The Ordered Universe is delighted to announce a series of collaborations with creative artists and organisations, with whom the project will be working over the coming months and years. These will all be featured in forthcoming posts: we start with artist Alexandra Carr.
Alexandra first engaged with the Orderd Universe when she attended the public lecture delivered by Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper at the Royal Society in September 2015 and we’ve been talking ever since. She is particularly interested in, and associated with, taking artistic inspiration from science, so the fusion of medieval and modern science in the Ordered Universe provides a very stimulating set of encounters. There are lots of pieces in development, and Alexandra will also be taking on the role of creative consultant to the project. She has already begun to forge her own creative relationship with Grosseteste’s treatises on colour, light, sound and the rainbow, and we’re very privileged to have early sight of them to share:
Alexandra brings a wealth of experience to the project. She is a co-founder of the Institute of Other dedicated to networking and exchange of experience. And her artistic vision. As she puts it herself, she: ‘explores the perception of our reality, our environment and our very existence. Levels of seeing, states of being and plains of consciousness are at the forefront of her mind when drawing, making or creating interactive or kinetic works. She surveys physical forces, prying under their charade of manifestation to uncover the underlying code that connects us to each other and the cosmos.’
Alexandra is an artist working with patterns in nature, natural processes and phenomena. Her work is heavily science based and experimental in nature. Alexandra completed a foundation at Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design and a ceramics degree at Camberwell College of Art, graduating in 2003. She has worked on an exhibition with Jean Paul Gaultier which was exhibited at the Foundation Cartier in Paris. After working at various galleries including the Tate Britain she worked as a model maker for Norman Foster and more recently, in the 3D side of the events industry. Carr exhibits internationally and collaborates with specialists from other disciplines such as musicians, sound designers and theoretical physicists. Her practice includes, drawing, sculpture, kinetic works, photography and video although the boundary between art and technology is of particular importance. She has spent the last six months at the artists’ collective HEIMA, in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, as an artist in residence and mentor for the Lunga School. She was subsequently documenting her works in a castle in Co. Galway, Ireland, before returning to London to resume her practice
The subjective nature of existence provides a further stimulus to her creative philosophy: ‘Perpetual change despite the universal order provokes her to give weight to transience, boundaries between states of matter, and chaotic structures. Our observation of constant flow and flux is only possible due to the arrow of time. There is no past, there is no future, only now, but even our perception of the present is inaccurate. Persistence of vision dictates that we form thoughts based on light our eyes perceive milliseconds in the past. As sentient beings, we can never truly experience the present; we only exist in our own construct of reality as experiential shadows of the past in a physical present. So the true definition of reality is inaccurate and redundant. Therefore we are free to exist in any reality we choose and transcend to the elegance of a universe we are unable to comprehend. There is no such thing as reality; there is only perception.’
The grasping at an intangible reality is something with which medieval thinkers would have sympathised. They knew that the human mind was fallen, incapable of seeing things as they really were, though they were still endowed with the fractured memories of a point when they were so capable. Such notions meant that high theological doctrines of creation were intimately linked to the capacities of individual men and women. There are not many treatises on art from the High Middle Ages (c.1050-c.1250), but one remarkable text that does survive is the De diversis artibus by the German Benedictine monk Roger of Helmershausen, or Theophilus as he would be known to posterity. Dating to the mid-twelfth century Roger’s work begins with the statement that:
‘In the account of the creation of the world, we read that man was created in the image and likeness of God and was animated by the Divine breath, breathed into him. By the eminence of such distinction, he was placed about the other living creatures, so that, capable of reason, he acquired participation in the wisdom and skill of the Divine Intelligence, and, endowed with free will, was subject only to the will of his Creator, and revered his sovereignty. Wretchedly deceived by the guile of the Devil, through the sin of disobedience he lost the privilege of immortality, but, however, so far transmitted to later posterity the distinction of wisdom and intelligence, that whoever will contribute both care and concern is able to attain a capacity for all arts and skills, as if by hereditary right’. (De diversis artibus, ed. and trans. C. R. Dowell (OUP, 1961, repr. 1986), p. 1)
All arts and skills for Roger included painting and glasswork; not merely the intellectual arts such as logic, grammar, astronomy and music. Not that medieval thinkers kept abstract learning separate from the practical: astronomy was essential to time-reckoning, and vital for the calculation of Easter – the moveable feast at the centre of the Christian year. So too the artistic: even if it inspired fewer treatises, the symbiosis between creative arts and intellectual cultural, is apparent at almost every medieval turn. The same commitment to creative research and the articulation of creative processes (whether translating or editing a text, completing a commentary or composing a picture) is held by the Ordered Universe project.
All artistic images in this copyright to Alexandra Carr, 2016, and used with permission.