‘In colour’: how art took over an observatory

Publication Date
Dr Anne-Marie Weijmans
Tim Fitzpatrick

A small observatory in St Andrews has stood unused for many years, its telescope long since removed. Once home to a twin photometric telescope, the building is now being brought back into dramatic use through a new art installation.

Titled ‘In colour,’ this project is the latest by Shine, a collaborative initiative that delves into the properties of light and its application in modern astronomical research through science, music, and art. Through colour and light, the installation has brought back the memories of the telescope that once was there. In this talk, Shine artist Tim Fitzpatrick and astronomer Anne-Marie Weijmans will introduce the ‘in colour’ installation and will reflect on their ongoing collaboration between the sciences and the arts: How can the arts be used to explain scientific concepts? Why is interdisciplinarity work critical? And why is visualising connections between the arts and science useful?


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This transcript has been automatically generated and may feature errors.

Okay, good evening everyone. Very warm welcome to this curious event as part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh just curious programme. My name is Martin Hendry, I’m Professor of astrophysics at Glasgow University, which you can see behind me and my backdrop, but I’m actually in Oxford today. But with the the power of zoom technology, I’m able to join you rather looks Anne-Marie a lot farther away than Oxford. But it’s a real pleasure to welcome her and Tim Fitzpatrick to tonight’s event. Just before I introduce them a little bit more. And let me see just a few words about RSE. I’m curious. So the Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland’s national Academy, and it consists of the very sort of top minds, I don’t always like putting it like that, because obviously, we draw upon a broad membership across academia, business and public service. And sometimes the skills and talents that people bring to the table are not entirely cerebral, there might be other aspects of what makes an excellent fellowship. But nonetheless, our mission is basically to share the expertise of the fellowship as widely as possible to engage nationally and internationally to share that knowledge and tackle some of the most pressing challenges of the modern world. And we provide independent expert advice to government and inspire the next generation of innovative thinkers. And a large part of that inspiration can often be drawn from the arts, as well as from the sciences, and from the literary world from the business world. So we’re a real cultural melting pot, and the curious festival is designed to celebrate all of them. So I can think of no better way to do that than the event we have tonight, which is clearly so multicultural. And it’s rich, and it’s a real pleasure to welcome our speakers, we have Anne-Marie Weijmans Doctor Anne-Marie Weijmans is a reader and astrophysics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St. Andrews, and her researches on the structure and evolution of galaxies. She regularly gives interactive astronomy talks and workshops with schools. And she leads a project called shine, which is an interdisciplinary project that explores the properties of light and its use, and more than restoring the research through science, art, and music. We’re also joined by Tim’s Fitzpatrick, who’s a Scottish based artist filmmaker, and an independent curator and has principal artists who is in the form of site specific works. And since 2015, he’s collaborated closely with the School of Physics and Astronomy in St. Andrews, and indeed with Anne-Marie. And his various works are brought together under the title of the Shine Project. And so in more recent years, he’s been fortunate to be able to represent the work of internationally regarded artists. And these had led to the creation of new work, and retrospective shows in Scotland and project managing exhibitions for labs in Japan. But what he’s here to talk to us about tonight is part of his work in Scotland, and specifically in St. Andrews. And basically, that Our format this evening is I’m going to hand over to Anne-Marie s and Tim in just a moment, they’re going to describe the project to have a discussion about it. I think they’re going to share some slides with us. And if people have questions as we go along, please do use the q&a function within zoom webinar, to post your questions. I’ll keep an eye on those and some of them we may interject with as we go along. And but certainly what we also want to have is lots of questions to cover towards the end of the session that will be in about 35 minutes or so. And if we haven’t exhausted our questions by then I’m sure it will be able to think of some more at that point. The aim is to finish inside an hour. But without further ado, let me hand over to unmanly. Welcome.


Great, thank you so much, Martin, for that introduction here. So I’m actually really looking forward to this to this talk, because it gives me an opportunity to talk with the team about a project that we’ve when did we start to


we actually first started working on it in 2014. So next year is a is a 10 year marker. Oh, we should


actually do something for that. So yeah, we’ll figure that out. Okay. So Tim, and I have come up with a bit of a structure for this talk. But as Martin said, if you have any questions, please put them in the q&a and Martin will. We’ll bring those up where they fit in the story. I have some slides. That’s mostly Tim actually put together and that will show a little bit of the work that we’ve been doing. And I think we decided that we just wanted to maybe say first a little bit about Shine And where the project that we’ve been working on is coming from. And I think shine actually started in 2014. And that was me, you will recognise the at least two people, I think, here on this picture, which was taken in 2015. But you will also see that as a third person there, and that is our third member of shine, Bede Williams, who is the head of instrumentation in the Music Centre, the late low Music Centre here in St. Andrews. And I think Bede is actually the person who brought us together because my idea as an astronomer, who also loves music is International Year of Light was coming up, and very simplistic in my head, it was like light is a wave, okay, sometimes a particle, but also a wave, sound is a wave, we should do something, and I started talking with Pete about that, and we came up with something we could do, but Bede really was, we need someone else, we have music and signs between us, we also should get some art involved. And I think Tim, that is when he mentioned to you because you had been working with him right already.


That’s right. So Bede and I were working together on a thing in I think 2000 and it will it finished in 2014. And, in fact, if we go to the, to the next slide, so so we won’t stay on this for too long. But this is work that I was doing in the in the kind of years leading up to the Shine Project and and, um, sort of there are there are two points to raise with, with these pictures here really in that a lot of my work was using light and colour both in terms of you know, artificial lighting and the materials I was using. And it just so happened that Bede and I got together on a project in Glasgow cathedral. So it was kind of those kind of big public spaces that I was used to using and doing site specific work. And is then that Bede mentioned to me that there was this project coming up and, and that’s how Anne-Marie and I met and began the International Year of light the Shine Project. Just while we’re on these three images, there’s one other thing and this is something that might crop up later on, I suspect and it’s the whole theme of collaboration. And from my point of view, collaboration has always been a really big feature in my work. And I am hard pressed to think of anything where I haven’t actually collaborated with a musician or a writer or filmmaker, obviously now an astronomer. And the feeling I get from that is that it’s so much more than the sum of the parts it kind of the ideas multiply sort of exponentially. And so So yeah, the the work that I was that I was doing previously was always bringing me into into contact with with people from other spheres and other areas. And that’s something that I I enjoy so much. And in terms of these pictures to the last thing to say here, the colour is the thing that if we have a look at the next slide, and Anne Marie, that’s how the work got started. Before for me in that this is Anne Marie will explain this. And then many of you will will, will know that this what this is, some of you won’t but but it’s the starting point for my collaboration with Anne Marie. And in a way everything that’s followed on from from that up and right up until now almost 10 years later. It’s still very much connected to this very simple image.


And well I dive into this image because this is dim slide to allow me to talk to talk astrophysics, which I love doing. I should actually point out what I found really interesting. And I only just realised them is when you said like when we started this project, you were used to doing collaborations with interdisciplinary. I think actually, for me, this was the first project that I did something with people outside of astronomy. As an astronomer, we often work in large teams, because telescopes are expensive, and we work together to get our data. And I was very used to that but I don’t think before this project started, I had worked with a musician or an artist or actually any run outside of astronomy before. And what I also liked is we haven’t actually set yet what our mission or goal was for shine. What we wanted to do was really excited more properties of lights. And I put always an extra sentence in there, explore the properties of light, and it’s using astronomical research. But what I really liked about our collaboration idea was that I was very much used to coming from that, from a scientific angle as an amateur scientist, this is what I how I use light in my research. But we also put other angles in there to approach that you can also look at light from an artistic perspective, or from a music perspective, and that opens things up lights, it gives you more ways to, to interact or to learn or to explore the topic, I think.


Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I, I imagined that this kind of collaboration is just feels much more kind of natural and normal now, and and kind of, you know, what? Why weren’t you doing it earlier? Kind of?


Just went with it, I think.


But yeah, so So we haven’t mentioned yet this is the emission spectrum for hydrogen. So she likes Anna Marie, do you want to help me out there? Or shall I? Shall we talk a little bit about emission spectra and spectroscopy in general?


Yeah. Should I go for my science angle? And then you you follow up? Yeah. So when you’re talking about hydrogen, hydrogen is one of the elements that we have in the universe, and actually in the world around us. For people who are maybe less familiar with the word elements, it’s basically things like oxygen, carbon, really, really basic parts of metal, and hydrogen. Although hydrogen, we don’t have very much of that in an atmosphere, if at all. It’s also part of water in h2o, the H is the hydrogen there, and most of the universe is made of hydrogen. Now, how do we know that these lines here are hydrogen that is because if you have an elements, it will emit lights, but only at very specific frequencies or energy levels. And that translates in different colours. And, therefore, each element, whether it’s hydrogen, whether it’s carbon, vertebrates, oxygen, has its own unique fingerprint. And this is why astronomers really, really love taking spectra of things like stars and galaxies, because it tells us by looking at the lines and looking at what kind of lines are there, how many red ones, how many blue ones, how many green ones, it tells us what elements that are in there, and therefore, how much hydrogen, how much helium, how much carbon, how much magnesium, how much iron that is in a star. And I suddenly realised that I used another jargon words here, which is spectrum. And I should maybe also clarify what that is for people who are less familiar with that? Well, first of all, you’re all familiar with the spectrum, because I am pretty sure that all of you at some points have seen a rainbow. And especially for those of you who call in for Scotland, where we often have this weather where it’s raining and the sun is shining. And we’re not quite sure what’s happening, but the rainbow is there. And the rainbow is a sunlight and the sunlight gets split into its different colours, because of the droplets of water that are in the air. That is basically what a spectrum is. And you can very easily actually make your own spectrum in your house, if you still have some of those old fashioned CDs around and just play a little bit around with them, you will make a spectrum. And astronomers use some fancy type of CD, I should say, a grating in that telescopes to make these kinds of spectra. But I feel like I’m rambling here. But the takeaway message is basically a spectrum is light that is taken apart in all its different colours. And if an astronomer looks at a spectrum and sees what colours what kind of lines that are there, they will know what kind of elements so what that star is made off.


