An Orrery for an Arts Award

Silver Arts Award at the Museum of the History of Science

In this guest post Miranda Millward, Oxford University Museums Arts Coordinator, talks about a recent Silver Arts Award.


In 2014 Hovnan Eayrs approached the Museum of the History of Science to ask if he could work towards his Silver Arts Award. Hovnan planned to create a short informative film about a museum object which visitors could access during their museum visit by scanning a QR code with their smartphone. This idea was inspired by work experience Hovnan had undertaken at Imperial College as a Learning Technologist working on short films to help students understand scientific information. Hovnan also took inspiration from a visit to the Royal Institution where interpretation films are activated by scanning QR codes. Silver Arts Award requires young people to set themselves an Arts Challenge to develop their artistic and creative skills – Hovnan chose film making as his challenge.

A table orrery held in the Museum surrounded by its component parts.

The table orrery featured in Hovnan’s video with all its attachments (inv. 45104).

Hovnan spent time in the Museum looking at a number of objects and in the end chose to make his film about an orrery on permanent display. An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system that demonstrates and predicts the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons – orreries were often used in domestic settings as a way to show contemporary science. Hovnan was interested in this object not only because of its history and visual qualities but also because it gave him the chance to film a moving object. Opposite the orrery’s display case is a print of a famous painting by Joseph Wright of Derby showing an orrery in a domestic setting with a family gathered around it. Hovnan wanted to highlight the juxtaposition of artefact and print.

In order to make his film Hovnan spent time planning and creating storyboards. He negotiated with museum staff to establish how and when he could access the object, which could only be handled by trained museum staff. Hovnan used the museum’s photographic studio where he was able to adjust lighting in order to minimise reflections. Hovnan was keen to link the Joseph Wright of Derby painting with a contemporary family looking at the orrery and this section closes the film. In addition, he created a script and recorded Chris Parkin, Education Lead at the Museum, narrating the voice over. The editing was time-consuming but the resulting film received some great feedback:

One of the highlights was to see the orrery in action… this is something that really enhances our understanding of this exhibit.

The film created a good atmosphere with the pace of the shots, the fades of the ‘celestial’ music up and down between the narration, and the combination of video and stills material. The script packs in plenty of information but is easy to follow and links tightly with the imagery.

As part of his Silver Arts Award Hovnan also had to undertake an Arts Leadership challenge. He chose to focus on working with a group of young people teaching them how to create a storyboard and plan their own short film. Hovnan had to plan and deliver this session, collect feedback and also evaluate how the session had gone and how he could have improved it.

By summer 2015 Hovnan’s portfolio was ready for moderation and we were all delighted when he passed and received some lovely feedback from the Arts Award moderator.

Hovan with his Arts Award Certificate

Hovnan with his Arts Award Certificate

‘It was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn and develop new skills from knowledgeable and experienced people and understand the challenges of making a film. I’m proud to have created something that is interesting and informative.’

‘The Arts Award is perfectly suited to support motivated young individuals like Hovnan to develop their arts skills outside formal education. As well as producing an excellent film, Hovnan gained experience of working with members of staff in a busy institution. It was a great pleasure to work with him.’
– Chris Parkin, Education Officer

Capturing the invisible

X-Ray diffraction

This weekend sees the international launch of this year’s Big Draw, an initiative to encourage people of all ages to draw. It’s happening across Oxford on Saturday 19 September, and we are getting involved with a rather unusual take on drawing…

PrintFor our X-Ray Line event we are interested not in the things that are easily seen and drawn, but in things which are normally invisible. Atomic structures, subatomic particles, crystal lattices and chains of molecules: these are structures revealed only through special processes, but which provide great inspiration for the creation of drawings and sculpture.

The idea of making the invisible visible comes from our current special exhibition, Dear Harry, which looks at the life and death, in World War One, of Henry Moseley, a physicist whose work on the X-ray spectra of elements in the early 20th century helped to determine atomic number and bring new rigour to the periodic table of elements.

Ushering in Moseley’s work was the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895, which led to a whole new field of experimental techniques including X-ray spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography. This opened up an invisible world of atomic and molecular structure.

Electron density model of penicillin molecule (inv. 17631) resulting from crystallography experiments carried out by Dorothy Hodgkin in Oxford

Electron density model of penicillin molecule (inv. 17631) resulting from crystallography experiments carried out by Dorothy Hodgkin in Oxford

The forms, structures and patterns revealed by these techniques have inspired artists and designers to create a variety of works, notably by the Festival Pattern Group for the 1951 Festival of Britain. For the Big Draw launch we’ll be looking at these forms and inviting visitors – especially adults, but open to all – to use a range of source materials to help construct a three-dimensional model reflecting molecular structures.

There are some wonderful images that derive from those early X-ray experiments in crystallography and spectroscopy prompting wonder and philosophical speculation – they are great images in themselves. Our X-Ray Line event is deliberately intended to appeal to adults – why should kids have all the fun! – Chris Parkin, Education Officer at the Museum

Cloud chamber - Tom Cox

Cloud chamber by Tom Cox

There’s drawing too, of course. Shadow drawings will be created through a light projection and screen, suggesting an analogue to the experimental process of interrogating structure with light, or indeed X-rays. And the Museum’s camera obscuras will be set up outside the Bodleian’s Weston Library, pointing at some of Oxford’s famous architecture, so visitors can experience the magic of drawing with this simple yet powerful optical tool.

Chladni plates

Chladni patterns will be revealed by Annie Wright

We have some collaborators coming along as well. Two artists from Oxford Brookes University’s MA course in Social Sculpture will be presenting related themes from their own work.

Tom Cox’s ‘Temporal Becoming’ is a piece which invites participants to experience the mysteries of the cloud chamber and the patterns induced in it by tiny charged particles. Annie Wright is interested in elemental composition and hidden patterns in materials and will be demonstrating the intriguing phenomenon of Chladni patterns.

So head to the Museum on Saturday 19 September, investigate the invisible and hopefully become inspired to create some drawing and sculpture of your own.