Lux Obscura

From the Sculpting with Light project led by Leverhulme Artist in Residence, Alexandra Carr. The second installation from the project.

Sculpting With Light

Lux Obscura

The second major output from the from the Sculpting with Light project is Lux obscura. The brainchild of Alexandra Carr and Rosie Reed Gold, Lux obscura came into being in the mortuary chapel at Ushaw College. More details of the making-process are available on Rosie’s webpage, with the finished result below. Light and shadow; shadow and light caught in a luminescent mesh.

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Through a Glass Darkly – More and more things to do with glass!

Work continues apace for the October 2017 launch of the National Glass Centre exhibition by Cate and Colin based on research from the Ordered Universe and the scientific world of Robert Grosseteste. The official launch date is 20th October and the exhibition will run until March 2018. A visit with Giles Gasper, Alexandra Carr, photographer Rosie Reed Gold (whose photographs are used here), and OxNet Southmoor Academy co-ordinator Katarzyna Kosior, revealed the riches in store.

Cate’s sculptures are coming together, literally, with glass all nearly supplied and in the process of being sculpted. The photographs above show some of the amazing effects within the pieces for display. The photographs below show a little more, as well as one of the finished pieces, running from black to white, the making of the opening halo-casting piece (you’ll have to come along to see what this is), and a representation of medieval text to be cast in glass (which had at least one medievalist very excited).

Colin’s exploded rainbow, with its bands with colours running into each other is nearing completion. He has moved on to woking on the wall-mounted pieces, a complex glass-blowing exercise, which has to be seen to be believed. In the film below, five additional helpers were needed to bring the glass piece to its final form.

 The precision, artistry and planning needed for all of these pieces to come to being has been a process as exciting as it is humbling to witness and within which to participate. To bring current and past conceptions of the world around us to life in this way, to contribute to inspiring others and to share ideas and expertise is, surely, what university-led research is all about. Light, colour, heat and action – all will be ready for October!

Building Bridges, Connecting Arcs

A post by Joshua Harvey, D.Phil. student, Department of Engineering Science and Pembroke College, University of Oxford, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of ‘The Mental and Material Laboratories of Medieval Science’ project, under the aegis of the Ordered Universe.

Parry Arc
Halos featuring a Parry arc – photograph by Martina Wisotzki

The latest research article from the Ordered Universe project: “Bow-shaped caustics from conical prisms: a 13th Century account of rainbow formation from Robert Grosseteste’s De iride” is available to read now, open access at the Optical Society of America’s journal Applied Optics. Grosseteste’s treatise De iride [On Rainbows], which may be familiar to long-term followers of the Ordered Universe project, explores theoretical optics, colour theory, and meteorology to give one of the most comprehensive pre-renaissance scientific writings on the rainbow. With this most recent article, we explore his pioneering model of rainbow formation – the first to use refraction (and not just reflection) in medieval Europe. Through an interdisciplinary combination of historical review, geometric optics, and both practical and simulated experiment, we give a thorough overview of the historical significance of the De iride, and look at what lessons we can learn from it today.

This fruitful exploration has not been done before. Although Grosseteste provides a detailed description of what he believes are the geometric underpinnings of a rainbow, he has previously been disregarded in this area. David Lindberg even went so far as to say that ‘his theory of the rainbow could not account for even the most basic phenomena and has remained largely unintelligible to the modern day.’ Well, we thought there might have been more to Grosseteste’s thought than that, being familiar with his mathematical mind and keen curiosity about the natural world. As a research team with a diverse expertise, we together arrived at an interpretation of Grosseteste’s optical mechanism that was intelligible, elegant and, most excitingly, perfectly testable. To our surprise, the caustics – patterns of gathered light – produced by a transparent cone are just as Grosseteste describes.

Remarkably, we have already been contacted by a researcher investigating atmospheric optics, who has found some striking correspondences between his own work and our interpretation of Grosseteste’s De iride. Markus Selmke’s recent paper, “Artificial circumzenithal and circumhorizontal arcs” published in American Journal of Physics, explores to great depths the kinds of refractive optical interactions between transparent cones, as modelled by glassware filled with water, and incident light. Selmke has shown that Parry arcs, a type of halo, are analogous to the caustics produced by shining light through a wine glass of water. Although not as frequently observed as rainbows, Parry arcs are similarly beautiful displays of dispersive colour seen in the heavens, providing certain atmospheric conditions are met. Selmke’s paper features a combination of practical and mathematical experimentation, similar to our own approach in the Applied Optics paper, and states that “light entering through the top air-water interface and leaving through the lateral cone surface results in an analogy to Parry’s halo”. This is identical to Grosseteste’s geometric scheme, as we interpreted it. Although, to his detractors, his likening of a rainbow to that of light going through a transparent cone might sound crude, or even ridiculous, it appears this simple model does indeed capture the optical principles behind a dispersive atmospheric phenomenon.