Thanks, Anna Marie. So So yeah, just to add to that, and we can we can move on to the next slide. I if folks can imagine these, these are the discussions that Anna Marie and I are having on day one. Because that was my question. I mean, basically coming from where I came from, and with my connection to astronomy, which was pretty much zero, especially the science of astronomy. You know, my first question is, what does an astronomer do? And you realise that the answer to that question isn’t what you expect and that is looking through a telescope. There’s there’s pretty much none of that. But but this is the first this is the artwork that included that year of international year of light And the thing that really struck me about these emission spectra. So here we have a piece, which if we in fact, if we move on to the next slide, we’ll see some scale. And you can see that that disk in the centre, which we’ll talk about in a minute is about a metre across, but surrounding the desk are, pretty much well, in fact, they were all of the known elements of the universe represented in, in their spectra. And it seemed really appropriate to me that the art was already there. And I just needed to frame it and put it on the wall. It’s almost you might call this found arts. I mean, hopefully, it’s a bit more interesting, or No, I won’t talk about the urinal in 1917. But yes, it is, basically, it’s taking something and saying, I declared this to be a piece of art, which is what I did with all of these emission spectra from from elements of, of the known universe. And basically, the thing that struck me most of all about this was that it’s, you could you could see it, you could think of it as the universe describing itself in in extraordinary patterns of coloured light. I mean, obviously, we only see a small portion of the of the whole spectrum of light if you like, electromagnetic radiation. But, you know, from an artist point of view, obviously, that’s the bit of the spectrum that I’m really interested in. So I guess if we jump on, because I think we spent a long time talking about hydrogen. And


yes, before we do, can I know that we’ve got our first question in the q&a. And I must confess, it’s one that crossed my mind as well. Yeah. Which is about what is 1917 in the urinal I think that was too late.


So not Marcel Duchamp, in 1917, in a very famous exhibition in New York, I think it was New York. He, he basically went to a hardware store and bought a men’s urinal, and it’s in contemporary art. It’s, it’s an enormous cause celeb in that it changed the face of contemporary art. From 1917 onwards, it was a seminal moment. And contemporary art was never the same since and that was found art. He found this thing. He put it on the wall, and he was rejected from the from the exhibition.


Yeah, thank you. That’s fascinating. I hadn’t realised that before. Yeah.


Sorry, that didn’t need a bit of context. I was, as I said that I was thinking to myself, yeah, this this, this might miss the mark here. But anyway,


it’s a very clear illustration of the challenge that you both face and just kind of sharing a common language across.


Absolutely. That’s a very good point, Martin. He has a very good point.


So I’m a topic team, I learn something new about art, because he has an art background. And this is this thing I’ve learned today. So


well, well, well be to it. Yes, exactly. You know, the same from my point of view. So this is now definitely Anne Marie’s turn, and you’ll recognise her in the picture on the right. And this relates to the to the disk in the centre of that artwork, which which dominated the piece. And it’s kind of it’s been picked up in lots of art pieces I’ve done over the years. And you’ll find it again, in the new piece in the observatory in St. Andrews, which we’ll get on to. So yeah, Anna Marie, this is your bit about the Sloan Sky Survey?


Yes. Because I do remember when I first met you Tim, and one of the first questions you also asked was like, Okay, but what do you work on? What kind of research do you do? And apart from going into, Oh, I love spectra. I should maybe clarify that a bit. I love spectra because I like to work with galaxies, like the one you see here and the backgrounds. And what I was working on at that moment, that was in 2014. That was a new survey that had just started. We astronomers are really good with acronyms, not. But it’s got Munga map in nearby galaxies at Apache point observatory, and it was part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. And if we have any people here who sometimes look into astronomy, they may have heard about the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, because this survey has been going on for almost 25 years. But they were also one of the first surveys that made all that data all that images of galaxies stars grazers publicly available. So people could look at them. And they were also used for instancing in Galaxy Zoo, so they really had a big reach. And Sloane must take in spectra. But they did that in. Now they had to be very efficient because they wanted to observe a lot of stars and galaxies. So they did that with using these plates. And what you see here is the slug telescope, that’s a two and a half metre telescope in New Mexico at Apache point observatory in the US. And the way that they designed their survey in a really efficient way, is that every night, a few of these plates are attached to the telescope, and the light, and I’m not actually sure if you can really see that, or you can see that better than the previous slides, you see that there are lots of holes in there, those holes have been drilled there, but micrometre position so that they line up with the stars and galaxies on the sky. But keep in mind, we are not interested that much in their images, we are interested in their spectra, so we need to catch the lights and lead it to a spectrograph. And to do that, during the day, there were people on site whose job it was to block optical fibres into those plates and about 1000 holes in those plates. And about if you have a good night, you can observe eight plates. So that was a lot of fibres to plug. And I was so lucky, I got to visit Apache point observatory. And the plug was the people who plug the plates during the day, we also kind to allow me to try to plug a plate myself. Yeah, there are markings on there that tell you where to plug a fibre. I found it it was a bit self. And I will say that at some point, they told me Oh, that was great. Ultimately, we do need to finish these plates before we start observing. So can you just step back and let someone else take over and they were so fascinated a lot faster than me. But those plates really became kind of a symbol because they were used all over Sloane. We don’t use them anymore, and Sloane we’re now using robots. That’s a whole different story for a different talk. But these plates once they are observed on the sky. What do you do with them? At that point, they’ve served their purpose. And they’re basically scrap metal, which is kind of a sad end for the plates. So what Sloane decided to do at some point was to give those plates away to schools to Musium for educational purposes. So some schools will have as long plates and some activities and they can be used to talk about astronomy and learn about the scales in the universe. So that is where slump later ended up now.


