Sophy Rickett: Objects in the Field

Observatory dome collageThe Museum of the History of Science is delighted to present artist Sophy Rickett’s acclaimed body of work, Objects in the Field. Juxtaposed on the Museum’s iconic staircase with historical observatory instruments, the astronomical theme of the installation resonates with a building that was Oxford’s centre for teaching astronomy in the 18th century.

In 2012 Sophy Rickett was awarded one of four prestigious Artist Associate-ships at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. During her fellowship, Rickett produced a substantial new body of work, which consists of a series of photographic prints, found photographs, photographic collages with text, a monitor-based video with sound and a text.

The project’s overall title, Objects in the Field, appropriates the language used by astronomers and astrophysicists that refers to stars as objects and to the sky as the field.

Objects in the Field was made in response to the artist’s encounter with a retired fellow of the Institute of Astronomy, Dr Roderick Willstrop, a highly respected scientist who conducted the first observations that recorded optical pulses (flashes of light) from the Crab pulsar (a relatively young neutron star) in 1968. Another of his achievements was to design and build The Three Mirror Telescope, a camera telescope, in the grounds of the Institute. Operational for 12 years, the telescope produced 125 black and white film negatives before it was modified to capture digital images in 1991.

Astronomical image: Observation 123The exhibition includes several works from the Observations series, where Rickett has appropriated a number of Dr Willstrop’s original negatives, reprinting them by hand using the analogue process and altering them through her own subjective and aesthetic decisions. The resulting works subvert the images’ original scientific purpose and at the same time act as a retrieval, or ‘rescue’ of the archive, in an intriguing and provocative confrontation of scientific and artistic endeavours.

Rickett has also produced a text, where a factual description of her encounter with Dr Willstrop is inflected with more subjective impressions and memories from her childhood connected to optics, seeing, and the fleeting nature of the encounter. A recording of Dr Willstrop reading the text forms the soundtrack to the monitor-based video work Afterword (Grinding a Lens for Kings College Chapel).

Objects in the Field was first shown at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge in 2013. Several works from the series are currently on show in They Used to Call it the Moon, curated by Alessandro Vincentelli at Baltic 39, Newcastle. Two of the works from the Observations series will be on show in the Discoveries exhibition, at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from 27th May – 27th July 2014.

Objects in the Field is supported by the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and Camilla Grimaldi, London

The Artist Associateship programme at the Institute of Astronomy is conceived and organized by Barry Phipps.

New Director Appointed

Dr Silke AckermannOn 1 March 2014 Dr Silke Ackermann will join the MHS as successor to Professor Jim Bennett, who retired from the Museum on 30 September 2012.

Silke is regarded as one of the leading researchers on Western and Islamic scientific instruments and has established an international reputation for taking a cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary approach in museum work.

After joining the British Museum in 1995 as the first curator of European and Islamic scientific instruments, Silke radically transformed the image of ‘science’ in its displays and developed new ways of engaging with the public that have inspired similar schemes in the UK and abroad. During 16 years of working at the BM, Silke took on a wide range of leadership and management roles, which include leading the Museum’s experimental gallery (where she successfully delivered shows ranging from Ghanaian textiles to modern Japanese photography and pre-Columbian sculpture) and being part of the consultancy team for the new Zayed National Museum of Abu Dhabi. She has led on, and participated in, a number of research projects, most recently on the role of the astrolabe in medieval Jewish communities.

In early 2012 Silke left the BM to take up a professorship at the University of Applied Sciences in Schwerin (Germany) where she became course director of ‘Cultural studies in a modern world’ and ‘Key competencies in modern leadership’ and subsequently president of the University. Prior to joining the MHS Silke will focus with her Masters students on her consultancy work for a number of German museums.

Most recently, Silke was elected President of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science – a post that Jim Bennett also held previously.