their Testing Ground programme, which helps artists to develop their ideas and connections into projects and potential funding applications. It’s reminded me how important it is to be a part of something and to be sharing ideas with and getting inspired by other people. It’s been a surprise to realise that art can be a bit of a lonely game without those connections in place.
The results of the project will culminate in a solo exhibition in the PR1 Gallery in Preston from 28 June to 8 July, with a preview evening on 28 June 6–8pm. On Saturday 2 July, I’ll be producing a huge artwork on the floor of the gallery with visitors to the Lancashire Science Festival so people can experience some of the things I’ve learned about star formation for themselves. If you’re in the north west please come along to the festival and pop in to the gallery to take part!