23 November 2010)
It is almost dusk. The
light fading faster than it otherwise might as a result of an approaching
cloud bank filling the previously clear sky. It has been a beautiful day,
but increasing blusteriness this afternoon has been implying incoming
inclemency. It feels like we may be due for gales tonight. I lit the stove
a couple of hours ago so the room is warm and cosy already. Today has
been a strenuously physical day of shifting logs (the dry ones to the
storage shed, the as yet green ones to the drying area), clearing heaps
of rotting wood, and generally trying to tidy up a little in lieu of the
approaching winter. As I now sit to write my body feels grateful for the
comfort of the chair. The scent of quinces is beginning to infiltrate
my senses – I am making membrillo, and the pan of fruit is simmering
in the kitchen. The fragrance infusing the house is reminding me of making
it for the first time, a year ago; almost the first thing I did when newly
For the last two-and-a-bit years my website has consisted of a splash
page saying something along the lines of ‘there’ll be something
here by November 12th, so come back and have a look sometime’. My
initially accidental omission of writing the year to which the November
12th referred has served the unintended purpose of giving me licence (so
I (re)assure myself) to ignore any requirement to update. (A friend of
mine has subsequently referred to the process of checking to see if I
had actually updated the site as being akin to going to a gallery and
knowing that one’s favourite painting will always reassuringly be
in the same place on the wall. I have two such rituals, one a small Dutch
17th century oil in the National Gallery, and the other a mid 20th century
portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. When I’m on my pilgrimage
to them I often also greet a former teacher’s favoured Piero della
Francesca in the National, and a big, mysterious portrait in the Portrait
Gallery, which intrigued an ex boyfriend.) But the time has come to perturb
the lazy comfort of the annual inaccuracy and to update my museum of a
site. Time to put forth something of my now, as I have severally promised.
Last week I spent two nights sleeping in my thirteen year old nephew’s
top bunk. My intermittent life as an Artist in Residence may not be as
glamorous as I could imagine, but it does have the compensations of central
heating and a degree of ready urbanity; two things that shimmer with a
comfortable glow as I look towards the dark depths of the approaching/
encroaching rural Cornish winter. My here and the there are rather dissimilar.
I was explaining to some friends yesterday about the residency, and realised
how much I have learned already, in only a month. The conversation that
initiated the application for the post was an attempt by me to understand
how photomultipliers work (I still don’t, but I do now understand
something of what the interconnect problem is, which at that time I hadn’t
heard of). And as I now sit to write something of what that past month
has included I realise it’s almost too late to be starting writing;
my image of a ring resonator has already shifted from glowing glass doughnut
to rigid lanes of light; my electronic engineering innocence has been
corrupted with understanding.
But I am getting ahead of myself, I should introduce us all. Graham Reed
and his group, based in the Department of Electronic Engineering at the
University of Surrey, work on silicon photonics. My initial, uninformed,
understanding of these words was of the passage of light through silicon
(imaginings of rapturously luminescent glass sculptures), although they
have a rather different way of explaining what it entails at www.siliconphotonics.co.uk.
I (“artist”, formerly “scientist”) am spending
ten months working among and alongside Graham’s group, in an Artist
in Residence post that is funded by the Leverhulme Trust (www.leverhulme.ac.uk).
Rather thrillingly I am based in the purportedly most hazardous building
on the University campus. Before working as an artist I worked as a marine
microbiologist, and so have an understanding of how research science in
academia is. However, I haven’t studied physics and maths since
school, so the general level of the real work that the group undertake
is well beyond my knowledge and understanding. So far. But I am interested
in interdisciplinarity, and the potential for catalysis of ideas and knowledge
generation through integration of dissimilar skills, so I'm intrigued
as to how my interaction there will shape and be shaped by silicon photonics.
As artist I am making work in a range of media (drawing, photography,
glass, sound, words, etc.) that are related to and impacted by the silicon
photonics, but which also incorporate ideas that have previously suffused
my work – light, photosynthesis, knowledge...
One aspect of the residency is that I’m attempting to document my
side of the interaction; endeavouring to map my journey through the process
of learning, exploring the tributaries of understanding. My primary vehicle
in this effort is to be words, which I shall deposit here, dear reader,
for your perusal, consideration and hopefully even enjoyment and stimulation.
Written on this laptop somewhere in the mists of elsewhere, and transferred
via the marvels of silicon (and myriad other processes) to you, in your
here and now.
(For variously related other words and images of mine see the very gradually
evolving aforementioned www.emmahambly.net).
Hence what follows (or maybe, in the (psycho?) geography of a blog, precedes)
is to be an irregularly updated record, with varying degrees of understanding,
incomprehension and sophistication, of here and there and things that
happen within and between the two, from when it began, until the end of
So here goes.