Our Through a Glass Darkly meeting last week gave a considerable amount of food for thought. Catching up with the progress that the Ordered Universe team have made on Grosseteste’s treatises over the last three symposia On the Liberal Arts, On the Generation of Sounds, On the Six Differences, On the Sphere and the very first glimpses of On Comets was a reminder, again, of the range, complexity and beauty of his thought. The themes of body and of movement, of the influence of bodies on one another and the interplay of authoritative models and the natural world around him, emerge in these discussions in a powerful and prominent manner. We can see more clearly the three stages through which Grosseteste’s thought moves, from an alchemical, elemental and astrological view of the universe, to one dominated by light and embodied light at that, to the influence of light rays. These modes are not discreet, but overlapping, and are not presented by Grosseteste as contradictory to each other. His condemnation of judicial astrology in the Hexaemeron, for example, is orthodox and Augustinian, astrology cannot take the place of free will and must not be imagined to come to to doing so. At the same time Grosseteste reveals a frustration with technological inadequacies that render accurate measurement of time and space too difficult to make predictive judgment from star-gazing possible.
The responses to Grosseteste’s thought on colour and light from the artists at the National Glass Centre were equally wide-ranging, complex and beautiful. We enjoyed an afternoon of exploring the themes and the creative processes, seeing and making interweaving lines of inspiration from medieval research, modern science, the properties of glass, fire, wood and ceramics, close-reading, craft and inspiration. Cate Watkinson’s layering of coloured glass and movement from black to white, draws directly on the De colore – On Colour. The notion would be for a large-scale exhibition piece, moving between the two sculptures, coloured and black and white, allowing the glass to work its magic with light and reflection. Reflection would also work at multiple levels: from the surfaces of the sculptures onto each other, back into the room, and viewers. Colin Rennie’s exploded rainbow takes Grosseteste’s treatise on On the Rainbow and specifically Hannah’s translation of the text into human colour vision space. Rather than re-producing the spirals that emerge from the model, Colin is working with a more abstract version, with shards of rainbow spirals exploding into the designed space.
Ruth Brenner, an MA student at the Glass Centre, takes to heart the notion of ‘experimentum’ in Grosseteste’s On Colour, working especially with molten glass poured onto wood. As she showed us in pictures the wood catches fire dramatically, and the molten glass vitrified around it; the eventual burnt wood representing the earthy quality of Grossteste’s diaphanous medium in which light is embodied. The glass itself develops a texture that looks like cloth, alongside bubbles produced from the steam. How the liquid glass moves, and how that can be recorded and manipulated are questions central to Ruth’s exploration of the medium. Movement is equally at the core of Claire Todd’s (a recent PhD graduate from the NGC – congratulations Claire!) engagement with the Grosseteste’s thought. Focusing on the theme of how tacit knowledge leads to dexterity [i.e. movement], Claire is working on three related projects. Glass Floats, taking inspiration from water, and fishing, themes that will work well with the treatise On the Impressions of the Elements. Glass Earth, takes the them of light and darkness, and Glass Body, the theme of luminosity within a living body. The notion of body energy, from a dancer with an arched back in particular, plays on the them of blackness in a white space and the movement of water, and meshes interestingly with Grosseteste’s ideas about rays and bodily light.
We finished with a highly stimulating discussion of decision-making and creativity in artwork, in science and in humanities. The interplay between the need for delicacy and subtlety and the danger of an over-engineered, over complex structure is strikingly common to all. The process of taking away for progress in disciplinary working is more important and effective than continually adding. Simplicity emerges: an artwork that has balance, a scientific or historical idea that is applicable without having to make too many caveats. Simplicity is complex, and learning to pare back is more difficult than simply adding. The implications for this in interdisciplinary work are intriguing: multiple disciplines bring perspectives to the task in hand, adding their vision, insight, correction, puzzlement or explanation. These then, in some senses, need to be stripped back, to allow what is discussed in common to emerge.
Through A Glass Darkly will also develop in exciting ways. Cate and Colin announced the fantastic news that they have been given the go-ahead for an exhibition at the National Glass Centre on work inspired by Ordered Universe, which will run October 2017 to February 2018. Lots of plans are afoot, and we’ll be meeting on a regular basis to collaborate, share and inspire each other as part of the exhibition preparations. We’ll keep you all posted!