The artists who won this year’s Turner Prize got bad reviews of their success. Instead, praise is going to a fringe event for challenging art, the Turnip Prize, held each year in a pub at Wedmore in Somerset.

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The idea for this fringe event comes from the Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte. Whenever he painted an object such as an apple, or even a turnip, he painted the fruit and then denied that the picture was not one of these things. In these “Ceci n’est pas” works, Magritte pointed out that no matter how naturalistically he depicted an object, he never caught the object itself. A similar principle was suggested by the philosopher Karl Popper to explain the way science works. Rather than confirm that something exists or is correct, he argued that science can only show that an idea is false.

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Turnip prize entrants use puns when naming their work, so taking Magritte’s admission to an extreme limit. Here are some examples. The first image, below left, is of “Breast in Plant”; the others have labels.



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London’s Royal Court Theatre has a 70 minute performance lecture by Chris Rapley about climate change. It is written by Duncan Macmillan. 590x494.fitandcrop

Rapley has been the Director of the British Antarctic Survey and the Science Museum.

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Throughout the performance Rapley is sitting on a chair in front of projected images of glaciers and curves of temperature and CO2 concentration through the decades. He presents data mostly impersonally, good for facts and thin on their importance for humankind.

2071 ends on November 15th


There’s a big difference between a horizontal line and a vertical one. The first opens up unlimited space, symbolising freedom and lightness; vertical lines are barriers that do the opposite. A new exhibition at the Annandele Galleries, Sydney, shows Murray Fredericks’ confrontations with one of these, open space.

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Most famously, he made a series of photographs from Lake Eyre, Southern Australia, that he called Salt. Now he shows more horizons from the Greenland ice sheet.

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You can calculate the distance to the horizon from an observer, if you ignore the effect of refraction by the atmosphere.

The equation is d≈3.57h‾‾√,  where d is in kilometres and h is height above ground level in metres.

So, for a 1.7m tall observer the horizon is at a distance of 4.7 kilometres. If the observer is 2m tall, the horizon is 5km away. For an observer standing on a 100m hill, the horizon is at a distance of 36 kilometres. From the top of Mount Everest (8,848 metres) it is at a distance of 336 kilometres.

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Sometimes you need help to distinguish photographs from paintings.

(thanks to S Howden, BBC, Sydney; painting by Albert Williamson)


The outer layers of this collapsed star are being blown into space, briefly outshining its parent galaxy. Known as Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A, the event began only 340 years ago, and is photographed by the Hubble telescope.


Another expression of what it feels like to be in an empty space is being performed by the artist Marina Abramovic. Her show is at London’s Serpentine Gallery from June 11 to August 25. Called 512 Hours, the artist is present in the otherwise empty space of the gallery. The gallery is bare, but for its fixed staff lockers, visitors and security guards.

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As with the supernova there is no plan. What will happen?

The gallery publicity explains “On arrival, visitors will both literally and metaphorically leave their baggage behind in order to enter the exhibition: bags, jackets, electronic equipment, watches and cameras may not accompany them.

“The public will become the performing body, participating in the delivery of an unprecedented moment in the history of performance art.

“Marina Abramović is a pioneer of performance as an art form, using her own body as subject and object, she has pushed the physical and mental limits of her being.”

For the New Physics there is another kind of low energy which has only recently been recognised within an empty space. Fundamental particles called Higg’s Boson appear to have mass while the symmetries controlling their interactions should require them to be massless. Their weak force also have a much shorter range than electro-magnetic forces.

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Mondrian Against Science

The occult is alive and well in Liverpool, where the Tate reconstructs three studios of the Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer thought that science and mathematics were unable to penetrate the “inner nature” of the thing itself, independent of any external causal relationships with other “things”. Some of Mondrian’s pictures try to investigate his ideas.

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The artist designed these rooms meticulously, setting out his few possessions in a slowly thought-out order. Mondrian’s abstract pictures were also painted very slowly and carefully, using colours that he mixed himself with hand-drawn straight lines. He wanted to reject scientific formulae and models, and invent his own solutions to chaos, not only in his pictures, but in his studios and life.

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The style and process was based on the writing of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) the Russian who founded theosophy, and set out mysteriously in a 1909 book The Secret Doctrine. That argued for a universal brotherhood of humanity, which would evolve as a higher state of being, familiar ideas made fashionable by Neitzsche and Bergson.

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Blavatsky had thought of sets of interacting forces, horizontal female ones and vertical male ones, all enclosed in a circle, and needing time, care and hard work to be productive and to activate spirits. Maybe that’s why Mondrian painted so many leafless trees:

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Synthetic Nature

Two of the most beautiful things in science are the Periodic Table and the DNA molecule.

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This month –

C. Dullmann et al, Darmstadt, Phys.Rev.Lett., have synthesised the new Element 117,

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This is the heaviest of the Super Heavy Elements in the Periodic Table with 117 protons in each atom’s nucleus. None of them occur in nature and they are all unstable, usually decaying in nanoseconds.


F.Romesberg et al, Scripps Institute, Nature Online May 7, have cultured  a semi-synthetic bacterium with an extended genetic code. As well as the four natural bases A-T and C-G this has two synthetic ones, X-Y.

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This extended DNA alphabet might be used to encode new protein-like substances from synthetic amino acids. These may have applications to make new drugs and plastics


Light and Space

James Turrell, born in 1943, is a Californian artist primarily concerned with light and space. Just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, he is turning the natural Roden Crater into a “naked-eye observatory”.

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Turrell studied geology and psychology, disciplines which led him to  seek religious meaning at the interface of the earth and the sky. At his crater in Arizona he sees plenty of bright open sky through holes in the roof, up through the cone of the extinct volcano.

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Some of his art attempts to show the inside turning into the outside and vice versa, done by projecting light along tunnels before thy fall out into the open. Turrell’s current exhibition at the Pace Gallery in London, uses computerised LED lighting to creating shifting colours.

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The Pace Gallery is a long way from Arizona and seems to have lost Turrell’s theology along the way. Perhaps that’s the point.