Writing Skyscapes

Look at the stars! look up, look up at the skies! - Gerald Manley Hopkins, 'The Starlight Night'.

Writing Skyscapes is an exhibition of words and images inspired by the sky and inviting you to 'look at the skies!'

When we look up at the sky, especially with today's technologies and devices, we might assume that we are able to see more, to see more clearly, or to see further. While this is true in some senses , the more we look at or to the sky, the more that we find ourselves questioning both what we are seeing and where we are.

Featuring photographs by Michael Beard, Dan Brown, Helen McGhie, Pauline Woolley and Katherine Eva Young, as well as from the Hubble Herritage Project, Writing Skyscapes considers these other issues relating to how we see and imagine what is above us. The exhibition marks the culmination of a two-day public writing workshop led by researchers specializing in astronomy and literature from Nottingham Trent University. Working in partnership with Creswell Crags Museum and Heritage Centre and Backlit Gallery, and with guest writers and artists, Holly Corfield Carr, Richard Hamblyn and Helen McGhie, participants in the workshop explored new ways of engaging with the sky from multiple viewpoints and from both rural and urban perspectives.

Crossing disciplinary divisions and bridging modern and ancient approaches, selected extracts from participants' writing are displayed alongside the images in the hope that they spark new conversations between viewpoints, different disciplines and different media.

Writing Skyscapes is supported by the Global Heritage fund at Nottingham Trent University. A collaboration between researchers in Science and Technology and in Arts and Humanities, the project is run as part of 'Critical Poetics', a cross-disciplinary research group at Nottingham Trent University that works closely with a range of academic and non-academic audiences in order to inspire new literary expression and inform cultural engagement and contemporary concerns.

www. criticalpoetics.co.uk

Installation shots from NTU Open Dome 'Writing Skyscapes' 2020, Nottingham Contemporary


“You can see the way our landscape and sky inspired people who came and the writing they created” (R Morris-Buck Creswell Crags)

The work created is a mixture of Hubble Heritage imagery and skyscape inspired photography combined with the written responses of participants.

All outputs are in part inspired by the imaging technology from cutting edge satellites to your run of the mill mobile phone camera. They also include the immersive experiences in environments full of contradictions: from the ice age to the industrial revolution, as well as rural sublime landscapes to functional urban cityscapes. They all capture individual, temporal, and sublime skyscape experiences.

Selected pieces from exhibitions including image grid at Backlit Gallery, Nottingham, Creswell Crags, Nottingham, County Mayo Dark Sky Festival and Nottingham Contemporary 2019/2020

Mayo Dark Skies Festival

The exhibition developed further while traveling to the west coast of Ireland and its first international Dark Sky Park in Mayo 2019. There it offered the general public and participants of the 14th European Symposium for Protection of Night Sky the chance to see a selection of images and listen to readings of the poems. They could then write and draw their own experiences.

“Skyscapes are more than nightscapes, a setting now included in most cameras. A narrow definition for skyscape seems impossible. The initial intentions of their creator could even be unconscious or requiring creative leaps that defy logic to outsiders. (Eva Young, Shortlisted Insight Astronomy of the Year Photographer Competition 2016)”

The unique environment also allowed for a board walk over the moors to the see the stars, so evocatively captured by Brian Wilson’s Boardwalk to the Stars. Such an experience triggered a sleepless night and Bob Mizon to then write his poem Stars over Ballycroy "to tell them of the ancient night"

Writing Skyscapes - Mayo Dark Skies Festival

Creswell Crags - Constellations in the Caves

Dr. Dan Brown & Daniel Turner of Nottingham Trent University brought the night sky into the caves of Creswell Crags with a stunning digital projection of constellations and planets along side a short presentation about the skies and the connection between astronomy and prehistoric caves.

Nottingham based Outsider Artist Collective (Val Turton, Julie Moosburg, Sue Lea and Pauline Woolley) invited participants to take part in a drawing activity prompted by what they experienced with visual prompts of the historic skyscape of the Crags.

“This overall experience was something quite magical. … It was a real connection … with the humans who passed this place before.” (LeftLion)

“You can’t visit Creswell without seeing the sky” (R Morris-Buck Creswell Crags)

Constellations in the Cave, Creswell Crags 2019 - photo credit NTU APSoc

Based on the poetry written on the first Writing Skyscapes workshop, Outsider Artist Collective invited participants to draw their own skyscape before and after their experience of Constellations in the Cave. Over the duration of the event, all the drawings were photographed and a process of curating began. Definite themes of deep sky, naked eye, skyscape and cave became obvious and the images were then arranged into their own series of work.

