Artist in Residence

Artist in Residence

at LEVEL Centre

The LEVEL Centre

Currently working as Artist in Residence at the LEVEL Centre, Derbyshire UK for an initial twelve month project.

The LEVEL Centre is the National Centre for Digital Art working with adults with a learning disability. LEVEL is a six-year-old architect designed building commissioned by First Movement as a contemporary arts centre for learning disabled artwork.

My role is to create new work within the centre and to act as Artistic Director for the whole programme which includes an extensive participatory programme, a performance company, installations, training, conferences & events. LEVEL has several key National and International partners through which some very exciting work will develop over the next 6 months. I will not take a hands on role in terms of leading individual sessions, instead my role will be to establish a clear, exciting artistic framework, structure and philosophy through which the organisation can best produce high quality and significant new work including R&D programmes.

LEVEL Centre Gallery showing part of a 4 screen projection developed during my residency at the Univeristy of Leciester,

LEVEL  has a large event/performance space with floor projection, a 4 screen video installation space (shown above) a Media studio, A Gallery, 3 Artist research units and a mobile gallery/events space.

Artist in Residence

at the Space Research Centre, University of Leicester.

In September 2012 I was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship as Artist in Residence at the University of Leicester Space Research Centre with a role to research and develop new multimedia work in collaboration with research staff at the University.

IMAGE: Gamma Scans [Video Still] created with Dr John Lees.

This residency was a fantastic experience and the full final report is shown below for those interested.


At the outset I realised that this year was going to be one of exploration, experimentation, research and discovery - an opportunity to develop ideas, new material and explore potential for larger projects and collaborations over the next two/three year period. To develop national scale work in the arts requires much pre planning as galleries and performance spaces tend to programme for up to 24 months in advance. However, I was keen to discover if, through collaboration between cutting edge science and art, we could produce something with the potential to engage a wide audience at a national level. Now at the end of my formal residency I know that we have several ideas that are worth taking forward and developing. How this will be achieved is still unknown, but it is a very exciting place to be. This report documents the artistic process – from early exploration to piloting Trajectory – a multi media installation combining contemporary art with events and presentations exploring the ‘future of space research’.

For the sake of simplicity the report has been structured in 6 sections each using the title of the work created during that period.

1.         Finding my feet & Scottish Whisky
2.         A Cradle for the Mind – a screen installation for the SRC Foyer
3.         Re-presenting Reformation – a project with students and external partners
4.         Dimension – a new large scale projection and public engagement project
5.         Trajectory – a multi media installation and event at the University.
6.         The Future
1.         Scottish Whisky

The Space Research Centre (SRC) has many strands to its research progamme and getting to grips with the details of who was doing what seemed an obvious yet daunting starting point. To this end I arranged a series of meetings and began a journey of personal development. Understanding the key elements underlying the research took a little while and I was very intrigued and excited by the diverse range of work undertaken. A part of the programme centres upon the development of sensors and instruments for space research and in addition how these may have a terrestrial use – ranging from medical applications to geological instrumentation. It is involved in Earth observation, astrophysics, pollution monitoring, spacecraft mission planning, space weather, surface material analysis and even research into the nature of dark matter. However, the fact that there was a whole programme dedicated to spectrum analysis of Scottish whisky surprised me. As a result, my first small artistic endeavour was to place a bottle of “1000 year old ‘Robert the Bruce’ Chinese Whisky” on a plinth at the University Arts Centre. Not the most complex art work, but a start in engaging the public in a complex and diverse space research programme.

These initial stages helped me to clarify my artistic vision for the residency and to identify several areas where I could have a wider role within the Centre. My intent was to base as much of my work upon research data as possible. Exploring ways in which this could be presented in an artistic reworking without corrupting of its scientific value. The data could take many forms ranging from 3d models to orbit trajectories and gamma scans.

