My pentaptych, is a study of the F-1 rocket engine Injector Plate and Hypatia – a female philosopher-mathematician who lived in Alexandria, Egypt and was lynched by christian mob in 415 CE.
I found the similarity between the form of the plate and the rose windows of Gothic architecture striking and was further inspired when I researched Rose Windows aka Catherine’s window and found a powerful connection to Hypatia.
Hypatia’s shocking death hands of a Christian mob was ordered, by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria – a man recognised as one of ‘Fathers of the Church’. That mob stripped her naked and tore her body to pieces. None of Hypatia’s writings are extant. She was essentially obliterated from history. Cyril was made a saint.
The story of Hypatia’s murder was appropriated – in perhaps the ultimate irony – by Christianity as the story of the Martyrdom of St Catherine. In the story she is a devout Christian and scholar who is murdered for her beliefs by pagans. The symbol of the Catherine Wheel is a reference to her attempted execution by being ‘broken on the wheel’ as ordered by the pagan emperor Justinian (the wheel miraculously broke on touching Catherine).
In my Pentaptych ‘Hypatia’s Window’ I have sought to re-appropriate Hypatia’s story from her appropriation in the Saint Catherine legend.
The series appears as a dizzying geometric landscape and it is only the last painting that reveals the ‘window’ motif to be actually a machine – the F-1 injector plate!! Humanities greatest achievement to date – we walked on another world – even if it was our moon.
‘I know where Odin’s eye is hidden,
Deep in the wide-famed well of Mimir;
In Norse mythology Odin’s thirst for wisdom is almost insatiable. In one story Odin sacrificed his eye in return for a drink from Mimir’s well and the cosmic knowledge that he would attain from taking such a drink. Mimir is a mysterious being whose knowledge of all things was practically unparalleled among the inhabitants of the cosmos.
Looking at the Super-Kamiokande an extraordinary apparatus designed to detect Neutrinos, some of the most elusive and mysterious particles in the universe, I was reminded of the story of Mimir’s Well. There was the pool of ultrapure water (50,000 tonnes of it) in an immense cavern 40m high buried 1000m below ground where 11,146 photomultiplier tubes wait to detect the interaction of a neutrino that has potentially travelled millions of light years from an exploding star situated on the other side of the galaxy.
The nature of those interactions may reveal information that deepens our understanding of the universe – just as Mimir’s Well promised Odin cosmic knowledge that he was willing to sacrifice so much for. So much effort, so much sacrifice to produce these amazing devices.
I decided on the triptych format for my paintings of the detector as it appropriates a form popular in Christian art as a way to display religious imagery behind an altar, again referencing/combining both themes within the Norse mythological story of Mimir’s well and the scientific effort that is the ‘religious quest’ in our post-religious world today.
A diptych that is a celebration of the multifaceted achievement that is the 21st century urban environment and the hope for our sustainable future that cities represent.
Etemenanki was first ‘high rise’: a 91m high ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk in the ancient city of Babylon located in modern day Iraq. Scholars consider that Babylon was the largest city in the world c. 1770 – c. 1670 BC, and again c. 612 – c. 320 BC. The Mesopotamian civilisation was a vital cultural melting pot and its capital Babylon perhaps the first city to reach a population of above 200,000.
The 21st century city is a vast ‘meta-machine’ comprised of a myriad of interoperating systems that provide not only life support; delivering essential ‘consumables’ for millions of people (water, food and shelter) but also facilitating a breadth of personal and social opportunities unparalleled in the history of humanity. Consider the myriad of different pursuits that a person can engage in within a city – both from a recreational as well as a work perspective –compared to that of an individual living in a rural environment (this is an even more significant contrast when considering opportunities for women).
Furthermore, looking to the future: cities may be the key to sustainability in that they enable more efficient consumption than low density rural living. As urban living is typically characterised by a mass transportation rather than a car-dependent lifestyle, with smaller more heat-efficient homes where civic services and infrastructure can be accessed more efficiently. The high population density city represents the opportunity to permanently reduce energy use, water consumption, carbon output and many other environmental ills.
The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reported in 2014 that for the first time in human history more than half of the world lives in cities. And indeed the phenomenon of urbanisation has even led to reforestation in Asia and Latin America with secondary forest growing as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of a better life.
Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon on July 26th 1969 represents an event that will forever remain unique in history: the first time a human being stood on the surface of another celestial body. It will be one of the few moments that will still be discussed and celebrated in another fifty years, in another hundred years and, hopefully, even in another thousand years time.
Despite it having occurred over fifty years ago, the Apollo 11 Mission is a pinnacle of human engineering achievement. Indeed many would argue ‘over achievement’ as we have not returned since the last Apollo mission left the surface of the moon on 13th December 1973.
Progressive Overdrive is a study of the interior of the thrust chamber of an F-1 rocket engine. Five of these unprecedentedly powerful engines propelled the Saturn V booster launching the Apollo 11 spacecraft on its 1/4 million kilometre journey to the moon.
In Progressive Overdrive I chose ultramarine/lapis lazuli and gold for their historical religious/devotional associations in art. Lapis Lazuli was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, including Masaccio, Perugino, Titian and Vermeer where these artists often reserved the colour for the clothing of the central figures of their paintings – typically the Virgin Mary.
The paintings of the Renaissance were often intended to inspire and educate the viewer with an understanding of the Christian world view – an often absolutist, dogmatic perspective at odds with the dynamic, evolving, evidence driven scientific world view that, ultimately, enabled us to walk on the moon.
My use of Lapis and gold takes this association and creates a devotional/inspirational work where the ‘religious’ object is a manifestation of progress – progress driven by our scientific understanding of the universe that lead to technological innovation which was then coupled with an extraordinary application of human effort.
Progressive Overdrive is an attempt to create an inspirational work that is at once dramatic and uplifting but also enigmatic and mysterious.