Napa Lighted Art Festival – Colour, Perception, the Avant Garde and more

A second set of talks, and memories from the Napa Lighted Festival last month. Friday 18th January saw a first talk from multi-media sculptor Alexandra Carr, a frequent collaborator with the Ordered Universe, and Joshua Harvey (Psychology and Engineering Science, University of Oxford). In Beyond Colour Alexandra and Josh spoke on various aspects of the perception and manipulation of colour. Alexandra asked the audience whether we see what we actually see, using historical examples – Grosseteste, Newton, and Goethe, and more practical examples such as the colour purple (which doesn’t really exist). Joshua problematised human perception of colour and changing conceptual frameworks for its analysis over time. The two-dimensional colour line of Aristotle giving way to the three-dimensional interpretation of Grosseteste’s treatise on colour, with modern understanding of the same phenomenon. To show how Grosseteste’s theory of colour, with its three bi-polar axes (two of light bright-dim, copious-scarce, and one of the medium in which light is embodied pure-impure), can be modelled, Josh used a network of cities in the UK; an example of how dynamic a range of interpretation is possible with interdisciplinary working. How colour, and its perception by humans, can be manipulated was made particularly memorable in a presentation of glowing chillis.

After such a stimulating morning opener our next engagement was back at the First Presbyterian Church. This time it was the turn of Luke Fidler, doctoral candidate in History of Art at the University of Chicago. With a primary interest in medieval German and Scandinavian art and artefacts, Luke’s scholarly expertise is considerable, extending in particular to avant-garde film making. The intersection between medieval art and avant-garde film formed the basis for his talk, and the special place that filmmaker Hollis Frampton had for Grosseteste’s treatise On Light. He translated it himself from Latin, and it forms the final section of about ten minutes in his masterpiece Zorn’s Lemma (at minute 48 in the film linked below). Against the backdrop of a snowscape and a couple walking a dog, Grosseteste’s treatise is intoned. Other prominent figures in the American avant garde discussed included Stan Brakhage and his eerie painting on celluloid, with medieval influences especially strong in the Dante Quartet. A fascinating two hours.

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Come the evening and the Ordered Universe team gathered again at the Goodman Library for another show and tell session, from art inspired from the project, scientific experiments and posters and films about Grosseteste, his world, and the work it has inspired. And all of that with Horizon playing on the outside of the building.



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