2.         A Cradle for the Mindvideo screen installation

The first project was to create a video screen installation for the foyer of the Centre. This is a small space, which was populated with outdated posters together with old examples of x-ray spectrometers and various space instruments. My intent was to make an accessible digital work using image, video and text to represent as many aspects of the Centres’ research programme as possible. It would have no technical description or explanation of the research featured. Instead I would present ideas using a visual language supported by fragments of text. As a part of the creation process I met with as many research staff as possible hoping to be able to find and develop material to represent their specialism and area of work. 

At the heart of research lies a question. What if? How does that work? Can we make it better? - Smaller? Cheaper? Do other things? Etc. Or often just, ‘What’? I hoped that these meetings would help me to understand these core questions – the essence of each research programme. I was to use these as fragments of text interspersed and underlying the visual language of the work. In addition I collected fragments of text, quotes, poems and thoughts by a variety of people from Spinoza to Kristian Olaf Birkeland and dating from 500 B.C. (Heraclitus) to contemporary statements about the importance of a space research programme. The juxtaposition of current research with historical perspectives, thoughts and questions provides a sense of referential gravity underlying the importance of humanities need to ask questions and attempt to answer them.

The final work, entitled ‘A Cradle of the Mind’ (taken from: “The Earth is a cradle of the mind, but we cannot live forever in a cradle”. Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, Father of Russian Astronautics, 1896) is 35 minutes in duration. It features many aspects of the work undertaken by the SRC including, Earth Observation, Space Weather, Engineering, Medical application of Gamma Cameras, Space Craft Trajectory and mission planning, Astrophysics and some of the stranger projects the Centre is involved in (see below). It is permanently installed on a screen in the foyer of the Centre, playing on a continuous loop.

Image from 'Cradle for the Mind'

Image from 'Cradle for the Mind'

3.         Re-presenting Reformation

One of the aims of the Residency was to encourage the development of interdisciplinary arts and science projects involving students and staff from other departments. This was met through one of the stranger research projects undertaken by the SRC. Under the title Re-presenting Reformation this research programme sought to answer the question. What would two Tudor tombs have looked like if they had been completed to their original design and not been dismantled, transported and recreated from the remaining pieces?

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, planned two elaborate tombs for Thetford Priory. One tomb was for himself, the second was for Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond. However, the tombs were never finished. After Thetford Priory was closed some parts of the monuments remained in the Priory, others went to Framlingham where Thomas Howard was buried in 1554. In the 19th century two of these pieces were discovered in Thetford and donated to the British Museum. In the 1930s more fragments were excavated.  The Representing Reformation project attempts to reconstruct what the tombs should have looked like, using fragments from archaeological excavations, 16th century manuscripts, 3D laser scanning and computer aided design software.

Undertaking this project involved the SRC working in partnership with Yale Centre for British Art, researchers from Oxford University, English Heritage, Norfolk Museums & Archeological Service, Arts & Humanities Research Council, Engineering, the Physical Sciences Research Council and Leicester University Museums Studies with lead researcher Dr Philip Lindley. A complex project! The SRC created a 3D model of both tombs together with the surviving pieces, using laser scans. These could be used to recreate possible configurations and create new models demonstrating how their construction may have been originally conceived.  Professor George Fraser (Director of the SRC) was keen for me to be involved as this could add another element to the project, raising the profile of the SRC within the complex collaborative project structure. 

Image: Video Still from the final Installation

I was able to work directly with lead researcher Dr Philip Lindley (Museum Studies) and PhD Student Nishad Karim (SRC) to create a four minute animation showing both Tombs in a virtual gallery. This started with the 3D scan data from the two monuments at Framlingham, which I transformed to produce an artistic reworking. It uses the original data provided by the SRC but re-images them, exploring notions of evanescence and decay in renderings of the monuments. I was pleased with the results, but not sure how they would be received by the whole research team. My original intention was to use it as a part of the Cradle of the Mind Installation (above), but I was delighted to find that it was very warmly received and my meditations on transience and the damage that time inflicts seem to have echoed academic concerns. So much so that it was chosen to be included in the exhibition for the project as the only video screen.