Grosseteste was wrong about rainbows. Not long after him, rainbows were correctly understood to be produced by light interacting with near-spherical raindrops, by both Kamal al-Din al-Farisi and Theodoric of Freiburg in the fourteenth century. But Grosseteste was not wrong about the optical qualities of transparent cones, and although the optical scene he describes in De iride does not relate to rainbows, it is analogous to another kind of dispersive optical event seen in the heavens.

Of course, it would be incorrect to claim that Grosseteste had solved the mystery of Parry’s arc back in the thirteenth century. He had probably never seen or heard of one, as they are rare outside the Arctic circles, and it wasn’t until 1820 that William Parry observed and drew one. Was this mere coincidence, could Grosseteste have happened upon an atmospheric optical mechanism by chance? Perhaps. But it is worth bearing in mind that his theory was likely grounded in observation, and formulated to be as parsimonious as possible. I think that rather than chance, it is instead even clearer we are reading the work of someone with a scientific mind, curiosity about nature, and a belief in a profoundly ordered universe.

Joshua Harvey

The Medium is the Message

A public talk from the Sculpting with Light programme: Giles Gasper, Brian Tanner and Alexandra Carr in conversation…free and open to the public, with a chance to view the work from the project 3.30-5.30 on the same day.

Sculpting With Light

Medium is the Message Talk

A public talk from the Sculpting with Light project, taking place at Ushaw College, August 24th, 6-7.30pm. Sculpting with Light is a Leverhulme Trust funded Artist in Residence programme, featuring multi-media sculptor Alexandra Carr, with academics from Arts and Humanities, and Sciences at Durham University. This talk, featuring Alexandra, Giles Gasper from the History Department, and Brian Tanner from Physics, takes the theme of the residency: medieval and modern explanations of the cosmos, in conversation with Alexandra’s artistic response and interpretation of the many and varied conceptual frameworks for the space in which we live. The talk will consider the interface of different approaches to central issues of the human condition, the challenges and effects of folding different disciplines together, as well as the different visions of the universe that we encounter from the Middle Ages to the modern era. A show and tell of Alexandra’s work, as well as…

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Programme update, Ether and news

More from the Sculpting with Light team at Ushaw; Ether, a new installation at Oxford, and more programme information for the rest of the summer.

Sculpting With Light

Well, there has been a lot going on over the last few weeks. Alexandra and various members of the academic team took part in a week-long summer school at Oxford over the first week of August. This took place at Pembroke College as part of its award-winning access to university scheme. Sixth-form students from across the UK, and from rural India, and Boston Massachusetts gathered for a week of intense learning and teaching based around medieval science and its modern analogues. Alexandra produced a wonderful installation sculpture, Ether, in the chapel over the course of three days. The play of light was amazing, and the blend of materials, space and light, created a structure drawing on both medieval and modern cosmology.


This has inspired more developments which we’ll report soon!

In the meantime the Ushaw programme of activities has been revised…please do come and see what we’re up to…

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Inspiring Young Minds with Old Thinking

A blog from Thomas Henderson, Durham University, History undergraduate, and recipient of a Laidlaw Scholarship, attached to the project for the next two years.

Last week, the Ordered Universe enjoyed a prominent role in OxNet Access Week summer school at Pembroke College, Oxford. Run under the aegis of Dr Peter Claus, the programme is designed to introduce sixth-formers to the realities of university life, study and research (about which more can be read in the previous post). The week’s programme took its title – ‘The World Machine’ – from the project, and placed particular emphasis on the demands of interdisciplinarity. In introducing the summer school as a whole, Giles Gasper urged the 16- and 17-year-olds to ignore the boundaries they were used to, and to shed the fear of appearing stupid or wrong – skills necessary both for interdisciplinary research and the transition from further to higher education.

As such, the separate streams of Humanities, Science and Theology, though operating in parallel, were regularly combined in shared lectures given by members of the Ordered Universe project: Hannah Smithson lecturing on colour perception, Tom McLeish on the role of inspiration in scientific research, Richard Bower on Cosmology, medieval and modern, and Giles Gasper on the Grosseteste’s life, times and scientific output. Working in the college’s chapel, Alexandra Carr produced an arresting light-based multimedia sculpture; an impressive achievement considering her short time frame. This, along with her talks given with Giles Gasper encouraged the students to think about their subjects in more creative, original ways.

