My Instagram account serves in a similar way to the Spectra research portal in that it offers some insight into current work being generated. Rarely showing actual finished work, it acts more as an electronic visual diary and a platform to make private studio notes and ideas public.
During our family’s extended trip around central and eastern Australia, we stopped at Siding Springs Observatory near Coonabarabran NSW on the advice of a friend. Situated on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park, the observatory holds a number of internationally significant telescopes including Australia’s largest optical telescope, the AAT. This place was truly incredible. World class science takes place here nightly and over the years, including quite a few Nobel Prize winning discoveries. The info centre outlined the kinds of technology and research onsite. The views into and around the dormant volcanic caldera and the surrounding National Park are dramatic and evocative.
Much of my art practice exists within the intersections between nature, science and wonder. I’m interested in how far idiosyncratic leaps of the imagination can go, when contemplating mixed or random experiences. Siding Spring was a site where ideas began to collide around my recent work.
For me the idea of the whole area as a viewing device was interesting… the observatory site, the volcano as a camera perhaps… the confluence of scientific observations, light particles from very distant galaxies, spectrography, robotic optics, 1960’s photographic technology, super-large pieces of specialist glass (Cervit) and super-polished aluminium composites, old and very new technology combined. The landscapes surrounding the observatory are sublimely dramatic and contain some of the world's rarest and most colourful zeolite crystals and rare fossils. When you remember that the telescopes often employ spectrography to discover the material composites of extremely distant planets and stars, it’s possible to connect the here and now of the local geological wonder to the vastness of universal matter and material. (if you do go, remember to pop into Crystal Kingdom in Coonabarabran on the way out of town to see some very rare samples. It’s a time warp in one sense, however the staff we spoke to had a wealth of specialist (and not so specialist!) knowledge and the samples are beautiful and plenty, it is so worth the time).
Reading: At the time, I was reading Border Districts by Gerald Murnane
Sliding Spring website:
Australian Astronomical Optics website:
Image galleries from Itelescope:
World’s largest Virtual Solar System Drive (a scale replica of our solar system on the roads leading to Siding Spring)
Crystal Kingdom, Coonabarabran:
Taken from the SSO’s website
Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, NSW, is Australia's premier optical and infrared astronomical observatory.
Since opening in 1964, The Australian National University has operated the observatory site hosting research telescopes from the ANU's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA), Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) and many other institutions from around the world at this spectacular location next to the picturesque Warrumbungle National Park, Australia's first International Dark Sky Park (IDSP). For more information on the Dark Sky Park, click here.
Research caried out at SSO is varied, from probing the depths of the cosmos in search of "Dark Energy" to searching the Milky Way for other planets and signs of life. Nearly every night there's something new being done, and new discoveries being made.
You can learn more about the various telescopes and the organisations that own and run them on the telescopes of SSO page.
Images: Jon Butt
Ask me what rock I have in my pocket.
Mostly, on a daily basis, I carry a small rock with me that will relate to a moment in time where I connected to a place or site in some way related to my art practice (or just felt grounded). I carried a small rock around with me for a year, that I found on the grounds of the Abbotsford Convent (where I have worked for the past 11 years). I was developing a work with the wonderful behn woods, and I suggested we both pick up a shard of bluestone that were scattered across our path and use it as an object to remember our chat. We where discussing the idea of “invisible practice” (i.e. making art not visible to an audience) and I had bought up a scene from the Japanese movie “Departures” where the father teaches the son to insert a memory of their time together that day into the rock as an “eternal moment”.
I am currently carrying a small orange quartz chunk that I found in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Gem Fields north of Alice Springs (on an approved Atitjere fossicking site). On that day I had been thinking a lot about molecules and memory whilst fossicking for garnets with my family.
This is just the beginnings of a random collection of rabbit holes to head down. Follow the links and then free associate.
I often get lost in these references, as the scientific descriptions of reality can get pretty weird/fantastic, such a great resource for storytelling.
Nasa’s Dark Matter page: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy
Matter wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matter
Space.com General relativity: https://www.space.com/17661-theory-general-relativity.html
Hyper physics site, a learning tool for students: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu
The standard model: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Model
Gravity for kids: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/what-is-gravity/en/
Finding stuff elsewhere: https://www.space.com/26533-curiosity-mars-rover-meteorite-photos.html
Rocks info for kids: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/earth/rocksandminerals.html
Matter under extreme conditions device: https://portal.slac.stanford.edu/sites/lcls_public/instruments/mec/Pages/default.aspx
More Wikipedia stuff (un/verified):
I’m obsessed with the idea of signals and emitters.
A signal can be so many things. The electronic devices we use every day, send and emit radiation signals between technological infrastructure and our eyes, ears and brains (mobile towers - phones, wifi - tablet etc). Radar, telephony, reversing sensors in your car, walkie talkies, UHF Radio, Digital AM/FM radio, your television… the list is endless.
