Life is rich in sounds and patterns and so is the mysterious universe


SPINE 2019 is a major art exhibition celebrating Lancaster University’s globally significant research. SPINE is a summer thriving with ideas, inspiration and dialogue on campus. This year, we have invited two artists to collaborate with researchers from our Physics Department to create artwork that will enable staff, students and visitors to learn about the latest discoveries.

SPINE highlights the critical role that artists and scientists play in our understanding of the world, exploring ways in which academic disciplines establish a common language to share stories and pass on knowledge. This is a place where disciplines collaborate – where research fuels innovation.

This Summer

Royal Astronomical Society Logo

Patterns and sounds out of reach to the human eye and ear

This summer's exhibition will explore our ever-expanding universe, the cosmic distance ladder, redshift, black holes and auroras. It is a free showcase combining art and science, inspired by research from Lancaster University’s Space Science and Astrophysics Research Groups. We have invited two artists to collaborate with researchers from our Physics Department to create artwork that will invite staff, students and visitors to discover the abstract and hard to explain universe through pattern, sound and moving image. Campus will house artistic interventions by pattern artist, Bonnie Craig and projectionist, Nicola Rae. The show includes site-specific installations of vinyl patterns taking over windows and a sound and digital projection installation. The exhibition coincides with the upcoming National Astronomy Meeting 2019, hosted by Lancaster Physics Department. The artworks are a response to the mysterious world of a universe full of patterns and sounds that the human eye and ear cannot reach. 

The Artists

Nicola Rae has created an immersive sound specific digital projection that translates aurora simulations into sound patterns under the guidance and advice of Professor Isobel Hook and Professor Jim Wild.

Engaging with sited acoustic experimentation has become part of her art practice since 2005. Recent projects have involved researching live sonic processes made visual through the use of sound emission analysers. These installations include projections of interactive sound visualizations that respond to a variety of acoustic sources and microphones, picking up participative co-production of sonic experimentation. Other sound frequency works respond directly to electro-acoustic phenomena. ‘Interplanetary Radio Frequencies: received from different planetary magnetospheres 1979-2017’ involves 

the visualization of plasma waves received by NASA from the magnetosphere between 60-36,000 miles from Earth. The earliest transmissions are from Voyager in 1980 and include many mechanical spacecraft sounds, setting up self-reflexive machine resonances between the spacecraft structure and Saturn's planetary magnetosphere. These waves were visualized through the sound emission analyser, Overtone Analyser, and then partially refracted as a circular projection.

Exhibiting widely in Europe, her work has been included in collateral exhibitions during Venice Biennales 2017, 2013, 2011 and 2009, as well as shown in St Petersburg, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Turin and Parma.

Bonnie Craig's work is a collection of translucent pattern representations of the expanding universe, which in the artist’s words: ‘also mimics ways in which people acquire and grow in knowledge’.

Bonnie Craig is a visual artist who works predominantly with pattern. She works with people and places to create large-scale work, such as site-specific installations in public spaces, and small-scale work, such as one-off prints. Pattern is used to tell stories, highlight unnoticed details and respond to the history, function, users and location of the site it is designed for. This process promotes pattern from being ‘merely’ decoration – an afterthought – to being the design or artwork itself: a carefully considered and crafted piece, specific to its situation and context. While the starting point for each project is different, her work is a constant investigation into the balance between order and disorder in pattern and how this relates to the tension in our need for both rules and freedom.

still from Nicola's video. White brush stroke like marks in a circle on a black backgorund.

Watch Nicola Rae's 'Remote Sensing Sonification: Jupiter Aurora’

You can now watch the sound visualization of auroral research data, accessed from Lancaster University’s Dr Sarah Badman and Université de Liège’s Professor Denis Grodent. Watch with your sound on to take in the full effect. 

Watch video

The Spine

Flow of conversation between pedestrians

The Spine is the kilometre-long pathway running through the centre of Lancaster University’s campus. It is the main walkway through the campus, connecting academic departments, professional services and facilities. The architects of the University designed The Spine so that it would follow the natural gradient of the land. The main architect, Gabriel Epstein believed that steps would hinder the flow of conversation between pedestrians.

The Spine is the perfect platform for highlighting interdisciplinary collaborations and encouraging exploration of research, experimentation and conversations between residents and visitors of the campus. SPINE aims to spark these conversations and explore the fusion of arts and academic research. This is a place for innovative experiences and meaningful conversations. The exhibition is free for all. The project is conceived and developed by the Global Engagement Team at Lancaster University.

Archive image of the spine showing students walking to lectures
‘Pedestrians on the North Spine’ by John Donat from: Marion E. McClintock:’ University of Lancaster: Quest for Innovation’ (1974)

You’ll find the artworks along the North Spine from 30 June-30 September. SPINE is free to attend and open to all. To be kept informed please e-mail us.