I have two of them as well.


Yeah, I was gonna say unless they end up with an artist like Tim and then a completely different thing can can happen with them, as you saw in that artwork.


So yes, so here’s the telescope with a lovely clear sky above it at Apache point. So in fact, I think if we whiz along a little bit nanoray because I’ve just looked at the time and I’m so so I’m going to briefly talk about the next three slides and they’re all just pieces of art that I’ve made between then so after the end of international year of light, and at some point, Annamarie will give you a little bit of an explanation as to why we’ve kept going up until now, and the observatory project now. So there’s five pieces, there’s two works on paper which on the top left and sent top centre. The top right is quite a much more recent piece which was made for the entrance of the School of Physics in in the University of St. Andrews and the two long pieces, well three lower pieces are using aluminium and mild steel. And that one thing I would say about this is that being embedded so to speak with University and the School of Physics, it means that I have access to the School of Physics machine shop, which is incredible, because I’m not talking about someone with an angle grinder and a welder. This is incredible. computer controlled milling and cutting machines any materials you like. So it’s fantastic to be able to give them drawings where we end up with these particularly the piece on the top right that the the machining for those pieces. So these are all anodized aluminium and I love that colours that anodizing achieves that it’s so rich and so, so incredibly strong. It’s lovely to see this, you know, up close and firsthand and it’s always really exciting when the the aluminium was cut I’m back from the anodized as and I’m kind of excitingly ripping off the paper to see what the colours are gonna be like. So if we quickly go to the next one. So also from the machine shop and the School of Physics, they made me a couple of little blocks, which I designed and I call them my hydrogen blocks. So we’re going back to the slide, almost at the beginning of the emission spectrum for hydrogen. And, and because of Anne Marie’s work in in New Mexico, that that gave me a good excuse to go over there a couple of times as well. And the first time I went, I took one of those blocks with me. It’s very pocketable it’s about 150 millimetres, you know, carry it around quite easily. And I spent some time at the University in New Mexico State University and I met there an astronomer who was finishing his PhD, Xander Thielen. And I said to him, Look, I am quite happy to if anyone’s going anywhere interesting. Take one of these hydrogen blocks with you. And so on the left hand side, it’s in the desert on the way from Apache point to the university. And on the right hand side, Thielen now works at the Goddard Space Flight Centre and back then you might see that the the cleanroom in the background, that’s the James Webb Telescope under construction. So it’s very exciting to think that my block of hydrogen got that close to space, so to speak. So that was exciting. And obviously, we all know what happened with with the James Webb and the amazing work that it’s now doing. And one last slide of I think of previous work. Yeah. So later on, we’ll we’ll touch on the fact that we’ve had this on going kind of in joke where we talk about the largest neon sign in the world. So early on, I did like the idea of reproducing an emission spectrum on a really large scale. And we put one on the outside of the twin of the observatory in St. Andrews and, and we call it the largest neon sign in the world, we didn’t do hydrogen, because it’s just four lines. And we chose neon because obviously the pun, but it’s a really busy spectrum, as well as more than 50 lines there. So this one is in Las Cruces. And through getting to know folks at the university, I also got in contact with Anne Marie and I got in contact with a group that ran a festival called Space Festival in New Mexico space festival. And this was one of the works I did for them to create this neon sign on the roof of the old county jail. And you can actually see it on Google Earth. So so that was that. So I think the next slide actually brings us up to what we’re here for. So here we are, here is the plan for the observatory in St. Andrews, which we have turned into an art installation. So the thing is, we’re going to talk about that Anne Marie is going to talk about the telescope inside it in a moment. So it’s a disused observatory, it and then the other thing is that there is this thing Well, Anne Marie and I and everyone in physics and everyone in in astronomy, we always refer to it as the twin dome. And, and it’s simply because it’s not because it has one dome. It’s because it has a twin telescope inside it. And and and there we are. And I noticed even in the corner of the plan, so we’re just looking at it today. And I see that they don’t even name the building. They call it the twin telescope project. So, so here’s how. Here’s how it looked in 1983 when it was opened. Well, that’s the centre picture. There’s the telescope. And the black and white picture on the left hand side is the dome arriving in the late 70s. So it took a while to to the telescope was kind of unwanted by the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. And at St. Andrews decided they would have it and they would build this observatory and Anne Marie twin twin telescopes.


