FEATURE: 8 Minutes 20 Seconds | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When I was at school, physics was something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ideas that governed the universe and made up everything around us was fascination. On the other, I could never get my head around all the equations, the unknowns, the sheer brain power that it took to understand these concepts just by looking at a diagram in a textbook. My relationship with physics was therefore something of a love-hate relationship, and no doubt one that many of my peers would sympathise with. It’s no surprise that, as a result of some unimaginative education in the field, we’re now suffering from a significant shortage of people with the skills needed to work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects).

Luckily, a new generation have been exposed to a new era in physics education thanks to Think Physics, a three-year project hosted by Northumbria University. The scheme’s director, Carol Davenport, has been working closely with communities, students and other organisation to make the subject more understandable and bring physics to the masses. This has led to a long-running partnership with the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle. Late last year, the gallery’s Amy Warmington contact Carol asking if anyone from the scheme could contribute to their Christmas project, Conjunction. A long conversation ensued and a partnership was born.

The latest collaboration between the two, 8 Minutes 20 Seconds, coincides with this year’s Late Shows and is also part of a celebration of the UN’s International Year of Light. “We were keen to build on the links between science, art and faith,” Amy explains, “so a partnership to mark 2015 as the UN Year of Light for the Late Shows was the natural progression.”

The central pillar of the exhibition as a whole are the works by the artists involved, each one of which have incredibly different styles. Helen Schell uses large scale optical illusions to explore the solar eclipse from earlier in the year, while John Jo Murray’s scientific sculpture aims to explore how light can create subtle changes in colour and reflections. Using bold motifs and colours to chart the Earth’s development and relationship to the sun, Sarah Davis’ work explores our understanding of the world from the prehistoric era through to our current scientifically advanced age. Finally, Emily Simpson looks at how camera filters process light as distinct from the human eye, exploring the impact of the sun on technology.

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“In keeping with the Late Show tradition, we’re aiming for there to be hands-on activities during the evenings”

The artistic and scientific elements of the exhibition are not mutually exclusive though; instead, the two organisations have worked hard to complement each other’s work. “We wanted to create a scientific response to the artists’ interpretations of the idea, so the Think Physics team have devised a number of exhibits to complement the work and provide further understanding of the ideas behind them,” Amy explains. Carol elaborates on this: “In keeping with the Late Show tradition, we’re aiming for there to be hands-on activities during the evenings. We’ll have a reflection maze for visitors to the exhibition to solve and we’ll also be asking people to think about how the sun affects our lives on a day to day basis.” The more scientific side of the project has also allowed three MSc students at Northumbria Uni to gain more from their studies, as Carol explains: “As part of their study, they have to be able to engage with all branches of science and communicate them to the public.  This project is an ideal opportunity for them to put their studies into practice.”

Though 8 Minutes 20 Seconds will continue to run until June, both the Holy Biscuit and Think Physics are already planning their next events. For Think Physics, this involves more community and cultural involvement. “We’re looking forward to working with other cultural organisations and are in discussions about possible collaborations,” Carol says. “During half term we trialled a very successful pop-up science shop in a North Tyneside shopping centre, and we’ll be looking to repeat this in shopping centres near Think Physics partner schools in the region in other holidays.” Meanwhile, the Holy Biscuit are looking to continue their series of event surrounding the Year of Light, as Amy explains: “In the summer, we are planning to take light into the local community with artist Frances Arnold, by running activities at various groups and festivals, culminating in an installation at the Holy Biscuit, reflecting the community members that made it.” Don’t rule out another collaboration between the two projects, though; with two collaborations already under their belt, the pair may well bring science and art together in fascinating ways again in the future.

8 Minutes 20 Seconds runs from Friday 15th May until Thursday 4th June at The Holy Biscuit, Newcastle.

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