Lancaster University exhibition explores mysteries of the universe

Pattern artist Bonnie Craig tests materials (translucent vinyl) on campus windows.
Pattern artist Bonnie Craig tests materials (translucent vinyl) on campus windows.

Art and physics will come together this summer in an innovative exhibition at Lancaster University. 

The exhibition, named SPINE after its venue, will take place on the open-air kilometre-long pathway running through the centre of Lancaster University’s campus. Running from 30 June-30 September, the exhibition is free to attend and open to all.

SPINE will feature artistic interventions by projectionist Nicola Rae and Lancaster-based pattern artist Bonnie Craig. Inspired by globally significant research from Lancaster University’s Physics department, Nicola Rae’s piece is an immersive sound specific digital projection that translates aurora observations into sound patterns. 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.”

The launch of the exhibition on 30 June will coincide with the opening of the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting 2019, which will see 500 astronomers and space scientists gathering at Lancaster University. 

Sound-specific installation and light projection by Nicola Rae.

Space scientists and astrophysicists at Lancaster University advised the artists throughout the process. Professor Jim Wild, Professor of Space Physics, said: “In the Space and Planetary Physics research group at Lancaster, we study the planets in our solar system and the space environment that connects them to the Sun. We can learn enormously about the physics of the universe by studying the similarities, and differences, between common phenomena observed at the different planets in our solar system.

“Having the opportunity to work with artists who can engage with our research through new eyes is a fantastic opportunity to stimulate interest astronomy and space physics. It allows us to reach out to new audiences, but also reflect on how we communicate our passion and curiosity to those outside of our research discipline.

Professor Isobel Hook, Professor of Astrophysics, said: “The artists bring a completely fresh perspective to our research. The project has encouraged us to think again about what we do, and why.

“I hope that the exhibition will encourage people to stop and look for a while. I hope they will be inspired to find out more about the art itself, and about the science behind it.”

Artist Bonnie Craig said: “The concepts and ideas that the astrophysics researchers work with made a really exciting starting point for the artwork. It’s been a privilege to get a glimpse into their world, and to apply their thinking to my own work.”

The project was conceived and developed by the Global Engagement Team at Lancaster University. Dr Carla Banks, Research Communications Manager within the team, said: “The architects of the University designed The Spine so that it would follow the natural gradient of the land. This makes it the perfect platform for conversations between residents and visitors of the campus, and SPINE aims to spark these conversations and explore the fusion of arts and academic research.”

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Site-specific installation of pattern art by Bonnie Craig.                 

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