Jane Grisewood Artist


About the Artist Residencies

In May 2012, photographer Judy Goldhill and I were invited to work for a month as the first artists-in-residence at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and Kitt Peak in southern Arizona. Six months later we spent a month in the southern hemisphere in Chile at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, which coincided with the launch of the Dark Energy Camera (DECam). In 2015 we were on a further residency at the Mauna Kea observatories in Hawaii. From these three exciting residencies the experiences of observing and the discussions with scientists and engineers, both on the summits and in the downtown headquarters, had a radical impact on my art practice and my way of ‘seeing’ the world.

At Kitt Peak National Observatory, night after night, observing the vast clear skies through the powerful telescopes was like being in a time machine seeing into the past. I saw images of unimaginably distant objects billions of light years away, and experienced firsthand the perpetual motion of remote galaxies and nearby planets. The phenomenal encounters were intensified further by ‘observing the observers’ in the control rooms through the night. My attention was caught by the spectra from distant stars that appeared on the monitors as minimal black and white lines that translated into a wealth of information – like fingerprints, or DNA – where the invisible can be made visible.

The experience on Cerro Tololo was equally breathtaking, although most of the observing was with the naked eye or digital camera under the immense starry southern night skies revealing Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way and dramatic Leonid meteors that split the sky with lines of light. An intense impression and compulsion to inquire further occurred when witnessing the first images coming from the DECam. The world’s most powerful digital camera is now undertaking the largest survey of the southern skies to record information from millions of galaxies, billions of light years from earth, in the hunt for dark energy.

The recent Mauna Kea residency was again a phenomenal experience, especially working with three significant observatories: Gemini (where we were based), Keck and Subaru. We spent hours observing the constant movement in the massive sanctuary-like structures where engineers worked tirelessly. The summit of Mauna Kea was breathtakingly beautiful and exhilarating, a ‘sky island’, towering 40% into the atmosphere at 4205 metres (13,796ft), despite the zero temperatures and low oxygen. Everything changed at sunset as a magical golden glow morphed into a deep red before darkness came. The experience was dramatic in every way, making it difficult to find words to describe the intensity of seeing and feeling.

The night environment became ideal for my ongoing investigation into darkness, intense blackness – blackest black. Defined by its absence of light, black paradoxically enables us to see light. The light from celestial objects and the information gleaned from the telescopes would not be possible without the blackness of night. I became increasingly conscious during the residencies of the significance and implications of ‘seeing’ in the dark, and it became an apt metaphor for my experiences.

I am currently an artist-in-residence in the Astrophysics department at University College London where I am unravelling my research and making artworks in different media that might reflect this dark/light, visible/invisible continually shifting cosmological temporality. JG 2016

view 'Where Art and Astronomy Meet'

Drawn Together