Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly is a new collaboration between the Ordered Universe Research Project, Durham University  and the University of Sunderland, National Glass Centre. Members of the Ordered Universe will be working with Dr Cate Watkinson and Dr Colin Rennie, of the Department of Glass and Ceramics, and their undergraduate and postgraduate students. Cate runs her own glass studio, Watkinson Glass Associates, with commissions ranging from decorative panel installations to major public sculptures. SheScreen Shot 2016-03-28 at 17.55.05 is especially concerned with sustainability, multi-media and sculpture in steel, stone and light. Colin’s artistic interests are focused on the translation of scientific ideas into real world models, and speaks to the perception of science in modern society. This overlaps intriguingly and excitingly with the interests of the Ordered Universe project in its concern to provide a deeper narrative of science, informed by humanities research, and to reinforce the place of science in our historical and contemporary narratives, enshrining both as creative processes of discipline and imagination.

Grosseteste’s fascination with light and colour and his views of their intimate relationship to body and being throughout the universe, provide a basis here for fruitful and extensive creative collaboration. Through a Glass Darkly will also develop further connections with artist Alexandra Carr and film-maker Alan Fentiman. Alex will continue her creative response to Grosseteste’s scientific treatises in working with the students and staff of the National Glass Centre. Alan will create a documentary of the collaboration. This will unfold a cinematic meditation on the textual and material research and outputs from the Ordered Universe, especially the De colore: ‘Color est lux incorporata perspicuo. Perspicui uero due sun different…Lux autumn quadrifarie partitur… [Colour is light embodied in a diaphanous medium. Indeed, this medium pos-sesses two different qualities…Now, light is divided four ways…].

The collaboration will explore creative responses to Ordered Universe research on Grosseteste’s theories of colour, light, sound and the rainbow. We’re going to  produce an original piece of glass artwork for exhibition. And along the way have an immense amount of fun and learn a lot, sharing experience and expertise between individuals and institutions. The activities include a series of creative collaboration seminars, knowledge-sharing seminars, artistic explorations, public lectures and the pilot project ‘Grosseteste in Glass’ – designing and visualising his thought. Grosseteste himself related his theories of light and colour to glass in a moving passage from his Dicta:

The light of the sun in the sun or in the aether is only light, having nothing in it but the nature of light, and as much as is of its nature, such as can exist in itself, and never be incorporated in these inferior natures. But when the sun’s light is added to an existing colour in the medium through which it passes, for example to the colour of the glass, it will necessarily incorporate that colour itself to that colour, and draws the colour with itself, and the colour becomes the nature of the light, and the light in the nature of the colour; it will be a ray of yellow or green or red, according to the colour that it passed through. Neither can the ray there not be a coloured ray, though in the sun and in the aether it is separate from all colouring. Dictum 141

A natural collaboration emerges, then, between a thirteenth-century thinker and twenty-first century scientific, humanities and artistic researchers and practitioners. There is a local connection too; Grosseteste’s great friend, companion and advisor, Adam Marsh was rector of Bishopwearmouth within Sunderland (the parish church of St Michael’s became Sunderland Minster in 1998), until 1232. It was probably Adam who placed his name along with that of Grosseteste in Durham Cathedral Priory’s Liber vitae, Book of Memory, very possibly connected to a visit to the north-east made by Grosseteste between Christmas 1231 and November 1232. Through a Glass Darkly is funded by Durham University, in partnership with the University of Sunderland.