The Ordered Universe symposium series at the Napa Lighted Art Festival, two weeks ago today, began with two sessions, one from Cate Watkinson (University of Sunderland and Watkinson Glass Associates) and Giles Gasper (Durham University). Speaking on Glass and glass architecture in churches, Giles and Cate, journeyed from the medieval period to the contemporary, moving through broader themes of light, its manipulation and the changes in the ways artists, patrons, and visitors to churches have responded to sacred space. In the elegant venue of the First Presbyterian Church in Napa, with its own striking glasswork, Cate and Giles explored notions of artificial light, colour and shape, as well as technical change and artistic movements. From Chartres to Brian Clarke, the Sainte Chapelle to St Mary’s Parish Church in Gateshead, the talk dwelt on topics central to the Ordered Universe, and to a lively question session afterwards.
Our second talk of the day came in the later afternoon, on the 17th January, this time in the Goodman Library, a historic building in downtown Napa. Talking on the first evening were Brian Tanner (Durham University) and Colin Rennie (University of Sunderland and colinrennie.co.uk), on the nature of light, the implications of wavelength, Robert Grosseteste’s thought on colour, light, and the rainbow, and some of the results of collaboration between glass artists and medieval and modern science. Colin talked through the creation of Concurrentes a large piece of glass sculpture drawing on Grosseteste’s treatise on the rainbow and Hannah Smithson’s modelling of a natural rainbow in human colour vision (following Grosseteste’s parameters in the same treatise). Also featured were illustrations of short and long wavelength light, and pyrography – writing in fire, with Uranium glass (which Brian and Colin had enjoyed at the National Glass Centre in preparation for the talk). Flouresence in scientific and artistic perspectives was an eye-opener. Colour is light embodied in a transparent medium (the beginning of Grosseteste’s treatise on colour) began to take on new depth and meaning.
The talks took the audience beyond their normal experiences, and introduced the great array of topics, fields of expertise, and expert practitioners that Ordered Universe has gathered. In the evening, we all gathered in the Goodman Library, as a team, from Durham, Sunderland, Oxford, Newcastle, Chicago and Berkeley, with Ross and Karen from The Projection Studio to showcase three intertwined strands of the project: humanities, science, art, to the public, with Horizon projected on the outside of the building.