Yeah, I will admit I was puzzled for a while because I do galaxies I don’t really study stars. So I had to dive into this a little bit and what I very quickly realised when I started reading some of the articles that people hold in the 80s on work that they did with this telescope was that it was all about binary stars. And then I thought ha This is my excuse to show you all some some more astrophysics in this talk what is a binary star? And here’s a movie that is from Ezel and Let me just see if I can make this home, because it shows you exactly what this telescope was designed to do. So here you have a binary star. And it’s, it’s in actually the sun, just a single star, most stars in the universe are actually in a binary or even in a triple system. And you can see, if you have these binary stars orbiting around each other, at some point, they will eclipse each other and block each other’s lights. And that gives you these dips in brightness over time. So binary stars, when you look at them through a telescope, what they do is the day vary in brightness. And the best way to measure that brightness is to use two telescopes. And the reason for that is that these dips that you saw in that light curve are incredibly small, we’re talking less than a few percentages, if even a percent in lights that dips out, and you need to measure that. Now, this is in the 80s. So this telescope doesn’t have any modern CCDs, which we now use to catch the light and make our images and visual. So your phone uses to make images. This telescope you pointed at a star and then it goes to a photo metre, that’s registers how much lighter is coming off. But now imagine you have one telescope, you pointed at your star where you expected every now and then it will dim a little bit. How do you know, especially in Scotland, whether that depth that you see in its brightness is caused by the companion star, or by a cloud. So that’s why your second telescope comes in, you aim your first telescope at your binary star that you want to observe your second telescope, you aim at another star that you know it’s not variable that is just completely constant. And you’re not measuring, say, the exact brightness of the stars, but you’re measuring the difference. Because if there is a cloud, both stars will dip. But if it’s because a binary star is having a companion moving, it forwards, only one of the stars or dip. So the second telescope is basically used for control star. And sorry, I realised I’ve been doing quite a bit in detail there. But that’s the thing I’ve actually learned about this building. And I started working with him how these kinds of telescopes work.


So So Thanks, very, I mean, that’s, that’s how it looked in the 80s. And sad to say that, though, I’m sure that I’ve read that the telescope did some good work, some good science. But unfortunately, he kept breaking down and eventually no one was interested in using it. And I think it was cannibalised and, and then after just nine years. So in the early 90s, this was no longer a working observatory, and basically, so between then and us using it now, it’s kind of been a dumping ground. And in fact, I remember when Anne Marie and I were both looking for a place to show the the first artwork that we made that we showed you at the beginning. We were walking around the observatory buildings there, there are several observatory buildings, and with the director of the observatory, Alec Schultz, and and I remember looking over at the twin dome, which is really quite small compared to the others and saying, what about that building, Alex? And he said, You don’t you definitely don’t what to look in there. And for me, as an artist, I immediately thought Well, now that you said that, I definitely. But we didn’t. And but eventually, we have found a way to make it work. And so yeah, so if we just skip on a couple of or two or three slides,


that’s moving any thought I should also say that even if that telescope had a domain in its dome, right now, we wouldn’t use it anymore. Because nowadays this kind of research with binary stars that it was used for are famous for just happens with the CCDs all the stars, you get lots of stars on one plate, it was just because that wasn’t available at that time that you needed your two telescopes.


So here, here it was a few years ago, it doesn’t quite look like that anymore. And you can see it has the the neon sign that I was talking about. In fact, I took this picture during lockdown, I think in February of 2020. And if anyone’s interested if you go on to Google Earth, I did actually make a 360. And so you’ll you’ll find that and you’ll be able to look how snowy it was all around from that point of view. So that’s the James Gregory telescope. Very impressive, very large telescope straight in the middle of the picture. And the twin dome two To the left. So if we move on to the next one, this is what we’re beginning to, oh, I one more neon sign. So this, we so the New Mexico one was version number two, the one you’ve just seen was the original version. And this, I think, was September of 2019. And we had hundreds of students helping us to make 100 metre neon sign. And the twin dome and the other observatory buildings, they’re just off to the left. So these are the playing fields that surround the observatory buildings in St. Andrews. So there’s the last and maybe we’ll do a, you know, the thing about that neon sign is that it occurs to me that every time we do a new version, it’s on a scale of 10. So I dread to think how great how colossal the next biggest side is gonna be.


I also have to help hold my hand up here as in I’m a bit guilty of that I noticed online that New Mexico the space festival suite, it’s that they had the largest neon sign in the world now. And I felt as someone who was in St Andrewas NO, we had the one on our door.


Okay. I suppose they need to use the word permanent. And,


and, yeah, so we came up. I push this a little bit, I guess I was like, Tim, can we make a bigger one, and


we should take it back again. Take it back to Scotland. So. So here we are. And this is a critical moment in the life of this observatory, because you will see. And astronomers hold your breath here. We’ve put a window in the dome. So it was a it’s a really big moment there’s a technician, Chris Watson, who he’s amazing. Alex, the director, and I talked about me we should I said, I would like to put a window for this to do this project. And, and then about two days later, Alex said, oh, yeah, Chris, I overheard, we wanted a window and he’s put a window in. So he really moves fast. And it’s it’s amazing that so this is how this project happened simply because of that window. And you see the effect on the outside there. So it’s critical in that suddenly, this building, which was designed for one purpose, one solitary purpose to to look at the stars. Suddenly, it’s kind of inverted, and now it’s to allow in the sunlight. So the window is pointing eastwards, I kind of originally thought I wanted a south facing window. Because I wanted this art installation to kind of be at its best on the solstice, and, but we can’t turn the dome. So it face perfectly due east which actually is a pretty good position. So if we go on to the next slide, we’ll see how things started to change. So the neon sign is gone. And that’s me starting to create design on the exterior. And inside it we mirrored the the inside of the shutter section. principally because I wanted more light to put even more light into the space. And given we’ve given it a beautiful coat of white paint as well. So I think if we rush on to the to the next one,


