As a practice-based research in the arts, it was inevitable that a project exploring ‘creative reflective practice’ as a key methodology, would shift emphasis throughout the research period. The role of encounter has become more productive to consider as I’ve gone through the research process.
There have been several generative encounters between me, Kielder Observatory and public audiences. These have included exchanges of art-science expertise, discussions on cultural perspectives of astronomy, and moments of reflection on artistic or organisational practice—whilst only a snapshot of activity, each exchange has potential for generating mutual benefit.
Engaging in encounter offers significant opportunities to develop new photographic provocations on dark skies for each partner. Through an imaginative voyage from Earth to outer space, enabled by artistic methods of production and creative reflective practice (in alignment with the objectives of KOAS), the work is attempting to create unconventional, artistic perspectives on astronomy. In Photography and Collaboration: From Conceptual Art to Crowdsourcing (2017), Daniel Palmer suggests that:
“Photographers are often most active whilst travelling in foreign places, which serves to reinforce the popular perception of photography as a existential act of wrangling with an alien world.” (Palmer, 2017, p. 2)
This is certainly true of my experience photographing at Kielder, where I have shot more film and digital files than I have during any previous project. Encountering the environment through the viewfinder (often alone, with no one else there), I have negotiated the place around me – the forest and the dark skies above. Using art to make sense of the sciences is nothing new – there are regular artist residencies at ESA and art-sci practice is a recurring interest for many creatives. The difference in my encounter is its focus on a local site of terrestrial Astro-tourism at Kielder, in all its transgressive off-grid-ness and welcoming cosmic community.
Alien worlds are curious and otherworldly. But sometimes (as living through the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us) the local can be just as extraordinary. Just as much as Kielder is a new, unexplored place to encounter for me, my curiosity and process as a artist is likely a strange thing to those outside of the creative sector. To move forward within our own fields of expertise, it is important to transcend the disciplinary confines of our familiar territory, to generate new expertise and knowledge perspectives.