The final exhibition is currently showing as ‘Thetford’s Lost Tudor Sculptures’ at the Ancient House Museum, Thetford, Norfolk until the end of March, 2014. For a professional artist, used to working for very different types of audience, this has been reciprocally a transformative experience and the final artwork places some of the research undertaken at the SRC before new audiences.

3.         Dimension #V1

Dimension was a participatory project to create a video wall installation with members of Random Line (a charity working with adults with learning disability). It used as its core material data & images developed when working with Dr John Lees and the mini gamma camera developed for medical use. Originally I had intended to tour this work as a multi media performance, but an opportunity arose to create a large scale video projection for the South Bank Centre, London with members of Random Line.  As a part of the creation process, we explored the role of gamma images within the field of nuclear medicine and medical scanning using visual image and accessible language suited to people with a learning difficulty. I projected life size full body gamma images and mapped them onto people. This proved successful allowing people to play with the image, manipulating it through movement and also demonstrating how you could use this technology to see into the body and identify single parts.

The final work took the form of a large scale video wall projection using 5 frame blended projectors to form one large screen filling the entire rear wall of the Core Ballroom at the South Bank Centre. Frame size of the video is 4096 x 768 pixels, requiring a purpose built computer to play it in real time. The event was held over one day and attended by over 2,500 people.

Image: Dimension at the South Bank Centre, London

4.         Trajectory

Throughout the Residency I had always envisaged a final event, bringing together all the strands of work created during the year and presenting them in one space as a multi media installation. However as the year progressed and my understanding of the full research progamme undertaken by the SRC developed, I realised that this approach may lead to an unhelpful complex visual world for an audience to understand and appreciate. The “Cradle of the Mind” screen installation had already achieved much of this and has the capacity to be played in different locations and at events (it was used recently by the University for the visit of astronaut Chris Hadfield). Instead, I wanted to identify one aspect of the SRC research that could be presented within a multi media installation. This would also help towards a longer term aim: to create a touring exhibition of artists work based upon space research. I hoped therefore to pilot this idea, invite artists and academics to debate and explore ways in which research could be presented to the public within an arts space. This idea became Trajectory.

I was fortunate to meet with Dr Nigel Bannister at an early point of the residency and our continued contact throughout provided both the inspiration and resources for the Trajectory Installation. At the time of our first meeting, Nigel was working to create a real time model for the launch, mission trajectory and orbits of JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer - a planned European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft to visit the Jovian system, focused in particular on studying three of Jupiter's moons; Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa) using STK (Systems Tool Kit - produced by Analytical Graphics Inc. [AGI]).

Use of STK facilitated a complex and beautiful visualisation of satellite orbits. This other-worldly vista was impressive in its redefinition of the territory now occupied by humanity: a representation of a new political and economic frontier. There appeared to be no end to the possibilities of creative visual interpretation of this data.

While working with a multi-media approach, my primary interest is in sound and audio composition. To this end, I amassed in excess of 100 sources of sound in space, eg. Whistlers, Bow shock waves, Solar flares, Solar pulses. The Earth Chorus stood apart, even from other chorus data, eg. from Jupiter.

Earth Chorus consists of brief, rising-frequency tones emulating the chorus of birdsong at sunrise, hence 'chorus' or 'dawn chorus'. It is generated by electrons in earth's Van Allen radiation belts. Once generated, the chorus waves affect the motions of the electrons through a process called a wave-particle interaction. These interactions disturb the trajectories of the radiation belt electrons causing the electrons to hit the upper atmosphere.

There are many recordings and Long Wave radio data of the Earth Chorus, but a 2 minute data file from the European Space Agency Cluster 11 satellite, recorded on 9 July 2001, provided the link between aural and visual landscapes.

Using the available satellite data I could programme STK to track the orbit of Cluster II (It is a high altitude space craft using a polar orbit) on the day it recorded the audio data, creating visualisations of its orbit and the resulting data path on the Earth’s atmosphere. To provide a varied visual landscape I also collected data from 250 other satellites capable of observing the Earth (also from the 9th of July 2001) to create 3d visual material for several video screens. In addition to 3d mapping of the satellite trajectories it is possible to include visual information relating to the area of the Earth that the orbit is tracking or receiving data. [Not all of this data is available or possible to access – for obvious reason] These are represented within my visualisations as triangles, squares or dotted circles across the surface of the Earth. The satellites themselves are shown as dots, sometimes labelled with their names, and their orbits are visualised as continuous white lines. The world appears in different forms. As a wire frame with continents showing, as a ball of cloud or sometimes hidden by the mass of circling satellites.

Image above: Video Still from Trajectory

Seen together they present a continually evolving visual picture comprising complex elliptical patterns (not unlike a Spiro graph), data streams in numeric and symbol form add distinct points of reference between the sound, the data and the visual world. The occasional use of wire frame human heads superimposed over the satellite orbits create additional metaphorical images relating to a new political and economic territory for humanity.

Trajectory Installation
The audio for Earth Chorus was composed by shaping, filtering (removing some frequencies to reveal the detail and texture of others) and spatially placing each sound within a multi speaker diffusion system to recreate the spatial qualities of the Earth Chorus within a gallery space. Although it has been composed and therefore treated within a musical structure, Chorus I remains a true record of the original data. This is important for me, as throughout this process I have been interested in creating work that helps people to access, understand and visualise data without destroying or corrupting its value.

The first Trajectory pilot installation and event took place in November 2013 at Embrace Arts, Leicester University. In addition to the Installation it featured public presentations by

Dr Nigel Bannister – a brief history of Spacecraft Trajectory
Dr John Lees – the development of the Mini Gamma Camera for medical use 
Professor George Fraser – The Future of Space Research.

Trajectory was successful with 120 people attending and feedback extremely positive. In addition, public interest in the audio created for Trajectory has resulted in an enormous amount of publicity. To date Chorus I has featured on ‘The Sky at Night’, the BBC website, Forbes and The Discovery Channel. It appears on thousands of websites and blogs and has ‘gone viral on youtube with over 190,000 hits. This has resulted in a considerable amount of publicity for the SRC and University. While the effect of this is unknown, it has been interesting to note the level of public engagement through discussion channels and social media - An unexpected bye product of the first Trajectory Installation.

The Future

I have enjoyed and valued the opportunities that this residency has provided. Already there are 4 potential projects to develop for the future. My knowledge gained through this experience will be invaluable and will provide resources for future work. I hope to develop Trajectory over the next 12 months creating a large scale project, touring installation and opportunities for other artists and researchers to develop its exciting potential.

Conclusion and Acknowledgement

I have gained a lot from this residency and have been very grateful to the support given by the Space Research Centre. Dr John Lees has been a fantastic host, introducing me to members of the SRC team, arranging meetings, supplying information, ideas, inspiration and almost at times acting as an agent for my work. Without his support and practical work the residency would not have been nearly as enjoyable or successful. I am very grateful to all members of staff and students who took the time to help and provide valuable information and support.  Professor George Fraser (Director of the SRC) has valued my role at the Centre and was able to visualize how I could be involved in some of his projects.  In addition he has spent time helping me to understand many aspects of current research and thinking, including lending me books and articles. I was very warmly received at the SRC and hope that this is the start of a long term relationship/association.

A lot of my more experimental and research work undertaken during the residency has not been included in this report. Partly because some was never finished or it requires more resources than I currently have. But some ideas and bits of material will continue to develop and may have an artistic life in the public domain in the future. During the residency I set up a Blog site, which I intend to keep updated as ideas progress.

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