Residency at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (2015)

Aerial view of part of CERN campus

During our three months residency at CERN we took time to explore every nook of the vast site, we learnt so much about the history of CERN this way and connected with people we wouldn’t have ordinarily crossed paths with. There’s a tower we sneaked into to get a good view of part of the main campus.

Theorist Luis Alvarez Gaume, our scientific partner during our residency at CERN

Luis Alvarez Gaume is a theorist and was our scientific partner. We had our weekly therapy sessions with him where he would turn the physical laws of the universe, as we knew them, on their head and constantly pull the rug from under our feet. He kept us on our toes, and you can hear him dissecting science and scales of human experience in our work The View from Nowhere.

CERN scientists John Ellis

John Ellis guided us on our explorations into theories around The Standard Model. He was kind and generous allowing us to fumble our way around the complex world they inhabit. He too is in the View from Nowhere

In one of the workshops at CERN

We asked to have a tour of the workshop. They’re creating prototype parts for various experiments employing incredible skill and time-consuming processes to nudge and force metal into various forms and structures. It became clear that at CERN they are pushing the envelope at every level, operating at the limits of human endeavours, both technologically and empirically. Here we are at the workshop where they learnt to ignore us over the couple of weeks we filmed in there.

Inside building 180 at CERN

In building 180 we bore witness to the sheer scale CERN is working at, these limits of human endeavour, what surprised us was how the language of theory, essentially mathematics came to be the creative, malleable and playful language whereas the real world materials of technology were hard and fixed and difficult to move and control. We played with this contrast in our moving image work The View from Nowhere.

Building 180

Discussion taking place in the theory department at CERN

Hanging out in the theory department we couldn’t aim to understand their discussions but tried to absorb their methods, interactions, languages and endeavours.

ATLAS experiment, CERN


In the CERN archive with Anita Hollier

Anita Hollier welcomed our request to visit the archive and have a poke around.

The archive holds collections of past scientists’ physical notebooks and paperwork.

Bubble Chamber photograph, in the archive, showing a ‘looper’ moving through the instrument.

Bubble Chamber activity photograph, in the archive.

Bubble Chamber photograph, in the archive.

In the archive we went looking for evidence of the human signature in the capturing process.

Working in our temporary studio at CERN

This is an ATLAS data image in Root. Beginnings of thinking about ATLAS data and how we might be able to work with it / access it / in what way we would work with it of thinking about HALO.

ATLAS data used to make HALO


Visualisation of HALO, which is a kinetic artwork created using particle collision data collected through the ATLAS experiment at CERN

As a result of our residency we were given the opportunity to propose a large-scale idea for Audemars Piguet Commission at Art Basel.


Arts at CERN:
ATLAS experiment:
Experimental Particle Physics Research Group, University of Sussex:

Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship
Mineral Sciences Laboratory
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (2010)

Materials Processing Lab. at the Mineral Sciences Laboratory, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

We had spotted the materials processing lab on the Mineral Science Laboratories website and were keen to try and spend some time there, meeting scientists and researching and observing how they create an understanding of the physical origins of earthly matter. We applied to SARF (Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship) and then had to convince the scientists they should welcome artists into the lab.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History celebrating 100 years

The scientists in the mineral science laboratory had a vote on whether to invite artists in, after a few months of us being there we were invited to be in the 100 years photo, as we “had earned the right to be there”.


Geologist Bill Melson

We were in the lab every day, getting to know the people, collections, and their wider networks. A major subject of Bill Melson’s research was dedicated to listening to Arenal volcanoe, developing a vocabulary to document the sounds a volcano makes and see if it can help predict eruptions. He has a fascinating written and audio archive observing Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, we helped him to digitise some of his reel-to-reel audio recordings which also feature in Worlds in the Making.

Bill Melson’s volcano language

Mineralogist Jeff Post

Jeff Post has a deep understanding of the structure of mineral crystals and how and why they form the way they do. You can hear him describing these processes in our work Where Shapes Come From.

Volcanologist Rick Wunderman

There were several people who took us under their wing, one of them was volcanologist Rick Wunderman. His door was always open to us and like several others his kindness and generosity extended beyond the lab and our research endeavors.

Semiconductor residency log

On residencies and fieldwork trips we always keep a daily log of research and activities…”Asked Dick if he would read out some of his research notes, he said yeah!”

Sorena Sorenson and her Cathode Luminescence Imager

Sorena Sorenson let us lose on her Cathode Luminescence Imager. We spent many a evening locked in the lab creating time lapse animations of glowing mineral crystals.

Image captured by Semiconductor using the Cathode Luminescence Imager.