Skyscape drawings in progress as part of Constellations in the Cave - Creswell Crags
Various participants Deep Sky, Naked Eye, Skyscape and Cave # 1, 2019 Drawings from ‘Constellation in the Caves’ Giclee print Created at Creswell Crags with contributions from Outsider Artist Collective, Dr Daniel Brown and Daniel Turner.
Various participants Deep Sky, Naked Eye, Skyscape and Cave # 2, 2019 Drawings from ‘Constellation in the Caves’ Giclee print Created at Creswell Crags with contributions from Outsider Artist Collective, Dr Daniel Brown and Daniel Turner.
Various participants Deep Sky, Naked Eye, Skyscape and Cave # 3, 2019 Drawings from ‘Constellation in the Caves’ Giclee print Created at Creswell Crags with contributions from Outsider Artist Collective, Dr Daniel Brown and Daniel Turner.

Open Dome Event, Nottingham Contemporary with Dr Daniel Brown, Outsider Artist Collective, Rebecca Morris-Buck, Helen McGhie, Deborah Harty and Holly Corfield Carr

The sky is a source of inspiration and a frontier of exploration. As people we have engaged with it since we existed and continue to do so even in our current modern western society. Doing so, we have found many ways in which we express what the sky means to us (skyscape) through photography, poetry and drawings.

This special event combining NTU Open Dome and Outsider Artist Collective's residency at Nottingham Contemporary gave a chance for the public to create their own skyscape expressions in text and drawing inspired by the talks and exhibited work.

Exhibited work - Open Dome, Nottingham Contemporary 2020



During the course of the evening Outsider Artist Collective encouraged the public to sit with them and reflect on the exhibition images and talks. From this they were then encouraged to draw their own interpretation of a skyscape.

Participants engaging with the Creswell Crags drawing and creating their own skyscapes

Writer and researcher Holly Corfield Carr encouraged participants to write about their own interpretation of a skyscape.

"It is a place where darkness surrounds me, where I gaze up and are imaginatively transported to a cosmic elsewhere. It is a deeply fascinating place to reflect on who I am and what I might become. (Helen McGhie University of Sunderland)”

Writing Skyscapes within Astronomy Modules in HE
Boardwalk to the Stars - Brian Wilson and WD - Dr Daniel Brown

The beauty of striking constellations like Orion captured in stunning ways (e.g. in Brian Wilson’s Boardwalk to the Stars) can be used as a canvas upon which we can explore the science behind objects in the sky.

The white dwarf companion orbiting Sirius is used as an example to understand the properties of such exotic stars and predict its evolution using stellar structure equations. Shaping a deeper engagement when looking at Orion with the naked eye.

HII origins - Hubble Heritage Project

Stunning Hubble images within the exhibition (e.g. Hubble Heritage Project NGC 602, N90) are analysed in seminars beyond the spectacles of colours to reveal the beating heart – OB stars – within the nebula illuminating the fading cloud out of which these stars were formed.

Orion in SG lecture, Bromley House, Nottingham

What do you think a Skyscape is?

“Carved figures of creatures on the walls of our caves … are such an important part of what makes Creswell Crags what it is … your story is a part of it too, part of a millennia of stories.” (R Morris-Buck Creswell Crags)

And this is exactly what we are doing here, gathering your stories of sky for our exhibition. Capturing the essence of motives extracted from the Shortlisted submissions of the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the categories of Skyscapes and People and Space we want you to combine them in a virtual skyscape diorama. This work will help us explore what makes an image capturing skyscape so striking.

Creating a virtual skyscape diorama is a summer research student project that is funded by Nottingham Trent University. The project is carried out by F Gadsby (3rd year MSci Physics student). She herself, explored images from our exhibition as part of her astronomy lectures.

Help her and us to understand what lies beneath skyscape images by creating your own using our virtual skyscape diorama. Just select your object in the sky, a landscape and an object in the foreground. Then give it a meaningful caption. At the end of the week we will reveal you favourite skyscape image.

Become part of the exhibition, join in and make your skyscape story…