So bluedot festival’s back around, and my search history is full of stuff like ‘quasar’, ‘pulsar’ and ‘gravitational lenses’ (disclaimer: I’ve only got like 3-paragraph deep level wikipedia knowledge on all those things, tops). The festival of electronic music, science and tech-driven art all takes place around Jodrell Bank’s Lovell Telescope, a colossal structure that makes me think of the word ‘Sputnik’, in a good way. It was built in 1945, its dish has a diameter of 75m, and its earned its place on the intergalactic map from uncovering a lot about superdense, rapidly rotating, dying stars (aka pulsars). I know this because I took a guided tour of it last year at the festival, and it was great.
It’s also the canvas for a major light and sound installation every year, the output of the COSMOS residency produced by Abandon Normal Devices (AND) and commissioned by Jodrell Bank Observatory. The telescope is LIDAR scanned and projection mapped, allowing complete control over which elements of the structure are illuminated.
Btw, let me just come right out and say I have a real thing for receiving dishes. Something about the way they poise silently, endlessly, faces raised upwards to catch and cup some droplets of something so far beyond them – a TV transmission, a dying star, distant tremors of a gravitational wave. When I see a satellite dish I always think of prayer: the good kind of prayer where you do your best to make a channel of communication to something that you don’t really know is there, not the bad kind where you just sort of thrust forward a kind of cosmic Amazon wishlist. I mean it’s fucking gorgeous. They’re way more beautiful to me than their natural-world counterpart, flowers.
Last year they had Daito Manabe’s Celestial Frequencies, an installation that involved taking live data from dying stars and using it to create light visualisations that ran all night. Pause on that for a sec: live data from dying stars. The visualisations could also be modulated from a control panel that Daito performed on, that anyone was also welcome to have a go on.
This year’s piece is called Hidden In Plain Sight, from Addie Wagenknecht. Working with scientists from the observatory, she’s made a new light and sound piece that takes as its starting point the complex processes that comic data sets have to go through to be understood, using conjectural modelling patterns. Essentially it’s about pattern-finding, the cognitive mechanisms that we use to push through the chaos of things and find order, sequence, sense. It’s set to be a colossal projection work about projections: making sense of and reconciling the distances between art and science, data and knowledge, observatories and dying stars.
COSMOS will take place Thursday 19 July, 12PM – 2AM and Saturday 21 July, 11PM – 1AM. There will also be a panel discussion Friday at 2PM around art and science, with Addie Wagenknecht, AND and other parties involved in COSMOS.
COSMOS is a flagship international artists commission and residency for Lovell Telescope. Produced by Abandon Normal Devices, commissioned by Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire East Council as part of SHIFT and Abandon Normal Devices. Supported by the University of Manchester, bluedot, Arup, Austrian Cultural Forum, and with public funds from Arts Council England. bluedot festival takes place from 19-22 July at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Macclesfield.
Jacob Bolton is a writer and music producer based in Liverpool. T/I @bacobjolton.