It’s two months since I started working with Lancaster University’s Astrophysics department on the Spine project – creating artwork to be displayed along the main walkway of the university campus, the Spine. My first blog explains my initial research and starting points.
The final work, called Parallaxis, is a series of window installations along the northern half of the Spine. Based on ideas used in the cosmic distance ladder (a system of techniques for measuring distance in space) and collective knowledge, each piece in Parallaxis consists of three visual elements that are presented differently according to their position along the Spine, representing the behaviour of matter and energy in the expanding universe.
Parallax means: ‘The effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions, e.g. through the viewfinder and the lens of a camera…from Greek parallaxis “a change”’, and is one of the techniques used in the cosmic distance ladder. It’s often explained using the fact that if you look at the same object with each eye individually it appears to move, and this is something I find myself doing a lot, for instance when looking out of a window and trying to line certain things up in my eyeline. I’ve got no idea if this is something that other people do, but it seemed to sum up how I’d like the work to be viewed!
This happened in three stages…
First, the big background shapes, which represent the increasing speed at which the universe is expanding. The shapes nearest the centre of the Spine are simpler (showing a slower speed) and made up of one or two pieces, while the shapes at the outer edges of the Spine are more complex (showing a faster speed) and made up out of seven or eight pieces.
Next, I added the line to each piece, which represents how condensed the universe is: the lines nearest the centre of the Spine are most complicated (showing the more condensed universe), and they become simpler as you walk further out along the Spine (and as the universe expands).
Finally, I added a gold pattern to each piece, the appearance of which is determined by the position and shape of the line and background shape. On each installation I found the halfway point between where the line enters and leaves the background shape. This point marked the centre of the gold pattern, and I then added a gold square 5cm away from this midpoint in line with anywhere else that the line leaves/enters the background shape. After that I added further squares in line with the placement of the first ones, again 5cm apart.
These gold patterns represent new discoveries in science: using two known constants (in this case the background shape and the line) to reveal the information (where the gold pattern will go). This meant that I didn’t know how each piece would look until it was finished. It was genuinely exciting to add the gold layer and see how the placement of the other elements created the final compositions. For example, in some pieces, the line only enters and leaves the background shape once, which means the gold pattern will be formed in a line. But when there is a complex line that enters and leaves the background shape many times, the gold forms a series of concentric circles and looks very different.
The colour of the background shape changes gradually along the Spine, referencing redshift, one of the ways of measuring distance in the universe. At the start of the Spine, the shapes are purple and blue (representing matter that is closest – in distance and in time), and they gradually change to red at the outer edges (representing matter that is further away – in distance and in time).
Ways of seeing
As the work will be onsite for a few months, I wanted to create something that would not always look the same. People can view the installations from the inside and the outside, and the way the light either reflects off or shines through the pieces affects the appearance a lot. On a sunny day, coloured pools of light appear on the floor or on the frosted safety vinyl or blinds on the insides of the windows. At night, the colour doesn’t show up very well from the outside, but the gold reflects light and these patterns become really prominent. When the lights are on, the colours glow a lot more. I hope that people who are on campus a lot will enjoy the experience of seeing the pieces in different light conditions and from different viewpoints and keep noticing some of the smaller pieces that are harder to spot. The poster at the end of this post is displayed on the student noticeboards along the Spine, which includes tear-off strips with suggestions of ways that the work can be viewed.
First, a rest! I’ve had a very intense (and enjoyable) few months, being totally immersed in this project, but it’s time to step back for a few weeks and reflect on the process and all the conversations I’ve had along the way. In August I’ll be installing more pieces along the South Spine, and these will stay up until the end of September.