BSR Online Lecture | Negotiating radical remoteness: from catacombs to dark matter laboratories


Fiona Crisp (Northumbria)

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From 2001-2002, Fiona Crisp held a Wingate Scholarship in Fine Arts at the British School at Rome, during which time she produced Catacombe – a series of large-format analogue photographs generatedwithin the Early Christian Catacombs of the City. Almost twenty years on, Crisp returns to the BSR to discuss the seminal role these works have played in the development of her career as an artist and academic, and how her evolving interest in the idea of radical remoteness has led to her spending the last decade working with fundamental scientists.

As lay-publics, our attempts to connect to the spatial and temporal scales of fundamental science – from the subatomic to the multiverse – often provoke a form of perceptual vertigo. When we approach ideas of paralysing abstraction through the perceptual range of our sensing bodies, a ‘phenomenological dissonance’ can said to be invoked, between material presence and radical remoteness. This dynamic, between materiality and remoteness, was key to Crisp’s recent project Material Sight (2016-2018), a body of research carried out at three world-leading facilities for fundamental physics, including the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, a vast subterranean laboratory sited inside a mountain range in central Italy.

Through her cross-disciplinary work, Crisp has come to challenge the binary approach to art-science exchange where the dislocation of lay-publics from scientific knowledge has traditionally been understood as an issue to be addressed via public outreach initiatives. Instead, Crisp looks to recent shifts in critical theory within the realm of New Materialism (Haraway, Barad), as well as to questions regarding how empirical data can be reconciled with lived experience, to break down these binaries.

Fiona Crisp is an artist and an academic whose practice resides at the intersection of photography, sculpture and architecture where the limits and capabilities of both photography and video are explored through the making of large-scale installations. Currently Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria University, Newcastle, Crisp is a founder member of The Cultural Negotiation of Science, a research group that brings together artists, academics and research students whose practices engage with expert cultures across a broad spectrum of science and technology.  For the past decade she has been working with institutions and individuals involved in fundamental science, most recently via the Leverhulme-funded research project Material Sight.

Fiona Crisp’s work is represented by Matt’s Gallery London and is held in several national permanent collections in the UK including Tate, the British Council, Arts Council and the Government Art Collection.