Artists Ross Ashton and Karen Monid talk about their new projection work Horizon that is set to illuminate the outside of St James’s Church for this year’s Light Up Poole festival that runs after dark from 21 to 23 February.
Created in partnership with the Napa Lighted Art Festival in California, it is a complex piece that looks at how our knowledge of the world is based on how we extrapolate from the things we can see to tell us about things that we can’t, Ross and Karen juxtapose texts written by 13th century polymath Robert Grosseteste and imagery from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Karen: It’s about what we see of the Earth and universe at different points in history. We’re looking at the medieval view of the universe and where they understood our place to be in it and then we’re looking at the modern take on the same thing and showing them in parallel. In the medieval period they had the same concerns about survival and what the future holds as we do and it’s looking at where those questions were the same for us as they were for them and the differences in how those things are interpreted between the two periods based on the knowledge they had then, but they didn’t have the ability to launch rockets and send satellites out into space, so everything that they concluded was based on what it was they could see.
The reason it’s called Horizon is because the horizon line is the limit of what you can see so the conclusions you draw on anything that you’re looking at are inevitably based on what you can see as opposed to what it is that you can’t. The same thing is happening in physics today for instance with Dark Matter – no one can see it, it is invisible but based on what we understand as invisible we can interpret and figure out from what we’ve extrapolated there is something in the invisible and we’re using the horizon line as a metaphor for what it is that you can see and what it is that you can’t see.
Ross: We’ve created several pieces in collaboration with a group called The Ordered Universe. They are an academic group of historians, medievalists, Latin scholars and mathematicians, physicists and this is a subject Karen and I come back to a lot – how the questions are the same over time and how we try to address those questions to come up with a paradigm, a worldview that explains everything that you know at this moment.
I don’t consider people from the past to be ‘wrong’, they’re not wrong. One of the astrophysicists on the team gave a lecture that if you were from that period then you would think the Earth was at the centre of the universe, why would you think any different when everything you can measure and see tells you that it is? It takes telescopes and a more sophisticated set of information to be able to move on from the Earth being at the centre of the universe.
Every time you think you’ve got the answer the truth takes one step away from you and now we are looking back at the Earth from space you have to move on and ask the next question or ask the same question again but in a different way because you never get to the final truth.
Karen: There are two key quotes – one of climate scientists at JPL said everyone is saying something different about the world in front of them, but they’re all kind of saying the same thing and they’re all wrong, but they’re all right. The other comes from Grosseteste himself – as many horizons are possible as there are places on the Earth, which says the limits of what you can see are almost infinite, it just depends where you stand.
Ross: People take our works on a series of different levels. What we hope happens is a percentage of the audience will want to know more. We don’t want to produce a documentary, we want to produce a desire to know more about what they’ve just seen and hopefully understand a bit more about what they’ve looked at. It is serious what we do, it’s serious from the point that it’s not immediately accessible to understand.
One of the proudest things I’ve ever read on a Twitter thing was after our projection on Durham Cathedral and a mum tweeted out that her 12-year-old son had said: ‘Mum, I want to be an astrophysicist.’ That’s exactly what we want to happen.