Gillian McFarland and Ione Parkin RWA have developed a body of artwork in connection with astronomers, cosmologists and planetary geologists. Alison Lochhead was involved in the early stages of the project and invited or collaborating artists also include Kate Bernstein, Daniella de Paulis, Graeme Hawes and Colette Rayner.  The artists have been exploring the rich imagery of space, engaging in creative dialogue with researchers and gaining new insights into the dynamic forces of the universe.

The artist-led project has been supported by funding from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Arts Council England and involves astronomers from the University of Leicester, the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, Imperial College, London and Cardiff University.  The project was launched at the Cambridge Science Festival March 2017 with an exhibition, talks, panel discussions and workshops.

Interactive conversations have ranged across a variety of areas of research and this rich intake of inspiration from the scientific community has helped drive new processes within the artists’ studio practices:

Gillian McFarland has been working with experimental glass-blowing techniques producing multiple ‘space globes’ that echo ideas of expansion, rotation, extreme heat and contraction of raw materials using silica, nitrates and UV-sensitive uranium glass.  Her punctured paper works explore orbit tracking across otherwise untouched space.

Ione Parkin’s large-scale paintings express her fascination about the early formation of the universe; massive clouds of cosmic dust and gas; vast webs of colour and shimmering light; luminous visions of immensity; cycles of destruction and creation.  Her textured mixed-media works on paper are inspired by planetary surfaces.

Alison Lochhead is a sculptor inspired by the impact of heat, explosion and disintegration, working with molten iron and observing the transformation of materials such as rock, clay and minerals.  She is interested in how raw materials fuse, melt or retain their integrity when subjected to the extreme heat of the foundry furnace.

The artists are expressing a lateral, not literal, response to the scientific research – a physical, tactile experience rather than an explanation.  Parallels of process have emerged between the artists and scientists – an excitement about uncertainty, ambiguity and anomaly – a desire not just to observe but to look beyond.

Ione Parkin RWA
March 2019


University of Leicester - Prof Martin Barstow, Prof John Bridges, Prof Nial Tanvir, Prof Mark Simms.
Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge - Carolin Crawford, Denis Erkal, Amaury Triaud, Deyan Mihaylov.
Imperial College London - Tom Haworth, Roberto Trotta.
Kielder Observatory, Northumberland, Gary Fildes.
University College Dublin - Morgan Fraser
School of Mathematics, Cambridge - Dr Helen Mason
Natural History Museum, London - Dr Sarah Russell
Cardiff University.