Ruth and scientist Roy Clarke in the Special Books library at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

In the special books library with scientist Roy Clarke. He taught us about the Widmannstatten structure within meteorites.

Widmannstatten structure ‘nature print’

Joe in the rock collection at the Mineral Sciences Laboratory, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

We had free reign to explore the rock collection.

Rock collection, Fulgurites

Sample in the mineral collection

Sample from the mineral collection

Materials Processing Lab


Mineral Sciences Laboratory library

Volcano film archive, Mineral Sciences Laboratory

Volcano film archive waiting to be transferred. Scientists have been depositing their 16 mm films taken of volcanoes with the Smithsonian since the 1920’s! We helped advise on transferring them and they feature in our work Volcano Observatory.

Jonathan and Linda Weisenbach.

We had been patiently waiting for a meteor to be sliced so we could film the process, the time had arrived!

Mike Wise, Geologist at Mineral Sciences Lab

We worked our way round the laboratory meeting all the scientists.

Scientist Dick Fiske

We spent many hours filming Dick Fiske processing his lava samples from Hawaii, for our work Worlds in the Making.

Ruth in the meteorites collection

In the office provided to artists on the Smithsonian residency


Mineral slice

Exploring by bike


Exploring the meteorite collection



Mineral crystal in the Smithsonian collection


Mineral crystal in the Smithsonian collection

Smithsonian Artists Research Fellowship:
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:
Smithsonian Mineral Sciences Research:
Smithsonian Institution:

Gulbenkian Galapagos Artists’ Residency (2010)

In 2010 we went to the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador as part of the Gulbenkian Galapagos Artist residency. We were developing an artwork which explores how humans observe, document and create an understanding of the origins of the physical world around us and we had been looking for an opportunity to visit volcanic landscapes and observe volcanologists, we were lucky to be offered this residency along with a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship at the Mineral Sciences Laboratory in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History later the same year. This research, explorations and filming became our artwork Worlds in the Making.


‘Sagitta’, the boat which took us around the Galapagos Islands

The residency involved spending 7 days on a boat with a Galapagos natural history guide, who took us to many of the Galapagos Islands to learn about the landscapes, animals, history of and environmental approach to the Galapagos Archipelago.



Golden rays in the waters of the Galapagos Islands


Heading up Volcan Chico

We stayed in Isla Isabela for a week and trekked up to volcanic landscapes at Volcan Chico and to the old Sulphur Mines, to film them.

Filming at the Sulphur Mines, Volcan Azufre

Filming at the old sulphur mines on Volcan Azufre, which appears in our work Worlds in the Making. Volcanologist Dick Fiske from the Mineral Sciences Lab can also be heard reading a description of a scientists exploration to, and study of, the sulphur mines at Volcan Azufre, which we found in the Charles Darwin Research Station Library (see below).

Volcan Azufre – sulphur mine science paper 1973

The library was a fascinating resource, every scientist who came to study on the Galapagos Islands were obliged to donate the scientific papers from their research conducted there.

Volcan Azufre


Charles Darwin Research station on the Island of Santa Cruz

We spent a week at the Charles Darwin Research station on the Island of Santa Cruz. Visiting scientists stay here to carry out studies into wide ranging subjects from invasive marine species to the restoration of ecosystems.


Scientists on the Galapagos Islands collecting data on the invasive blackberry

We spent a day with Jorge and his team, filming his processes of collecting data on the invasive blackberry. This became our work Indefatigable.

Seismometer at Quito University monitoring seismic activity of the Tungurahua Volcano.

Back on mainland Ecuador we had arranged to meet volcanologists at the University of Quito.

Images of Volcano Tungurahua, Ecuador

At the University of Quito we learned about one of the sites we would visit, the Volcano Observatory in Banos where they observe the active Volcano Tungurahua, you can see a drawing of it in this image.

View from Volcano Observatory towards Tungurahua (obscured by clouds!)

They use a mix of digital and analogue methods to study Tungurahua including this make shift technique for estimating the height of the volcanic plume in kilometres.

View of Tungurahua


Picture of seismograph

The scientist’s hand-make carbon paper for their seismographs, they taught us how to do it. They like using paper seismographs as they can hear when the needle frantically scratches the paper alerting them to an eruption.

Rancho Ojos del Volcan

During our time in Banos we spent a few nights in this hut, opposite the volcano, the clouds rarely cleared for any decent filming but the whole building would shake with the boom of eruptions.

Flier for impromptu screening in Banos, Ecuador

During our couple of weeks in Banos, the host where we were staying decided to organise a screening of our artworks at the only place in town which owned a projector. It was an incredible experience, a mixture of locals of all ages and tourists including some teenagers from a local village who would attend a computer club on a Saturday morning to access digital tools for making work. We talked about the works in English, someone would translate into Spanish and there would be all sorts of questions flying around, we remember it as a highly charged excitable affair, we hope we inspired.


