Archive for the Art Category

Optical Illusion

Posted in Art with tags , on January 26, 2023 by telescoper

It’s not an illusion that I didn’t post yesterday. I have been very busy this week and didn’t have time to put anything on the blog. To get things going again, here is an intriguing optical illusion I saw on Twitter.

The point is that the cubes are not moving at all:

Composition in Blue – Fernand Léger

Posted in Art with tags , on January 16, 2023 by telescoper

Fernand Léger, Composition in Blue, 1920-27, oil on canvas, 130.5 × 97.2 (Art Institute of Chicago)

DIRAC Research Image Competition – The Winning Entries!

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on November 9, 2022 by telescoper

DIRAC is a high-performance computing facility designed to serve the research community supported in the UK by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Recently DIRAC ran a competition to select the best images produced using results obtained by this facility, and I was honoured to be asked to be one of the judges. Entries were divided into two Themes: Theme 1 (Particle and Nuclear Physics) and Theme 2 (Astronomy, Cosmology and Solar & Planetary Science) and scores were allocated by the judges based on visual impact and scientific interest. There were 41 entries altogether, all of a very high standard.

So, without further ado, I shall now show you the winning entries!

The winning image in Theme 1 was submitted by Ed Bennett and Biagio Lucini of Swansea University and called Let it (Wilson) flow. The description supplied by the creators reads:

A space-time slice of the topological charge density distribution of a 128 times 643 lattice field configuration (with periodic boundaries) from an ensemble of the SU(2) gauge theory with two flavours of Dirac fermion in the adjoint representation (also known as Minimal Walking Technicolor). Moving along the time direction from left to right, successive time-slices are also iterated using the gradient flow of the Wilson action, which removes the ultraviolet noise that would otherwise prevent computation of the configuration’s topological charge. This noise is clearly visible on the left, with the actual instantons (orange) and anti-instantons (blue) becoming visible at longer flow times to the right.

Here is the winning image for Theme 1:

Theme 1 winner: Let it (Wilson) flow by Ed Bennett and Biagio Lucini.

The winning entry of Theme 2 is entitled Immediate origin of the Moon as a post-impact satellite and was submitted by Jacob Kegerreis of Durham University who supplied the following description:

The Moon is thought to have formed following a giant impact, but the details are still hotly debated. New high-resolution simulations, like the one shown here, reveal that a Moon-like satellite can be immediately placed into a wide orbit around the Earth, in contrast with the traditional idea of later accretion from a debris disk. This opens up new possibilities for the Moon’s initial orbit and interior, which could help to solve mysteries like its tilted orbit, thin crust, and Earth-like isotopes. The 3D smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) simulations were run using the SWIFT code on the DiRAC COSMA8 system with over 100 times higher resolution than the current standard. The SPH data from this mid-impact snapshot are rendered using Houdini and Redshift, with the colour, opacity, and emission controlled by the particle material, density, and internal energy.

Here is the winning image of Theme 2:

Theme 2 Winner: Immediate origin of the Moon as a post-impact satellite by Jacob Kegerreis

Congratulations to the winners!

It was a lot of fun being one of the judges for this competition and I learnt a lot about the science from the clever way in which many of the entries displayed their results. The field was very strong, and many more images were worthy of recognition, but we were only allowed to pick one winner from each Theme. I am however given to understand that it is planned to include the best of the rest alongside the winners in a 2023 calendar which will be distributed to the DIRAC user community.

Nocturne in Black and Gold

Posted in Art, Biographical with tags , , on November 5, 2022 by telescoper

`Only Connect’ – the epigraph of the novel Howard’s End by E.M. Forster – was a favourite phrase of one of my English teachers at school, and he invoked it whenever he set us one of his creative writing challenges. We were given two apparently disconnected things (usually news items), asked to think of a possible connection between them and write an story joining them together. From time to time when stuck for a topic for a blog post I’ve resorted to playing the same game.

In that vein: (a) I noticed a story last week about a painting by Piet Mondrian which has been hanging upside down for 75 years and (b) today is November 5th, Bonfire Night in the United Kingdom. The connection between these two things that sprang to my mind is this painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket by James McNeill Whistler.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – the Falling Rocket, c1875, oil on panel, 60.3 × 46.7 cm (Detroit Institute of Arts)

This, the last in his wonderful series of paintings of night-time scenes, first displayed in 1877, is set in the Cremorne Gardens, which was a park in Chelsea, though in a manner typical of Whistler’s work of this period it is more a response to the location than a representation of it. The sombre colours – mainly green and blue, except for the grey smoke of the falling rocket and the gold flames and flashes of fireworks – are layered in such a way as to blur the situational context of the composition so that it’s no longer a purely figurative work. It’s certainly an enigmatic painting, but I think the arrangement of colours and textures is very well balanced as well as intriguing. It is historically important too, because it represents one of the first stirrings of modernism in art in England.

The compositional ambiguity is deliberate. The ghostly figures in the foreground are almost transparent. Are they even people? When asked this question himself, Whistler replied “They are just what you like”. Whistler is encouraging viewers of his work to construe their own meaning in, and interpretation of, what he put on the canvas. As an astrophysicist, the filamentary pattern of sparks reminds me of chains of distant galaxies. What does it remind you of?

Nocturne in Black and Gold is also famous for having been at the centre of a libel case. The influential art critic John Ruskin hated it and accused Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”. Whistler sued for damages (though he couldn’t really afford to). He won the case against Ruskin, but the outcome was financially disastrous for him because he was awarded only one farthing in damages.

Anyway, the connection with the Mondrian story is that Whistler’s case was done no favours when this painting was brought into the courtroom during the Whistler v Ruskin case, as it was was presented for viewing upside down

That Tory Cabinet Reshuffle…

Posted in Art, Politics on October 26, 2022 by telescoper

A Cardiff Visit

Posted in Art, Cardiff with tags , , , on September 7, 2022 by telescoper

So here I am, then, in Cardiff, for an overdue visit to try to sort out some things to do with the my house and the hopefully forthcoming sale thereof. I decided to treat myself to a stay in a nice hotel for a couple of days while I am here. I have been stuck at home a lot over the last three years or so and I thought it would be nice just have someone else cook my breakfast and make my bed for a change!

It’s been raining off and on while I ran various errands hither and yon so at lunchtime I popped into the excellent National Museum in Cardiff. Entry to this establishment is free, as it is to all the similar public museums and galleries in Ireland.

Not many people know what a rich treasury of art you can find in the National Museum. Did you know, for example, that the famous La Parisienne by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is here in Cardiff?

The impressionist collection is very fine indeed, although only part of the collection is on display. Here are two very different post-impressionist works by Paul Cézanne: Still Life With Teapot and Provençal Landscape.

The second of these has to be seen up close to be fully appreciated: the paint looks like it has been combed onto the canvas with different colours going in different directions in such a way that messes with the viewer’s perception of depth.

Here is one from the modern collection. It is by Andre Stitt and is called Municipal Wall Relief for a Residential Housing Complex in a Parallel Universe:

I also experienced the installation Vertigo Sea by John Akomfrah, a moving and at times harrowing visual account of the sea and the dark side of humanity’s relationship with it, from whaling and pollution to slave killings and the trafficking of refugees. There’s some stunning contemporary footage in this work, juxtaposed with archive recordings spread out over three screens. Here’s a short trailer that gives you an idea:

When I lived in Cardiff I hardly ever visited the collection in the National Museum of Wales. Indeed the few times I entered the building were for various meetings and other functions. It was nice to see it as a tourist!

Anyway, I still have a couple more things to do so that will do for now!

The Dead Zoo

Posted in Architecture, History, Television with tags , , on August 1, 2022 by telescoper

I don’t often post about television but I couldn’t resist a quickie about a fascinating programme I just watched called The Dead Zoo, about Dublin’s splendid Natural History Museum, which opened in 1857. I visited this place way back in 2019 on which occasion I took this picture of the interior:

I thought the museum was wonderful if a bit creepy. I remember thinking while I wandered around that I wouldn’t like to be stuck there overnight, surrounded by over 10,000 dead animals in Victorian glass cabinets. It would make a grand setting for a ghost story!

The building had been somewhat neglected and the splendid roof was prone to leaking, so the Museum was closed for renovation in 2020 and all the specimens on the upper floors – including the huge skeleton of a Fin Whale that you can see in the photo hanging from the ceiling – were removed to a storage facility.

This operation -carried out against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic – is the subject of Paul Duane’s excellent documentary, the trailer of which you can watch here:

If you didn’t get the chance to watch it you can catch it on the RTÉ Player here.

The work on the roof and other renovations will take some time to complete but the ground floor will re-open to visitors tomorrow (2nd August 2022). I imagine it will be pretty busy and you have to book in advance, though as with all Ireland’s National Museums, admission is free.

The Built Environment

Posted in Architecture, Maynooth on July 22, 2022 by telescoper
The New Building

It seems that after long delays, the new building on Maynooth University’s North Campus is finally finished. Or at least I think it is. I haven’t been inside yet. I don’t know who are what is going to be housed there, except that the President’s Office is going to be there. The remaining space might nevertheless do something to relieve the shortage of office accommodation on campus.

It was only just under four years ago that I saw this sign marking the proposed site of the new building.

Less than a year later, work had started:

This was in January 2020:

A couple of months later the site was surrounding by fencing decorated by an artist’s impression of the new building:

Notice that the plan was to open in “Early 2021”. Unfortunately the pandemic intervened and building stopped. This was at the end of March.

When building work eventually resumed there were further delays due to difficulties, e.g., in procuring materials. We were supposed to have use of this building for the last two open days on campus but that didn’t happen. It will be hopefully be ready for the new academic year, though. The finished product even looks a bit like the artist’s picture!

The building work has at times caused serious problems with noise in the Science Building, where my office is located, but not any more. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.

The Pianist – Lyubov Popova

Posted in Art with tags , , on July 19, 2022 by telescoper
Lyubov Popova, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lyubov Popova, 1914, oil on canvas, 106.5 x 88.7 cm, National Gallery of Canada.

Rheumatic Pain II, by Remedios Varo

Posted in Art with tags , , on July 7, 2022 by telescoper

Dolor Reumático II by Remedios Varo, 1948, gouache on cardboard, 25×19 cm.