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Scientist in Residence

Slade Scientist in Residence 2019 -20: Dr Dean Sully

We are delighted to announce that Dr Dean Sully, Associate Professor in Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, is this year’s Slade Scientist in Residence. He will be giving his first lunchtime lecture, “As a Scientist Resident in Insouciant Time” , Wednesday 16th October, Slade Gallery 1.10 -1.50pm.

Statement from Dr Dean Sully:

It is a great honour to become the 3rd Scientist in Residence at UCL Slade School of Art.

In my day job, I coordinate the MSc Conservation for Archaeology and Museums programme at the Institute of Archaeology, where I have been based for the past nineteen years. I hope that my term as Scientist in Residence will provide a direct bridge between the staff and students of the Institute of Archaeology and the Slade.

As a social scientist, I do have an ambivalent relationship with the authorising narratives of the scientific process that assume the role as the arbiter of truth about the reality of the world. The adaptation of scientific discourse is however used to justify the role of conservation within heritage institutions. This is a necessary, but insufficient foundation for effective heritage conservation.

Heritage was framed in twentieth century as the fear of losing the past, in a salvage paradigm that sought to gather together the vestiges of what was left in order to have some evidence of what was  lost. In the twenty-first century, this is replaced by a fear of a lost future and a sense of the past as something to be ashamed of. The heritage paradigm becomes one of salvaging sufficient resources to sustain human population in a future broken world.

As a response, my conservation research seeks to address broad questions about how the world comes into being, beyond merely tautological justifications of fixing a past within the present. This engages with making heritage as a creative act in the present moment.

If scientific processes aim to explain how things are, then creative practice has the potential to explore how things should be. This speculation becomes a means of building a bridge between dominant narratives and less powerful stories that may lie hidden. By imagining alternative narratives, interactions and pasts, we are forced to speculate on other possible, plausible future worlds. If we speculate more about everything, reality may become more malleable and preferable futures more achievable.

In my own heritage work, I have benefited greatly from collaborations with creative practitioners. These exchanges offer the opportunity for heritage practitioners to look in on themselves, and for artists, to gaze across the boundaries of the heritage worlds that we create.

Rather than acting as a host for Artists-in-Residence, as Scientist in Residence, I now get the chance to be a guest in your creative processes. As a respectful guest, I hope to share my projects that engage creative practice in the process of heritage conservation. More importantly from you, I hope to learn new forms of future making that create space for playful experimentation and offer new approaches to the practice of making future heritage objects and places.

Associate Professor in Conservation
Coordinator for MSc Conservation for Archaeology and Museums
National Trust Conservation Advisor for Archaeological Artefacts and Collections
Coordinator for Centre for Critical Heritage Studies: Curating the City Research Cluster

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Dr Dean Sully

As a Scientist Resident in Insouciant Time

Slade Gallery, Wednesday 16th October 2019, 1.10 -1.50pm

‘If I were a scientist asked to be in residence at the Slade School of Art, this is the sort of lecture that I would imagine I would present. I would be likely to include some introduction to my scientific discipline, and possibly how the interaction between creative processes and heritage practice provides the opportunity for challenging established ways of working. It would probably describe the planned visits, tutorials and seminars that I would expect to arrange between the Slade and The Institute of Archaeology. I would be fairly sure that it would identify several projects that I would hope to develop with staff and students at the Slade, including an exhibition with South London Gallery’s Art Assassins, Centre for Critical Heritage Studies’ Hidden Sites of Heritage, UCL Repair Café, and use of speculative design to produce an exhibition of Insouciant Objects from the Museum of Beyond. But,  by stating it in this way, I am still uncertain if it is now more likely to be brought into reality than before’.

Dean will be available after the talk for informal chats and/or to make future appointments with either staff or students.


Slade Scientist in Residence 2018-2019: Dr Ruth Siddall

We are excited to announce that Dr. Ruth Siddall, Geologist and Pigment Analyst is this year’s Slade Scientist in Residence following on from last year’s very successful residency with David Dobson, Professor of Earth Materials, UCL. Ruth will be based in the Slade School of Fine Art for one year from this term and will be giving her inaugural lecture Arcadia Lost: Geologies and Art Histories of Classical Landscapes on Wednesday 24th October 1.10pm-1.50pm in the Slade Gallery. All welcome.

This residency has been born out of the Slade Materials Research Project and we are very grateful for support from Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs) and Professor David Price, UCL Vice Provost (Research) in making this innovative position possible.

Ruth says of her new role:

‘I am delighted to have the opportunity to be the 2nd Scientist in Residence at UCL Slade School of Fine Art.

