‘Creativity and Curiosity; Conversations between Artists and Astronomers’

Gillian McFarland, Ione Parkin and Alison Lochhead have developed a body of artwork in connection with astronomers, cosmologists and planetary geologists.  They have been exploring the rich imagery of space, engaging in creative dialogue with researchers and gaining new insights into the dynamic forces of the universe.

This artist-led project has been supported by funding from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Arts Council England and involves astronomers from the University of Leicester, the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, Imperial College, London and further afield.  The project was launched at the Cambridge Science Festival March 2017 with an exhibition, talks, panel discussions and workshops. Further exhibitions are scheduled for the Blyth Gallery at Imperial College, Dundee Science Centre and Glasgow Science Centre in 2018.

Interactive conversations have ranged across a variety of areas of research and this rich intake of inspiration from the scientific community has helped drive new processes within the artists’ studio practices:

Ione Parkin’s large-scale abstract paintings express her fascination about the early formation of the universe; massive clouds of cosmic dust and gas; vast webs of colour and shimmering light; luminous visions of immensity; cycles of destruction and creation.  Her textured mixed-media works on paper are inspired by planetary surfaces.

Gillian McFarland has been working with experimental glass-blowing techniques producing multiple ‘space globes’ that echo ideas of expansion, rotation, extreme heat and contraction of raw materials using silica, nitrates and UV-sensitive uranium glass.  Her punctured paper works explore orbit tracking across otherwise untouched space.

Alison Lochhead is a sculptor inspired by the impact of heat, explosion and disintegration, working with molten iron and observing the transformation of materials such as rock, clay and minerals.  She is interested in how raw materials fuse, melt or retain their integrity when subjected to the extreme heat of the foundry furnace.

The artists are expressing a lateral, not literal, response to the scientific research – a physical, tactile experience rather than an explanation.  Parallels of process have emerged between the artists and scientists – an excitement about uncertainty, ambiguity and anomaly – a desire not just to observe but to look beyond.

‘Looking through your images is like taking a tour of the depths of the Universe with the Hubble Space Telescope. Although they are abstract, I see many things within them - the surfaces of icy moons, star clusters, clouds of dust and hot gas, and colliding galaxies’  Professor Martin Barstow; Pro-Vice-Chancellor University of Leicester; Strategic Science Projects Director Leicester Institute of Space and Earth Observation; Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science, University of Leicester.

See Exhibitions and Publications pages for Creativity & Curiosity project activity. 

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