if I can just interject here as an as an astronomer, who is were spent quite a bit of time in telescope domes where you tried to keep everything as dark as possible. Then I saw that window and the middles. I did have a moment that I went like, oh, yeah, yeah. It’s not observing the stars anymore. This is fine. And I’m very happy in the end of it, how it turned out. But it was it was a moment I will say,


yeah, it was kind of is really kind of amazing moment in the life of that building, because it’s it marks the end of its life as an observatory. But the thing I quite like, I mean, I won’t ask you to go back to the slide, but on the, on the drawing of the plans, you know, the language in the, in the circular area, which is where you know, the artwork is it is called the observing room. So, you know, I you know, and actually the control room is is is where I create a lot of stuff and so so the language kind of still seems to fit quite well. So yeah, absolutely. So, so that there are two images there of the interior. That that’s I suppose that’s the main that’s you’re looking at almost 190 degrees of wall on the left hand side. And this is the these are pieces of acrylic which are suspended on incredibly thin pieces of wire and they float about 200 millimetres away from the background. And so there’s there’s two things going on is the kind of floating quality and, and that they have different levels of allowing light to pass through some are more obscured than others. So you get these darker or lighter shadows. And because there’s often a bit of a breeze just gently coming in the door on the right hand side, there’s a tiny bit of movement as well. And it’s quite, I spent quite a lot of time in this space and it can be quite mesmerising. The other thing is that it’s in a kind of a V shape because the sun hits the wall on the left hand side at eight o’clock in the morning. And then it travels around that part of that section. But as the sun travels from eight o’clock, till about noon, obviously it’s rising in the sky, so the light is dipping down to the centre. But then the distance between the window where the light is coming in, and the walls starts to shorten critically, and therefore the the the illumination starts to rise up. So obviously, you don’t see that when you visit the you may see the sun at a certain place on the wall. But what I have been doing, and you’ll see later on is doing quite a lot of time lapse photography. So I’ve met I’ve managed to save that, that moment of how the sun makes its progresses around wall. area you Yes. And so. So, in the opening, when we opened this Solstice, that was a thing we didn’t have but but now that I’ve extensively photographed it, we’re adding little screens around the wall, which will show you amongst other things that that movement of the Sun around the you can see it there in the background, in the out of focus background. I think there’s a couple more slides left,


I feel like you should talk about the flowers because that was another moment that we were talking about the projects and I actually don’t any more know where the inspiration came from that we should make an flowerbeds around the dough.


Yeah, I suppose from my point of view, the whole thing was always it was always about a kind of it was meant to be immersive. So it, it really is completely immersed in these amazing colours. And it’s as if were, because I think in our title for the exhibition, we talk about the the memory of the telescope. And, and there is that idea that there’s this is this, the building carries this echo or memory of the of the telescope, but one stood there. But my thinking of how we remember it is is in terms of almost inhabiting the telescope, and the colours of the telescope. Because when I think of telescopes, I think of spectroscopy and colour rather than forms and swirls of galaxies, etcetera. And it’s just because that’s all as you know, Annamarie that’s always been my approach. It’s from day one, it’s Oh, what are these emission spectra? These look interesting. So and I suppose, you know, in the earliest slides, we showed how the work had progressed in those kind of years between then and now. And now it’s like, going really fully colour. And I suppose that the flowers are, it’s, if we think of colour in our day to day experience, that kind of flowers are the most kind of obvious. The thought of, you know, making a wonderful arrangement of flowers in a garden or in a vase, but also you get this kind of these amazing random patterns. So the wall there on the wall, there’s a sense of as a kind of order. And the flowers, there’s this amazing disorder. So in some of those pictures, I’m I’m curious. I like the juxtaposition of the of the kind of disordered patterns in front of these blocky patterns behind. Yeah,


yeah. And I will also say that it has actually been a real pleasure. We started this project eight years ago, and whenever we talk and we come up with new things to do, because it seems we Originally, we thought this was just going to be a one off project for the International Year of light. But it seems that we just keep getting inspired. And we keep getting more ideas. And I just find it really, really fun to see how we, how we get more and more ideas in the work that we do. And I also feel actually that this is maybe a good moment that we should circle back to the beginning, because we’ve talked about the science, you’ve talked about the telescope and the binary stars and the spectra, we’ve talked about the art you can and the colours. We haven’t talked yet about the music. And one of the things that was pointed out to me when we visited the dome wwas Bede, who we mentioned in the beginning, Bede Williams, a musician in our collaboration and a composer that we got involved Andrew Knight-Hill from Greenwich Observatory, was that if you are in that space, and for those of you who are going to visit it, you will notice that the sound acoustics are amazing in there. And that is why and this is something else that if you didn’t shine too, because remember, we want to do science, we want to do art, but we also want to do music. And we were very lucky that we also could see match up with the St. Andrews music projects, which is led by the Laidlaw Centre and is bringing music to primary school children and they get to play bass instruments. They actually recorded some of the music that is now going to be the sound installation and that that will be in place when you visit it. So it is that the right thing to say, Tim, that it’s an immersive is that the word you use an immersive experience?


Yeah, certainly, I would say so we’re we’re still waiting with some bated breath for Andrews final edit on this. So. So look, I’m really I’m really looking forward to that. But Anne Marie is right that the acoustics in there are really quite amazing. There are some spots, which we’ve avoided with amuse where the acoustic is utterly horrible. And that is if you stand absolutely in the centre, your voice seems to be cancelled out, it’s quite amazing. But anyway, we spent some time putting an audio system in there, and the acoustics are great. And just one last thought on the flowers, which we do have plans that we will eventually surround the twin dome. So if you look at the picture on the top right there, they’re only sort of fairly freshly planted, and they’ve really risen up quite a lot since then, I guess the picture in the middle sent at the top in the middle is a good idea of how much they’ve grown. But the longer term plan is that we want we hope to surround the building with a wild meadow wildflower meadow. So so that that should really set it off. And then in my mind carry on with the with the colour around the rest of the building. The dome itself is a bit scruffy. So maybe we can do something with that. But yeah, so. But as you can see, in certain points of view, it does look quite good.


I think we’ve talked quite a bit about shine. We’ve talked about the exhibits and how we got here. Is this the moment that maybe we should stop talking and see if there are any questions? I can also stop the PowerPoint. Maybe at this point.


I think that would be good. I mean, the PowerPoint is beautiful. So it’s good as a backdrop. But I want at some point to ask you about your backdrop too Anne-Marie. Nothing against the backdrop of the room you’re in Tim. But I think you’ll agree that Anne Marie’s is a bit more interesting. Definitely. But But firstly, I should just note that there actually haven’t been any questions apart from a real Corker of a question which absolutely strikes at the heart of event, you know what your project is all about. So that came from Brian, who’s actually joining us online doing a master’s in in and joining us from Kenya, I believe. So I’m going to state this one, though, because you don’t need to answer it. Now. It may take a little bit of thought over the next few minutes. And it’s also to just create the space if anyone else wants to start typing a question. They can do of course. But Brian Brian’s question is basically this is how has the integration of art and the observatory setting enhanced or transformed our understanding and experience of the universe? So that’s, you know, that’s quite a deep question in terms of what the broader goal might have been. So I’ll let you think about that one. And as I said, you know, the other aspect that The I’m a, as an astrophysicist intrigued by is whether you might like to share a little bit about your backdrop Anne Marie because it looks rather reddish orange to me and you might like to comment on, on what what that’s telling us in terms of the colours about what’s going on in the universe? Yes, definitely. Someone else has posted a question as well. So there may be starting to come good stuff.


I’ve also say, thank you so much for that question that was asked that was actually one that Tim and I really discussed, while the project was going on, and also for this task, Talaq hoping that someone would ask, so we’ll, we’ll have things to say about that. But I’ll start a little bit of a background here, I’ll move a little bit out of the way, it’s the Hubble Deep Field, there are 1000s and 1000s of galaxies in here, even though it’s just a tiny patch on the sky. So that that shows you how many galaxies that are. And talking about colour, which is indeed the theme here, you can see that they have different colours here. And I don’t know how much of an astrophysics lecture people want, I can go really off the real I teach first, yes, when we go through all of this stuff, but one of the key things that I take away as someone who looks at galaxies is that galaxies in a very simplistic worldview, or universe view, I should say, they’re either orange or yellow. And that also, if you look carefully goes together with a hard or smooth structure. Or they have, I don’t see if you can, if I’m pointing the right one here, they’re kind of they’re blue, whitish, but you can also see they have a bit more structure in there like spiral arms, a bit like a whole milkyway. And that’s when you talk to someone who studies galaxies, they may at first tell you there are only two kinds of galaxies. Those like the ones we live in the Milky Way, the ones that are still blue, those are still have a lot of gas, and are forming stars. And young stars come in all different colours. But the blue ones are very prominent there. But one time takes on. And this is going to sound a bit sad. But the blue stars are also the biggest stars and they burn through the fuel really quickly. So they are the first ones to go, let’s just put it like that. Supernova explosions star gone. If you then don’t have gas to form new stars, you will not make any of those new blue stars. And you’re left with the yellow and red ones. Those are the stars that live a lot longer. So that is why these ones here, have that colour there. And just for reassurance here, for those of you who are now thinking as in, oh, wait a minute, Our homestar is yellow, we still have four and a half billion years to go. We don’t have a blue star. So we’re, we’re good for the world.