The local village of Volcano

The University of Quito also sent us on trip with their engineers for a few days, who were mending one of the seismic stations. We were under falling ash and the camera lens became crunchy.

We visited Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano. You must climatise to the height before attempting to climb it. We made it to the snow line. Others we were staying with made an overnight trek to the top which sounded pretty harrowing, it was incredibly windy.



Climbing Cotopaxi


Cycling back after walking up Cotopaxi, an active volcano in the Andes Mountains, located in Latacunga city, Ecuador


Lichen Rock, Ecuador

Galapagos Residency Publication:
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation:
Article on Semiconductor’s Galapagos residency:
Galapagos Conservation Trust:

Arts Council England International Fellowship: Art and Space Science at UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab (2005-2006)

Todd Hoeksema, solar physicist, Stanford Solar Observatory

In 2005 we were awarded the ACE international fellowship to spend 5 months at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, California, USA. We ended up spending six months there initially, as there was so much to do, and we were thoroughly immersed. We went back in 2006 to interview and photograph for our moving image work Magnetic Movie. Returning in 2014 to say hi.

Scientist’s office at Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Forest Mozer, Physicist, Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Forest Mozer (above) took us under his wing after we gave a presentation to him and his colleagues, a room full of rocket scientists! He gave us tours of the laboratory and introduced us to his fellow scientists who worked across the field of planetary, solar and interplanetary magnetic fields. This sowed the seed for our journey and the research route we would take.

One of the five satellites that make up THEMIS in a clean lab at the Space Sciences Laboratory

SSL was our first residency in a science laboratory. We were in the lab everyday exploring, researching and interviewing. Space scientists take actual measurements from satellites which they design, build, capture data from and analyse. They do all of this at SSL and we started to gain an insight into how in science all the different roles from experimenters to theorists to engineers come together to realise one goal. Here they are working on one of the five satellites that make up THEMIS.

Janet Luhmann, Solar Physicist,  Space Sciences Laboratory , University of California, Berkeley

Solar physicist Janet Luhmann challenged us to question science as a human invention and as a result she inspired us to ask more philosophical questions of science, which filters through all of our work today. In Magnetic Movie she talks about hairy balls and sausages on the Sun.

A sample of Aerogel the lightest solid in the world, at SSL

The Wilcox Solar Observatory, Stanford University, California

We went to Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University, and learnt about how they have been collecting daily observations of the Sun’s global magnetic field since 1975 with the goal of understanding changes in the Sun and how those changes affect the Earth.

David Brains images of magnetic fields on Mars

Experimenting during the development of Magnetic Movie at Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

The top image above shows David Brain’s images of magnetic fields on Mars. They were made using actual data collected by a magnetometer orbiting Mars. Scientists can learn about magnetic fields on Mars and their anomalies. This visual language, where the fields are represented using colour coded lines, inspired the beginnings of Magnetic Movie. You can hear David Brain in Magnetic Movie talking about what it would look like if you could see Mars’s magnetic fields.

Ruth’s desk at SSL (above) the colourful tabs are playing with the visual language scientists have developed to convey information about magnetic fields. These experiments led on to what became Magnetic Movie.

Stephen Mende, Senior Research Scientist, Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Stephen Mende would talk to us about the Aurora Borealis. That is his thing, and he describes it in Magnetic Movie. There’s a great picture of him in a book called Majestic Lights, as a student huddled up in the red cabin you can see in a photo on his desk, collecting data.

Iain Hannah and Stephen Christie, post doctoral researchers at Space Sciences Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, who we worked with to access the archival images of the sun

After seeing an unusual image of the Sun on a scientists wall and a bit of research post doc researchers Iain Hannah and Stephen Christie taught us how to access archives and download scientific images of the Sun, taken by satellites and ground based observatories, in differing wavelengths. The beginnings of Brilliant Noise was born.

One of the 100,000’s of images of the sun, taken by a satellite as a single snapshot that we used when creating Brilliant Noise [add link]

NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre

During our time at SSL, they sent us off to other NASA ‘bases’ we visited NASA Ames and NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

Ilan Roth, Physicist Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley and Ruth

Prelinger Library, San Francisco, California – research beyond the lab


Yosemite National Park, California – exploring the local areas on foot and bike

Yosemite National Park, California

View from SSL over San Francisco Bay

The premiere of Brilliant Noise at Recombinant Media Labs, San Francisco, following our residency at SSL

Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory:
The wilcox solar observatory:
NASA Ames Research Centre:
NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre: