Art, Science and History

Movie: A Residence Above The Clouds

During 2016, I was involved with the making of a film by Guillermo Carnero-Rosell. It tells the story of the historic trip of Charles and Jessica Piazzi Smyth to Tenerife in 1856, when they pioneered mountain-top astronomy, blending this with the modern story of Scottish students travelling to Tenerife, meeting Spanish students, and trying to re-create Piazzi Smyth’s experiments. The film is a fascinating mix of history, science, art, and music, and includes a brief appearance by Brian May, who has long been fascinated by Piazzi Smyth.

The film was originally made for Spanish TV (it is in a mixture of English and Spanish) and has been seen at a number of film festivals round the world. It is available for distribution via Chip Taylor Communications. A DVD version is available privately from me on enquiry. Here is the trailer on Vimeo:

Multimedia show: Lost in Space

Over 2014-2017 I worked with composer Matt Giannotti and projectionist Robert Motyka from Wee Dog Media to produce a live multimedia show centred on exploring human reactions to the cosmos, following the themes of Immensity, Violence, Stardust, Complexity, Ubiquity,Eternity, and Meaning. This went through multiple incarnations including two short runs at the Edinburgh Science Festival. We are currently thinking about turning it into a dome show. The show is about forty minutes long. Here is an audio recording of the opening few minutes:

Art: Patricia McCormack’s Astronomical Fictions

In 2014, I started collaborating with Patricia McCormack, an Irish photographer and artist now working in Edinburgh. Over the next few years, Trish produced an intriguing, beautiful and haunting collection of astronomy related works, including “Closer to Earth”, “Astronomical Fictions”, “Fictional Interstellar Clouds”, and “The Andromeda Bench”. You can see examples on her website, and on her Instagram account.

The ROE archives

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is home to some amazing historical artefacts, as described at the ROE website and at the website of the ROE Trust, which I chair. As well as relics and artefacts from the history of the Observatory itself, we are home to the priceless Crawford Collection of seventeen thousand ancient astronomical manuscripts, dating from the thirteenth century onwards. One of my ambitions is to digitise the collection, and make it more widely available.

The Piazzi Smyth watercolours and stereographs

At ROE we also house the Piazzi Smyth archive, made up partly of items left in the Observatory archives, and partly of journals, stereo photographs, and paintings bequeathed to the Royal Society of Edinburgh but housed and curated by ROE. Piazzi Smyth was a prolific artist, and recorder of Victorian Society. With the help of Denis Pellerin of the London Stereoscopic Company, we have been digitising quite a lot of this collection, and have used many of the images on the Piazzi Smyth website, the Piazzi Smyth Twitter Stream, and the Piazzi Smyth Instagram account. As well as being fun during Piazzi Smyth’s bicentennial year (2019), my aim is to make the material more easily available to both scholars and the public.