My current job at UCL is Student Mediator, a role based in the Office of the Vice-Provost Education & Student Affairs. However, by qualification and experience I am a geologist with an interest in the application of the Earth Sciences to cultural heritage. My interests are in the evolution of archaeological landscapes and their mineral resources; stone, clay and pigments and their use in architecture, sculpture, ceramics and painting. Research-wise, I have mainly worked within Greek archaeological contexts but have also carried out research in Italy, Turkey, Egypt and the UK on Neolithic to Roman-period archaeological projects.

That scientific techniques could be used to further the understanding of art and architecture first became apparent to me when I began a research project at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens studying building materials in Ancient Corinth. This experience made me realise that there was not a single ‘past’ and that the geological environment in which folk lived influenced the choices made by artists and craftspeople over the materials they used and how these materials were valued. I began to realise the continuum between science and art/craft in the understanding of material remains and thus sparked a life-long interest in the science of art.

I also have a great interest in materiality and technology in contemporary fine art. This ranges from the experience of the landscape as art to specialist material-based collaborations with artists including Jo Volley, Gary Woodley, Onya McCausland and Amira Fritz at the Slade and Josh Bilton, Katrina Palmer and Thomas Appleton. I am a member of the Tracing Granite project coordinated by sculptor David Paton which is a cross-disciplinary exploration of the granite landscapes of Devon and Cornwall.

I am also a member of the Slade Material Research Group and have collaborated with Jo Volley, Gary Woodley and Malina Busch on The Pigment Timeline Project. The characterisation of historic pigments is a particular research interest and I am co-author of the book The Pigment Compendium. I am also proud to have contributed to a number of studies of materials used in architecture, painting and sculpture.

I am very much looking forward to working with staff and students at the Slade hoping to share knowledge, learn new skills and experience some opportunities for creativity!’

Ruth Siddall IRIS Profile

Dr Ruth Siddall

Photo: Amira Fritz


Slade Scientist in Residence: Prof David Dobson

UCL has announced the establishment of a new Scientist in Residence at the Slade. The first UCL Scientist in Residence will be David Dobson, Professor of Earth Materials in UCL’s Department of Earth Sciences. Professor Dobson will be based in the Slade School of Fine Art for one year from January 2017. This residency has been born out of the ongoing Materials Research Project.

Professor David Dobson’s first lecture, ‘Elephants in Stilettos: studies of the Deep-Earth’ took place in the Haldane Room on 11th January 2017 at 1pm.dobson_1846_sm

dobson_1844_sm


Blue from Iron

David Dobson

Blue from Iron, David Dobson

Blue from Iron

The colour of most minerals arises from electronic charge transfer between transition metals – most commonly between iron in its tow valence states of 2+ (ferrous iron) and 3+ (ferric iron).  In most minerals the iron is surrounded by 6 oxygens in octahedral coordination; this results in reds and yellows in ferric-dominated minerals and greens in ferrous-dominated minerals. If the iron ion ends up in tetrahedral coordination (only 4 oxygens surrounding it) then a blue colour is produced – this is the colour centre in Prussian blue – but this is very rare in natural silicate minerals because the normal tetrahedral sites are too small to take the ferric ion.  Iron can be forced into tetrahedral coordination in silicates by pressure which compresses the ferric ion faster than the silicate ion.

High-pressure experiments have shown that several bright blue silicate minerals exist with ferric iron in tetrahedral coordination.  At low pressures serpentine dehydrates into olivine, pyroxene and haematite, giving the mixture a rust-red colouration.  Above 80,000 atmospheres pressure serpentine forms pyroxene plus ‘phase A’ which contains tetrahedral Fe3+ and is a rich royal blue colour.  Olivine transforms into ringwoodite at pressures above 200,000 atmospheres with ferric iron sitting on the silicon site, charge balanced by a proton – again very rich blue.  These minerals are no good as pigments as we can only synthesise them in milligram quantities and they are not stable under normal conditions.

It is possible to force iron into tetrahedral coordination at low pressures by replacing the silicon ion with a larger species; phosphorous and germanium are good candidates.  Vivianite is a hydrated iron (2+) phosphate which is white when pure, but on exposure to air some of the ferrous iron oxidises to ferric iron, producing the blue colour found in blue earths.  Synthetic vivianite starts off a very pale blue and takes several weeks to darken to its final colour.  The zinc silicates and germanates are interesting candidate materials as all of the structural sites are in tetrahedral coordination so should produce blue-iron bearing compounds.  Work is ongoing to see how much iron can be dissolved into these materials and hence how blue they can be made.

Established in 2012 at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL the museum aims to promote knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the role of material within thinking and making. The museum is concerned with the preserving, collecting, exhibiting and fostering understanding of material at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.

Exhibits can be anything that relates to material: a finished product in its own right or an unprocessed raw material. They can draw attention to substances or components with certain physical properties used in production or manufacture.

The museum, H 460mm x W 660mm x D 270mm has the potential to travel but will normally be situated on the ground floor of the Slade.