Look around you when you are walking through the city, so many aerials, radar dishes, mobile phone towers, strange micro antennae, wifi points, communication technologies. We are bathed in electronic radiation signals all day, every day (unless you build a Faraday Cage), small particles are passing through gaps in your body all the time as information.
SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) was a long term program run by the Ohio State University utilising the “Big Ear” radio telescope an is famous for recording the WOW signal that had all the hallmarks of a possible alien origin, although no one agrees on what it actually is.
Breakthrough listen, part of the Breakthrough Initiative is a large-scale SETI program initiated by silicon valley mega investors and tech billionaires to reinvigorate the search for alien signalling.
Looking at something is receiving a signal. A light particle (a thing/object) gets shot out from the sun millions of kms away, bounces of an object and then hits your eye. You have received a signal about that piece of cake you are eyeing off. Your brain also sends an electronic signal to your body that you are hungry and want that cake.
An idea is a signal. Information is created, interpreted and sent via speech, words, images, a sideways glance... An artwork is a signal, music is a signal, bird calls are signals.
Nature is a powerful signaller. birds, animals, insects, plants all are experts in using an incredible variety of techniques to signal each other. Sound, scent, radar, electricity, phosphor. It is thought that whales can signal to distances of over 16,000kms.
This is all an extremely basic and surface level rendering around the meaning of signals and signalling and but I wanted to point to an idea that is ever present when I am making work, when I am walking around thinking about making work. As most artists do, I look out for signals in every moment of my waking life, conscious or otherwise, walking along the street, or lying under a tree on a sunny day, reading, listening watching, it’s a reflex action that is always switched on. The one thing I enjoy most is that there is no obvious pattern to why a signal stands out and what it will mean in the long term to my work, often its a complete mystery. I will store it away and move on to the next. At some future moment it will make sense, sometimes in a quiet way, sometimes in a flash.
I also end up photographing signal towers everywhere I travel, for no real reason (that I know of yet), and I often think about making sculptures of signal towers. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now as a sub-project that may never be used for artistic outcomes.
All images: Jon Butt
In 2017 I invited artist and writer Katie Paine to develop a piece of fiction as a companion to my work for an upcoming exhibition at Bus Projects. Katie and I share a huge passion for speculative science fiction and we had talked a lot about the genre as it relates to matter, phenomena and ideas around reality.
Where do they go?
All photos have been gleaned off late night internet searches from news sources (getting lost on the internet) and I do not take credit for any except for the first one of the pavilion in which I totally see a portal. I love sinkhole images though.
Last year, on a long trip through the central Australian deserts, I read a trio of books that helped shift my understanding of time and space..
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
Border Districts By Gerald Murnane
Three radically different books. One, a science work on the nature of time; one, a rumination on wandering through time via the corporeal, and one, a journey through a world meticulously built from “mental images” in the mind of the narrator, time and timelessness together. Flights and Border Districts both offered beautiful and strange worlds where time never moves in a linear motion… days, weeks… whole lives existing in parallel, ducking and weaving. Threads from the two works of fiction seemed to open up through notions of time revealed in The Order of Time and reading all books simultaneously was a unique experience, especially as we were travelling through extremely remote desert tracks in central Australia, without clocks, calendars, any deadlines or any actual sense of linear time. The Sun rising and setting was our measure and it began to feel like we were living outside of time.
The Order of Time is a poetic teaching on the true nature of time, a science book for non-scientists, outlining theories of one of the current understanding of what time actually is. (as there is still no consensus on the matter, scientists are divided and pretty catty about it actually). For me what was valuable, was that it pulled apart the way we understand (or feel) time. What we think of as time, is actually not real. As per usual, reality is way more weirder than we think. At a fundamental quantum level, there is no real difference between the past and the future, these are just approximations of events and time is what we experience from our perspective when moving through those events. There is no constant equal flow of time across the universe, we perceive time through the memory of events that have happened to us. There is no “now”, no “present” existing across the universe. Linear time isn’t fixed in nature and has differing properties when viewed in relation to other things. In fact time only ever actually happens when one thing is viewed in relation to another thing and often at very different rates. A clock on the floor, tells time slower than a clock on a wall. (clocks closer to the planet or a heavy gravitational object slow down). The closer you are to a heavy object in space, time will slow down and take ‘longer”. A scene about “Miller’s planet” in the movie Interstellar describes this well, when “..every hour we spend on the planet will be seven years on Earth..” as Miller’s planet sits closer to a massive black hole than Earth does.
Look up at your ceiling now… its travelling faster in time than you are! (by a really really small amount).
When you travel through very ancient places like Central Australia, this conversation becomes more concrete. Too many distractions in the city to slow down and contemplate vast periods of time, or perhaps more accurately, still moments within matter.
Raining diamonds or glass, seas of acid or mercury, 1 million year orbits, non reflective black planets, rock snow, wind that 7 times the speed of sound, a planet of burning ice, egg shaped worlds.
When you think about the fact that most of the material in the universe is made up of empty space, most people’s brains will ask why we don’t just fall through matter like a ghost through a wall?
Dancing Atoms make us feel things.