In addition to this broad interdisciplinary approach, the Ordered Universe had its own teaching strand. This centred on collaborative reading of Robert Grosseteste’s De luce and De colore, along with lectures, and a successful seminar on sound given by Joshua Harvey. More intensive tutorials were run by Ordered Universe contributors Joshua Harvey and Tim Farrant, with Tom Henderson and Alexandra Haigh together tutoring a third group. Though the work was undoubtedly challenging, the sixth-formers rose magnificently to meet it, making insightful contributions. It was immensely gratifying for tutors to watch as the students grew in confidence over the course of the week, taking to heart Giles Gasper’s assurance that “there are no stupid questions”.

Students’ feedback showed that, while they found the work more difficult than they were used to, their experience of the Ordered Universe project had been immensely rewarding. It was clear that they had internalised the projects principles, looking beyond narrow conceptions of individual disciplines to be more curious and adventurous in their thinking.

Cate Watkinson – VideoLog2: Embodying Light

Cate Watkinson talks through her ideas for the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland’s, upcoming exhibition on Grosseteste, light and colour, in the autumn. This is the second film made by Claire Todd, exploring aspects of how the pieces and the exhibition come together. Colour, Light and the magic of glass….

We are very grateful for the support of the Durham University Institute of Advanced Study in making these films possible.

Opening a new chapter for Ordered Universe

Next week marks a new line of activity for the Ordered Universe project, and one that has been some time in planning and design. In a nutshell, the project will form part of an award-winning scheme to encourage access to university from school pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged and non-traditional University application backgrounds. The approach of the OxNet scheme  is to use an academically intensive, subject driven programme to inspire, and to stretch and challenge those who take part: which Ordered Universe fits into very nicely. All pupils who participate in the scheme are encouraged to think about and engage with subjects they may not have considered studying, and to raise their academic attainment by taking part in sustained intellectually challenging programmes.

The OxNet scheme which began in Pembroke College, University of Oxford, under the guidance and inspiration of Dr Peter Claus, runs through hub schools – currently in, for example, Hackney, Manchester and Chester. These host a series of activities for a group of students from surrounding schools in their lower sixth year, in connection with the main organisation in Oxford and other universities (including Durham and Manchester). The normal pattern for a strand is a 6 week seminar series (2 hour seminars), a weekend Easter School and a week-long Summer School. Other activities organised by the hubs spin off around this, with subject centres, for example in Theology and Classics, and wider community engagement.

Ordered Universe will feature in the OxNet Summer School next week, with its own strand, designed around the treatises On Colour and On Light. Regular contributors to the project, Giles Gasper, Josh Harvey, Tim Farrant, Hannah Smithson, Tom McLeish and Peter Claus will be running the collaborative reading sessions, lectures and talks on aspects of the project, and smaller group assignments. We will be joined by Thomas Henderson, an undergraduate historian from Durham and recipient of a Laidlaw Research Scholarship and David Shacklette of Pembroke College. In addition to this line-up, Alexandra Carr, one the creative partners of Ordered Universe, and Artist in Residence under a Leverhulme Trust scheme (Sculpting with Light), will be resident throughout the summer school. She will be working with the students and members of the team, and creating a temporary art installation in college.

It is a great privilege to take part in the OxNet scheme. Research-led strands are a new venture, and the Ordered Universe is the principal partner for a new hub school for the North East: Southmoor Academy in Sunderland. The newly appointed co-ordinator Dr Kataryzna Kosior, an expert on Renaissance Poland, will be participating in the summer school, and we look forward, very much, to working with her, Matthew Garragan and Peter Claus, and all of the students who will be taking the Ordered Universe strands over the next three years. As we know, collaboration is both rewarding and time-consuming; the core research from the project will influence directly the content of the OxNet-Ordered Universe programme. Paradigms are there to be shifted, challenges to be met and mastered, and fresh, dynamic insight to be taken from Grosseteste’s writings and our modern analyses.

Next show and tell at Ushaw

Show and Tell from the Sculpting with Light team, this Friday (28th July) at Ushaw 2-4. Do come along and find out about what Alexandra is up to.

Sculpting With Light

show and tell 28th july

The next show and tell from Sculpting with Light takes place on Friday (28th July), at Ushaw College, in the Exhibition Theatre. Alexandra, Giles, and others will be on hand to present the project and the research on which it draws and moves alongside.  Please do come along and say hello!

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Medieval and Modern Cosmology: Art, Science and Making

Grosseteste’s scientific works featured on the opening day of the ASMbly Lab, in the St John’s Shopping Centre, Leeds, organised by The Superposition. The lab will be live for the next 12 days, with a wide variety of participants and exhibitors, scientists (and historians of science), artists, makers and artificers, all gathered together to share their collective insights, projects and inspirations. Members of the public are encouraged to attend as well. Giles, Alexandra Carr and cosmologist Mark Neyrinck Continue reading