unfold and constrained surface by Ryoichi Kurokawa are both art installations about the phenomenon of synaesthesia. The theme of the cosmos explored in unfold would have been enough for me to travel from Newcastle to see this extraordinary show, but the added dimension of presenting it in terms of a synaesthetic, sensory event made it more intriguing. I, too, create artworks about the science of the cosmos and space exploration, collaborating with scientists, and for this show at FACT, Kurokawa worked with astrophysicist Vincent Minier to create an astonishing visual and audio experience.
Art and science working in collaboration can only add to the fields of expertise and advance creative thinking to produce more exciting results for both disciplines. The artificial division of the 20th century is dissolving and this much needed collaboration is opening new horizons. To advance into our future, in which ESA’s plans to build a Moon Village on the farside of the moon, and NASA’s mission to send humans to Mars, we must draw on all human knowledge and practice, otherwise it will never happen. Both ambitions are very difficult and slow to achieve.
These enhanced sensations that Kurokawa intends his audience to experience during visits to FACT remind me of the nature of my own art work, which uses rich colours and intricate geometric patterns on large format canvasses. I invent optical illusions to interpret the phenomena of the cosmos and use space technology imagery. This work started in 2007, and has led to residencies at Durham University’s Ogden Centre for Cosmology and Royal Holloway University’s Astrophysics department.
Currently, I am collaborating with Northumbria University’s solar physics group and Think Physics (education), to create a huge painting called SOLAR, about the science and layers of the Sun, and we’re also running STEAM schools projects to encourage diversity and understanding of physics. This STFC science funded project is a continuation of my artist-initiated project Yellow Giant which was exhibited at Vane, Newcastle last year with a series art/science presentations and workshops.
Much of my practice involves the bringing together of exciting people and institutions to initiate artist led projects which respond to space themed topics. Through this work, I have become the only artist who is an ESERO-UK Space Ambassador (for the education wing of ESA), aligned to the Tim Peake ISS mission, and that is exciting!
It is vital that artists invent adventurous projects which reach out to large audiences by producing dynamic new events. Previous and ongoing projects include, Moon-shot: Woman in the Moon, Rockets and Satellites, 11th Dimension and the Human Spaceship. These take the form of paintings, glass installations, smart materials costumes and large experimental books, all using optical illusions through the manipulation of geometric proportion and light.
The Human Spaceship is a precursor to a PhD research examining vision and visual perception in the altered gravity conditions of space-living. Can an artist explain how and what we see in space, and if we colonise off-world destinations, how we will evolve? Could synaesthesia be beneficial in these hostile environments?
As I feel that synaesthetic sensations are pleasant and add to the experience of observing art, I would bet that many more people are synaesthetes, but possibly haven’t noticed yet.
Find out more about this sensory phenomenon. Read more about Helen's artistic practice here and here.