Fantastic. How many? Unfortunately, we don’t have four and a half billion years and are curious talk this evening. However, we’re almost out of time. But what I’d like to do now is there’s a question for Tim that was imposed by by Jean Dykstra. And then perhaps we’ll come back to both of you for a few brief remarks about that. Fantastic question from in Brian. So James, question, Tim, is do you expect to produce any artwork inspired by the pictures taken by the James Webb telescope? So you mentioned that that’s been a really exciting new astronomy project? On the science side, but how about for an artist? Is that fire you?


Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my, my immediate reaction is, is actually probably no, I mean, I get as excited as the next person about James Webb. And I was absolutely locked to the, to the TV as it was being launched. And, you know, hoping and hoping that everything was going to work out, and especially having had that moment with my little block of hydrogen, just looking in on the cleanroom as it was being built. So I feel really close to it. And I know of people who’ve got some hours on the on the James Webb. But probably no, I think through my work with Anne Marie, it’s kind of it will always be getting it that that that level, deeper into the science into, you know, to what is light, basically, that’s you know, I mean, if there are ways in which the, you know, that somehow makes a lovely connection with what’s being created with James Webb, because my jaw drops just like everyone else, when we see what what’s coming back from James Webb. But I yeah, I’m gonna wrap up and say, probably no,


I believe afterwards, because I have a few ideas of things I would value your thoughts on. It’s all to do with a big anniversary coming up next year. It’s 200 years since the birth of Lord Kelvin, who helped us understand the types of heat and the type of light that James Webb is sensitive to is basically heat, infrared light sources that will spark some ideas and I have a chat about that in the future with both of you. Anyway, as I say, our time is nearly up. So let’s return to and keep Brian’s really great question for highs, this integration of art and science helped us to understand and experience about the universe. So I’m Anne Marie, what’s your take on that?


So for me working interdisciplinary, I will say, what I think why shine is still going on, is that we are not in collaboration, where it’s like, Oh, I do some science. And here’s some art to explain it. So I’ll hear some music to explain it. But what I, because that’s my job, I guess, as a scientist to try and explain what the science is, but what I really value data here, and I think what increases our understanding is that it’s approaching something, whether that is light, its galaxies, it stars, its heat, from different angles, some people are really into the science, and they want to know all about the science, and they can take that as a hook to interact with a topic. But I, and that is a person like me, I guess. But I that is not everyone. Some people say like, well, I am very intrigued by music, or I’m very intrigued by art, or some people are very intrigued by it by language. And by given different ways to people to experience, the light in this case, whether that is through science, whether that is through art, whether that is through the music, that gives people different options. And what I want to be is I want science to be inclusive. And I don’t want people to feel like Oh, I’m not a scientist, oh, I don’t want to do maths. And therefore I cannot understand this or cannot work with this. That is what I absolutely do not want people to feel, I just want people to if they want to, I’m not forcing anyone. But if they want to, I want to give them different ways that they can look at the topic and be involved.


Wonderful. Thank you, Anne Marie. And, Tim, any closing thoughts from you?


Yeah, I mean, basically, Anne Marie, and I just the other day had conversations around the subject. And I think at the end of the day, it’s our each of us has kind of influenced how the other one just kind of goes about our work. And I think you know, so there’s, so you won’t find a big kind of new insight into understanding the universe on the walls of the of the observatory, but certainly in our own approach to to our individual fields. It’s about learning and understanding different approaches and different ways of thinking. And I think that’s how I would how I would put it.


Yeah, well, thank you. I mean, that that’s speaks very strongly to the whole philosophy of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and indeed, the curious campaign just to create the space in which we can share those ideas. You know, I, for one, have learned something about found art, and the, you know, the origins of absolutely fascinating. And again, I look forward to finding out more about that, after we wrap up, which sadly, we have to do very soon. Let me see. And indeed, this answers the other question that’s just come in. When will this be available as a recording, I’m not sure exactly when, but it has been recorded, it will be put on the RSEs YouTube channel. And so I would expect in a matter of a few weeks, and I don’t think it will be too long, two weeks, curious itself is going to be running through to let me get the date right the 17th of September. We’re just on day two, if you want to join other events, or indeed if you want to go and see the exhibition in St. Andrews, you’re most welcome to go and see it in three dimensions. And so you can find out more about the curious programme on the web at rse-curious.com and Anne Marie and Tim, you just want to wrap up by saying anything about the logistics of going to see the exhibition.


Yeah, so we are opening up the exhibits this weekend and the next weekend’s all four days, so two Saturdays, two Sundays will be open in the afternoon from two till five and you can just drop in anytime in that interval. And that was one day that we also have a morning session and Tim I’m blanking on when that is. That’s not this


is following week. So it’s it’s in two weekends time. Yeah.


Yeah. And I think that information is on the curious website. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So let me thank you again, for a really fascinating hour. I hope everyone has enjoyed it. And yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing it up there in St. Andrews, and always seem to be sunny when you were taking those photos even on the snowy days. So again. Thank you, everyone, and I hope you can join us for more curious events in the coming days. Take care. Bye bye.


Thank you so much. Bye everyone here Thank you

A close up of a green field in front of a building
Publication Date
Dr Anne-Marie Weijmans
Tim Fitzpatrick
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