Friday, August 22, 2014


I Spy Oil on linen 36 x 36 cm 2014
On Wednesday night this week I watched Chris Uhlmann, from the ABC's 7.30 Report, interview Canadian astronaut Col Chris Hadfield. It was only short, but it was fantastic! Chris Hadfield is on a whirlwind speaking tour in Australia, but unfortunately he is not coming to Brisbane. He's the astronaut who sang and recorded himself singing David Bowie's classic Space Oddity while he was commander of the International Space Station [ISS]. You can watch it HERE 

At around the 6 minute mark of the interview Chris Uhlmann asks Chris Hadfield, in reference to space and the Universe, Having seen the Earth from space and seen the universe beyond it, can it all be defined by science or only by poetry or perhaps even faith.
Chris Hadfield answered by saying ...exploring the solar system is teaching us a lot and it's technically really interesting and it's important, both politically and economically and technologically. But to me, the fact that so many people watched that music version of 'Space Oddity' that I did, to me, that really shows the importance, if you want to actually communicate, the importance of art. I mean, science, technology, engineering, math - they drive the economy, but we're people, we're not machines and washing machines and robots. We're humans. And to share the wonder and experience of what's going on, that is expressed through art, through music and through writing and through poetry and to try and get to the very essence of what's important.  

Yay! Yay! ART!

Notice how Chris Hadfield describes Art as a way of expressing wonder and the essence of what's important. Neither word....wonder or essence...are essentially scientific, yet they are incredibly apt to describe reactions to scientific research, investigation and discovery...and help propel and nourish these activities, at the same time as engaging those of us who are not at the cutting edge of scientific activity. The relationship between Art and Science, I think, works best when awe is the common denominator, driver, impulse.
On The Edge Gouache on paper 34. x 53.5 2001

But not everyone can be an astronaut or even a passenger on a space craft. So, how does art engage with the scientific investigations of space and the Universe? I mean there are no joy flights designed for artists to literally experience outer space. The key is...imagination. The song Chris Hadfield sang in space, David Bowie's Space Oddity, was released in 1969 to coincide with the Moon Landing. The lyrics were inspired by Stanley Kubrick's1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey which Bowie went to see several times. Stanley Kubrick, in turn, was inspired by a documentary called Universe which was made in 1960 by Roman Kroiton and Colin Law for the National Film Board Of Canada in conjunction with the David Dunlap Observatory, Ontario. It's an amazing black and white film and I really encourage you to watch it HERE.
I just love the cascading inspirations...

About the 4 minute mark of Universe the narrator asks a question pondering what would the first people to travel into space see and experience. Remember this is 1960...only 3 years after the first satellite [Sputnik 1] went into space and nine years before the moon landing. The narrator answers his question by saying We can in imagination journey into these spaces...and the film is the answer with its special effects combined with some imagery of space and also of an astronomer working at night in the David Dunlap Observatory. But, the key word is imagination! Working with the scientific knowledge, that existed in 1960, the film makers extrapolated using imagination to make a film that went on to inspire.

The dance between knowledge [eg: scientific knowledge] and imagination is ambidextrous, with the lead being taken in turns. One may take control yet the other may beckon to 'come hither' and vice versa!
Star Dust Mixed on paper 30 x 42 cm 1997 [This image is the cover of my book For Everyone


Chris Hadfield, singing Space Oddity and videoing himself, with the ISS as his 'stage' and Universe as his 'backdrop', very successfully beckoned people to 'come hither', come closer to share his experience, to engage more intimately with distance, to feel the Universal 'music', to gasp in wonder, to laugh a little, to think differently, expose themselves to new perspectives [literal and metaphoric]...and more.

In the 7.30 Report Chris Hadfield explains the moment when he decided as a 10 year old that he would be an astronaut I watched the first two human beings walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the summer I turned 10. And I decided that night - and it wasn't just watching them on television, it was going outside afterwards and looking up at the Moon and seeing - trying to link what I'd seen on the television now with looking at the Moon itself and making the conscious decision at that point that, "I'm going to grow up to be something; you know, why don't I grow up to be that?" I wonder how many people have been inspired by Hadfield's singing space video? Maybe there are children who are now holding close desires to be something they had not thought of before? Maybe there are people who now engage with scientific research of our Universal environment? Maybe there is less fear of the unknown? And, most importantly maybe more people, leave their computers-look up from their phones, and actually go outside to look up at the stars...and wonder!


I too watched the Moon Landing in1969. My Dad insisted that my brothers and I stayed home from school to watch it live. I still remember the blurry black and white images on our box of a TV. I did not decide to be an astronaut, but the gravitas of the event still lives within. Although, I think I had already taken 'flight'. Isn't that what artists do!?


In my last post THAT WORD - LANDSCAPE I describe the distance of my childhood landscape and my experiences 'flying'!

You might be interested in my MOON post too.
When I was A Child I Dreamt I could Fly oil on linen 80 x 120 cm 2003

That brings me to my forthcoming exhibition
From Earth-Bound Horizons 
2 - 14 September here in Brisbane
Please visit the exhibition's site HERE

I am on INSTAGRAM now too

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