Archive for Art

Supremus No. 58

Posted in Art with tags , , , on October 1, 2017 by telescoper

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1879–1935).Oil on canvas (79.5 x 70.5 cm); painted 1916.  State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.


Mysteries of the Horizon

Posted in Art with tags , , , on June 24, 2017 by telescoper

by René Magritte (Oil on Canvas, 1955)

Arrivé à Paris

Posted in Art with tags , , , on December 15, 2014 by telescoper

Well, here I am in a misty and murky and rather cold Paris. My first trip on the Eurostar from St Pancras as it happens. I’ve used the train to get to Paris before, but the last time was a long time ago when it departed from a temporary station at Waterloo. Anyway, there’s a direct train from Brighton to St Pancras International. Although it was about half an hour late, I still had time for a bite to eat before boarding. The train was pretty full, but ran on time and I got into Gare du Nord just before 4pm local time. A short (and inexpensive) trip on the Metro brought me to the hotel where I’ll be staying the night.

There is a conference going on in Paris this week about Planck but that’s not why I’m here. In fact I’m attending the opening of “Contact”, an exhibition by Olafur Eliasson at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.


I was toying with the idea of combining this event with the Planck meeting, but (a) I’ve got too much to do to stay for the whole week and (b) I don’t think there’ll be much new at the Planck meeting anyway.

Anyway, Olafur very kindly asked me to write something for the  catalogue, as the exhibition has something of an astronomical theme and I guess that’s why I got the VIP invitation. There’s something called a cocktail dinatoire afterwards which I presume involves large amounts of alcohol. That may fortify me for the impending REF results, which are due out later this week..

Anyway, I’ll post about the exhibition if I get time tomorrow morning before the  journey home. It doesn’t open for the general public until Wednesday 17th December, by the way, in case you’re in Paris and thinking of taking a look for yourself.

Art Quiz

Posted in Art with tags , on December 14, 2014 by telescoper


I have acquired (for safe keeping) the plaster-cast portrait bust shown in the above image. Anyone care to guess (a) who it is and (b) which artist made it? Hint: there is a physics theme….

Answers through the comments box please!

Ice Watch

Posted in Art, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by telescoper

I thought I’d share this video about an installation called Ice Watch, which involves one hundred tonnes of inland ice from Greenland meltinging on the Radhusplads, Copenhagen’s City Hall Square. With Ice Watch, Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing direct attention to the publication of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report on the Earth’s Climate. The ice now melted, which happened faster than expected owing to the unusually warm weather for this time of year…




Moonrise, Hernandez

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on November 1, 2013 by telescoper

During the late afternoon twilight of November 1st 1941, 72 years ago today, renowned American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams took this wonderful photograph of the moon over Hernandez, New Mexico. It’s such a celebrated image that it even has its own wikipedia page, but because it seems to fit the theme of this blog I couldn’t resist sharing it here:


Click on the image for higher resolution

Graffiti Politti

Posted in Art, Politics with tags , , , on February 9, 2012 by telescoper

Necrodelic Reverie

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 25, 2011 by telescoper

Among the delights of having a blog are the friendly emails you get from complete strangers. I got one last week from an artist, who is quite new to me, called Tobias Collier, concerning an old post of mine about randomness. Looking at his website I can see why he was interested in that particular topic, and also found so many things  of interest myself that I decided to do a small showcase here.

According to one of the reviews on his website:

Tobias Collier’s work can be seen as an attempt to visually articulate a great epistemological challenge: that of the human mind encountering the intellectually imponderable. Encompassing elements of sculpture, installation, drawing, performance and video, Tobias Collier’s practice partly relies upon the translation of scientific research methodologies to the processes of art making. Using Art as their field of enquiry, the subsequent works function as mechanisms within the context of a research practice and present a unique combination of scientific processes with poetic artistry.

Playing with current ideas around Astronomy and Cosmology, Tobias Collier’s quotidian metaphors examine our cultural relationship to outer space, using objects of daily existence. They highlight the limitations and inadequacy of man-made processes such as logic (modelling, hypothesizing, inferring and inducing), analogies and metaphors when attempting to comprehend systems and structures that extend beyond our everyday experience.

You can find a host of fascinating things on his website, including sculptures that manage to be both whimsical and profound:

Predicting Random Events, 2011

My favourite pieces, however, admittedly based only on what I have viewed on the website, are the stunning “inductive dot”  drawings, done in ink on paper, and described in the following passage:

The revelation of science that our universe, governed by the second law of thermodynamics, is ultimately fated to a cold quiet ‘heat death’, becomes an unavoidable issue for the work of London based artist Tobias Collier. His response is to propose the pursuit of necrodelic reverie. Small, yet hugely ornate, pointillist drawings are produced as a result of hours of ritualised practice. Like moments in an ongoing process, or records of a timeless activity, the end results are un-human, naturalised, nebulous star-fields or perhaps cloudscapes. In his sculpture references to collapsing or eroded structures, chemical reactions and combustions abound. Conscious cosmic thought entropically linked to the arrow of time, reconciled to universal destiny.

Here’s an example

Necrodelic Reverie, 2010

And this one, reminiscent of cloud formations in a planetary atmosphere:

Untitled, 2010

I find it fascinating that so many contemporary artists take their inspiration, and sometimes their techniques, from the sciences but so few scientists take a reciprocal interest in contemporary art. Anyway, I hope at least a few readers of this blog will now go and have a look at the work of Tobias Collier!



European Echoes

Posted in Art, Jazz with tags , , , on July 8, 2010 by telescoper

This is  something I found recently and couldn’t resist sharing. This track from Ornette Coleman has only been on Youtube a month or so and I just found it last night, but I’ve got it on a vinyl LP I bought about 30 years ago. I think the music is completely wonderful on its own, but the idea of accompanying it with examples of the art of Joan Miro was a brilliant one!

European Echoes was recorded live at the Golden Circle club in Stockholm  in 1965, and is part of a famous album that was proclaimed “Record of the Year” the following summer in Downbeat magazine. By the mid-60s Ornette Coleman had already established his reputation as leading light of avant-garde saxophonists and, in his own way, was as great an influence on jazz as Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane had been earlier.

The track features a trio of Coleman on alto sax, David Izenzon on bass, and Charles Moffit on bass. It starts in a deceptively simple manner, with Ornette’s little two-note statements over a fast waltzy 3/4 foundation provided by Izenzon and Moffitt. It then eases into  a passage marked by freer improvisations by Ornette, the meter changing at the same time to 4/4. Ornette plays for more than half the track, after which Izenzon and Moffitt take over for all but the final minute, at which point Izenzon drops out and Moffitt plays an intricate percussion solo.

Although most people I know recognize the virtuosity of modern jazz musicians they don’t really like the music very much. I fell in love with this track as soon as I heard it, partly because it begins simply enough for a beginning saxophonist to play along with, but also because it’s highly original without being  at all self-indulgent. In fact, at one level, everything Ornette Coleman  does on this track is quite simple; he plays the saxophone here like he’d just invented the instrument.  In fact, at least in his early years, he didn’t have much of a technique at all in the conventional sense but nevertheless managed to produce amazingly fresh sounds. This a view echoed by the great Charles Mingus in quote I got from another blog about Ornette Coleman

Now aside from the fact that I doubt he can even play a C scale in whole notes—tied whole notes, a couple of bars apiece—in tune, the fact remains that his notes and lines are so fresh. So when [the jazz dj] Symphony Sid played his record, it made everything else he was playing, even my own record that he played, sound terrible.

I did learn to enjoy and admire Ornette Coleman’s more “difficult” music later on, but this was the track that convinced me that Ornette Coleman was a genius.  I hope to get the time over the summer to write a few more posts in appreciation of my favourite jazz artists, but for the time being I’ll just let this piece speak for itself…

Pecha Kucha

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by telescoper

A few months ago I was invited to take part in an evening of Pecha Kucha in a hotel in Geneva. I’ll try anything once, so I agreed. I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t actually very good at it. Neither were any of the other scientists present.

No idea what a Pecha Kucha is? Well then you’re probably not an architect or an artist or a designer. Then again, you’re reading this blog so that’s pretty much a given anyway. Pecha Kucha is a style of presentation at which arty types display their portfolios in a strictly disciplined format. The standard form is twenty slides with twenty seconds allowed for each one, i.e. a total time of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The timing is ruthlessly regulated.

Those of us scientists used to taking at least a few  minutes per slide find this format very challenging, but then that’s because we tend to have text and equations on our slides and they take some explaining. Designers and the like tend to just show pictures, and these should – if they’re any good – be pretty self-explanatory. I guess this is why the Pecha Kucha format is de rigeur in such disciplines while it has yet to catch on in physics.

I only just survived my initiation into the strange world of Pecha Kucha. Before being told what it was I thought it was a mountain in the Andes. I was reminded about it this morning by a tweet from John Butterworth (a particle physicist who, incidentally, has a nice blog of his own) confessing similar trepidation to what I experienced before I lost my Pecha Kucha virginity. The first time can be disappointing, but I hope he survived his inauguration.

Looking back on it though I think this might be an interesting idea to try in a physics context. We’re trying increasingly hard these to teach our physics and astronomy students transferable skills, but when it comes to presentations we’re fixated by the traditional presentation format. Why not get undergraduate students to do a Pecha Kucha about their project, instead of a 20-minute lecture? Why not include a Pecha Kucha in the PhD viva?

The more I think about it, the more attractive the idea seems. Has anyone out there tried a physics Pecha Kucha?