Horizon: the science and study behind the show

Find out more about the sound and light projection show, Horizon, here. Created by Ross Ashton and Karen Monid, of the Projection Studio, scientists from NASA, and Ordered Universe team members, Horizon draws on themes of unity and plurality, identity and place, and journeys in space and on sea. The presentation of these themes draws on a number of the shorter scientific treatises by Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253), one of the most dazzling minds of his generation. Here, we’ll include details of the science and medieval studies behind the show, introduce the teams that are involved on the artistic side and the projection at Napa, and some wider essays on the sources and the meanings of the piece. Enjoy!

Horizon – the concept

Horizon is the journey of humankind, discovering our place through what we see, and how that view has changed through time as we go beyond the limit of our horizon. With mathematics as the core structure and language of the universe, ‘Horizon’ suggests how its voice has been heard & interpreted through the tides of time. Beginning with the scientific teachings of the English 13th century polymath Robert Grosseteste and journeying to 21st century imagery from the Jet Propulsion Laboratories at NASA, we see how our knowledge is shaped by the horizon of our viewpoint, by what is visible and invisible to us, and how we still seek answers from where we stand on how we should live.

Goodman Library, 1219 1st St., Napa, CALocation:

Horizon will play for the duration of the Napa Lighted Festival, Monday – Thursday: 6-9 p.m. | Friday – Sunday: 6-10 p.m. It will use the Goodman Library as the projection site. This historic library building dates to 1901, and it is the longest operating library in California. A wonderful location for the show, and another fascinating building to add to the list on with the Projection Studio have used in this way - from Durham Cathedral, to Edinburgh Castle, the Oxford Museum of Natural History, and now the Goodman Library. 

Spotlight on: The Artists

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Ross Ashton & Karen Monid are artists who create ‘Son et Lumiere’ (sound and light) artworks which use the architecture of existing buildings as their canvas. Bringing their ideas out into the street allows them to remove some of the barriers that may disconnect the public from art The soundscapes created by Monid often combine a number of different types of sound, from new compositions and pre-recorded music, to ‘found’ sounds and innovative use of language. She creates works which include Latin, Old English and Old Norse as well as modern languages. Ross Ashton works in the medium of Architectural Projection.  He is an expert at using images and architecture in combination to allow audiences to see a building in a new way.

“I like to take the landscape and the texture of the space as my inspiration. Three-dimensional surfaces allow me to add or subtract texture and imagery, to play games with space.  I want the viewer to arrive at a new appreciation of a series of surfaces.”

Working with The Ordered Universe has inspired several works which have been exhibited in Durham, Cambridge, Oxford, Berlin & Napa. These works combine visual and aural elements drawn from medieval history, cosmology, physics and theology, amongst others subjects and themes.

Outline: the medieval cosmos

Horizon starts in the 13th century, drawing on three treatises by Robert Grosseteste: On the Sphere, On the Six Differentiae and On Light. In the first of these works probably written between 1215 and 1220 Grosseteste explores the physical universe from an earth-bound perspective in an era before telescopes. The universe Grosseteste describes is spherical, as are the spheres of which the ancient and medieval universe was composed. The spheres, the creation of which Grosseteste discusses in his slightly later treatise On Light c. 1225, are related to the fixed stars and wandering stars, or planets. Where ancient thinkers, such as Aristotle or Ptolemy, had larger numbers of spheres, later Islamicate thinkers such as Ibn Sina reduced the number. What Grosseteste works with then is 13 spheres. The cosmos, in both ancient and medieval thinking was divided into two regions, above and below the moon. Nine spheres exist above the moon, and four below, often counted as one terrestrial sphere, as shown in this later 13th century copy of Grosseteste’s On the Sphere now British Library Harley 3735:

Harley 3735

Above the Moon: Firmament, Fixed Stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus Mercury, Moon.

Below the Moon: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth – the last two intermingled.

Within this vision of the cosmos Grosseteste opens up discussion of many different phenomena and concepts. Lunar and solar eclipses, the passage of the sun around the earth (yes, that is how it goes for this period), the geography of the earth and the existence of climactic zones, from the heat of the equator to the freezing conditions of the arctic, and everything in between. The universe is the setting for his explorations of the Christian Calendar, geared at root over how to reconcile the Jewish calendar of lunar cycles and the Roman version of solar cycles to come up with a means by which to fix a date for Easter. The movements of the stars become vital to life on earth. They are even more so in astrological terms – the notion that the planets in their spheres influenced those below them was widely accepted in the medieval period. Astrological prediction that appeared to negate free will was frowned upon severely, but planetary power over the health of the body, the weather and agriculture were reasonable things to study. Grosseteste also spent a good deal of time thinking about the horizon in On the Six Differentiae which dates probably from the early 1220s. Reconciling apparently contradictory statements in Aristotle (in the Physics and On the Heavens), Grosseteste discusses the six ways of distinguishing direction and place: Up, Down, Left, Right, Backwards and Forwards. The objective direction he decides is Up – heavy things fall to the middle, of the universe, light things go up. It is here that the horizon is essential – since what and where the horixon is depends on where the viewer is positioned. All of this is explored in the first part of Horizon – as these still images show: