Saturday, 20 December 2014

For all the people back on earth...

In 1968 the Apollo 8 mission went into lunar orbit and its crew witnessed earthrise on Christmas eve. The pictures they took were the first images of earth, to be seen by people from space. The very next day Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman made a live Christmas Broadcast from the craft, and this is what they said:

"We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
‘And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
‘And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'"
"‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
‘And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
‘And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.’"
"'And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
‘And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.'

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

What was the light in the sky?

by Dr Carol Davenport, Director of Think Physics, Northumbria University

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ Matthew 2 v 1 – 2

One suggestion for the star is that it was a comet.  Comets are giant balls of ice and rock that orbit the sun in a huge oval.  At times they are very far away from the Sun, but at other times their orbit brings them closer. As a comet approaches the Sun it starts to heat up.  The frozen ice begins to melt and is blown away from the comet by the solar wind.  This is the tail of the comet that we see from Earth. If a very bright comet approached the Sun, then it would have been visible from Earth for some time.  Ancient Chinese records have two possible sightings of comets at about the right time, one which appeared in March, 5BC and one which appeared in April, 4BC. However, in the ancient world comets were usually seem to be signs of Doom, indications that bad things were about to happen.  It is unlikely that they would be seen as heralding the birth of a King.

Ancient astronomers knew about two types of star – the fixed stars and the wandering stars. The fixed stars appeared every night and stayed in the same position compared to each other. The wandering stars moved about the sky, rising and setting in different places.  These are not actually stars, but are the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.  You can see these in the night sky without using telescopes or binoculars. The reason that the planets appear to change position in the sky is because they take different lengths of time to orbit the sun.  This means that we need to look in different directions to see them. However, the behaviour and position of the planets would have been known by the magi. 

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they say the star, they were overjoyed. Matthew 2 v 9 – 10 

Triple Conjunction
When two, or more, planets appear close together in the night sky then this is known as a conjunction. Sometimes, when the Sun, Earth, Jupiter and Saturn are in a certain alignment then a Triple Conjunction can occur.  This is when the two planets appear close together in the sky three times in a short period.

The pictures show the different positions of Jupiter and Saturn on three dates in 7 BC.  This is when they were in conjunction and would be seen near to each other in the sky.  In between these dates, the planets were not visible because they were in the sky at the same time as the Sun. The quote from Matthew suggests that for a while the star wasn’t visible, but then it reappeared.  A triple conjunction would explain this. It takes the Earth one year to orbit round the sun, but it takes Jupiter twelve (earth) years, and Saturn just under 30 (earth) years to orbit the sun.  This makes a triple conjunction quite rare – they only occur once every nine hundred years. Although the triple conjunction could have been predicted, the fact that they occur so rarely would have meant that the Magi would have taken it to be a signal of something important happening.

Think Physics is a three year project based at Northumbria University.  Our aim is to show students that studying science, particularly physics, opens doors to a wide range of interesting careers. We will be working with up to 30 partner schools (pre-school to post-16) from around the North East, focussing initially mainly on Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead and Durham.  We aim to interact with every child in our partner schools at least once, but hopefully more than once, during the project. As well as our partner schools, we will also be organising activities and workshops for other schools in the region. We will also be taking physics out to the wider public through collaborations between Think Physics and art galleries, festivals and other community organisations. The project is a partnership between the university and other organisations including the Institute of Physics, Kielder Observatory, Centre for Life, North Tyneside Learning Trust, Gateshead LA, Durham LA, North Tyneside LA, Durham LA, Solar Capture Technologies, and EDT. Funding for the project was given from the HEFCE catalyst fund.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Stars and the Angels of Christmas

'The Star of Shieldfield' featured in the 'Conjunction exhibition at the Holy Biscuit

By Dominic White

The Star of Bethlehem is one of the most powerful images of Christmas. Indeed, the stars have always fascinated and awed people. Why? The uncertainty of life makes us anxious. We can change much on the earth: flatten hills, divert rivers. But we can’t change the stars. Could it be they influence or even determine our lives? We know from science that the moon governs the earth’s tides, so it’s not impossible. And the Biblical name for the Wise Men who followed the star to Jesus is Magi: this means priests of the Zoroastrian religion, of which astrology is a key belief.

Figure 1: Astrological Clock, Chartres
Judaism and Christianity have always rejected astrology: believing that our behaviour is determined by the stars is to deny our free will and responsibility, and to deny that God answers our prayers and changes our lives. But in the Middle Ages, many churches were decorated with zodiacs (fig. 1, astrological clock, Chartres). It’s commonly thought that this was just a compromise with the local traditional cultures, but now that’s being questioned. The first Christians believed that the stars were angels, such as the seven stars which are the angels of the seven churches; and Wormwood, the star that falls to earth, is clearly Satan, the leader of the fallen angels whom the Archangel Michael and his forces cast out of heaven (Revelation 1:20, 8:10-11, 12:7-12). In the Jewish apocryphal book of Enoch, well known to the early Church, the fallen angels are stars which left the orbit God appointed for them and caused cosmic disorder. But, according to some early Christian writers, Jesus restored harmony, leading the orbits and conjunctions of the angels/stars of God, of humanity and of all creation in one great cosmic dance (as in Sandro Botticelli’s painting, fig. 2, of the Nativity).

Figure 2: 'Mystical Nativity' by Sandro Botticelli

It may be the stars/angels influence us – for good or ill – but they do not determine our lives. We speak of our “demons”, yet we can put on the armour of God to overcome the “principalities and powers… the hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Carl Jung, the father of psychotherapy, knew that faith alone was not enough to heal neurosis, and indeed neurosis is often connected with negative experience of religion. But Jung believed that only in religion could we find answers to the deepest questions and angst, and he had a special respect for Christianity and for wise Christian pastors whom he befriended. There was a convergence: and as the Christian writer Gregory of Nazianzen said, when the Magi came to Christ, they came to the end of astrology.

Dominic White’s book The Lost Knowledge of Christ: Contemporary Spiritualities, Christian Cosmology, and the Arts is due to be published in spring 2015 by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, US, and is due out next spring. See

Dominc's writing is featured in the 'Conjunction' exhibition, on show at The Holy Biscuit until 20 December 2014.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Conjunction: The Star of Shieldfield

COMMUNITY EVENT: Sunday 14 December, 3 - 5pm at The Holy Biscuit & Ouseburn Farm
EXHIBITION: 9 - 20 December at the Holy Biscuit, 11am - 4pm, Tuesday - Saturday

This December The Holy Biscuit is hosting an event and exhibition, exploring the themes of light synonymous with the Christmas season and linking them with the communities of Shieldfield and Ouseburn. Conjunction is the theory giving astronomical explanation to the star of Bethlehem, a powerful symbol of light and enduring image of Christmas. But could some real cosmic event have drawn wise men on a journey to witness the birth of a new king? This explanation for the event suggests that Saturn and Jupiter aligned three times in a short space of time to create something very unusual and spectacular.

Inspired by Conjunction Theory we are building a light installation of the star, and inviting people to come and add a light to make it brighter. Just as wise men followed the star, we would like to encourage local residents to come and see our star at The Holy Biscuit, and celebrate the community together at this special, nativity themed event. Our 'three wise men and women' will be represented by experts in the fields astronomy, the arts and faith. The exhibition will feature work from artist Katy Cole, currently exhibiting at BALTIC as part of They Used to Call it the Moonas well as contributions Northumbria University's Think Physics project and Dominic White, author of The Lost Knowledge of Christ: Contemporary Spiritualities, Christian Cosmology and the Arts. We are also encouraging members of the local community to respond to the themes of the exhibition, through the Painting for Fun class based at The Holy Biscuit and Caring Hands Charity, working with older and disabled people living in the East End of Newcastle. At the event itself we look forward to further interpretation by dancers from Eliot Smith Company. We will be partnering with Ouseburn Farm, as we 'follow the star' from the gallery down to Ouseburn Valley for a live nativity, complete with carol singing and authentic stable smells!

For more information about the project, please contact

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Beginning of Hope?: The Berlin Biennale 2014

Leonora Antunes
During a week of retreat in Berlin, Dominic White (St Dominic's Priory, Newcastle) stumbled upon the 8th Berlin Biennale...

Mining under sacred sites in South Africa; 'exchanged' ethnic minorities in Bangladesh; chemicals plants in China; racism exposed. The 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art continues its tradition of hard-hitting documentary art. While other concerns and themes are also explored, what’s clear is that artists are the philosophers of our time, and galleries are where we go to tackle big questions and issues. The organisers were clearly aware of this even in the location of the works: the biggest venue is Kunstwerke (“Art Works”), known as KW and located on the edge of hip Prenzlauer Berg. A former margarine factory, it was taken over by artists in 1998 and helped establish Berlin as an artistic capital. The other two sites are in leafy West Berlin: the pretty Haus am Waldsee, a tiny gallery on the Waldsee lake; and the Museen Dahlem, an ethnographic museum complex. In the latter, the Biennale works sit in the and around the galleries with the permanent exhibition and interact, sometimes uncomfortably, with the history of European exploration of other cultures: Gordon Bennett’s Notepad Drawings expose racism, David Chalmers Alesworth contributes a restoration of a Kashan carpet, while Alberto Baraya, pastiching 19th-century illustration techniques, satirises modern Europe in Expedition Berlin, a Herbarium of Artificial Plants.

Some works create tensions by being split over two sites, such as Anri Sala’s video UNRAVEL, in which a woman 'plays' the music of Ravel with her hands on a record (KW) and distorts it by fiddling with the needle (Haus am Waldsee, a perfect place for summer concerts). The overall impression, however, is of an isolated human being tending towards narcissism. And taken as a whole, the installations at KW both oppressed and depressed. The documentaries revealed injustice and existential crisis without really offering new vision, while Juliette Aranda’s Stealing one’s own corpse, a coolly cynical and sickening depiction of a potential new world in space, represents a hackneyed formula of contemporary art which might best be called Despair Porn. I couldn’t help contrasting this with Sarah Crisp’s recent installation Scene at The Holy Biscuit: she accompanies a no-holds-barred presentation of domestic abuse is with the music of Hildegard of Bingen, which holds it and raises it up in a tension of hope.
Gordon Bennett, Notepad Drawings, 1992

But the Berlin Biennale has one work which is an utter treasure: somewhat improbably called Crash Pad (click here for pictures), and situated in the front of KW, it lifted my soul. Andreas Angelidakis’ meditation on life after the Greek economic crash is first of all a work of justice, the precondition of hope: the rugs were specially commissioned from Greek artisans. They’re arranged around two rooms to create comfortable sitting areas, each with a bookshelf to hand, featuring classic counterculture philosophers such as Foucault and Marshall McLuhan. The idea is to stimulate thought and conversation between the visitors, and plaster Greek pillars suggest both fragility and the enduring value of ancient civilisations, in which dialogue was essential to philosophy. Angelidakis’ relational, resourcing art reminded me too of the friendly, community-focussed experiments in artistic working space currently taking place at Newcastle’s NewBridge Project. The beginning of hope?

Practical stuff: the Berlin Biennale is on till 3rd August. A single 16-euro ticket covers all three venues. And you can take photos – audience participation and free publicity for the artists…

The Berlin Biennale is the forum for contemporary art in one of the most attractive cities for art. Taking place every other year at changing locations throughout Berlin it is shaped by the different concepts of well-known curators appointed to enter into a dialogue with the city, its general public, the people interested in art as well as the artists of this world.

Friday, 21 March 2014


transformation content at The Holy Biscuit

Dr Tim Hutchings (Durham University) reflects on the themes of memory and community in Louise Mackenzie's show transformation content and what community might mean within contemporary society.

In transformation content, Louise Mackenzie defines “community” as “a social group built around common beliefs, shared memories, songs and stories”, and asks how this kind of social group has been transformed over 100 years. Has a once-solid community decayed and dissipated in Gateshead? If so, what has emerged to replace it?

The fear that “community” is being lost is common, and often blamed on new media technologies. Sherry Turkle, for example, has argued that social media, mobile phones, robots and machines are encouraging us to expect “more from technology and less from each other”. Turkle claims we are learning to be “alone together” (the title of her book), staring at our little screens and ignoring the real friends and families around us. Instead of speaking face-to-face, we prefer to send carefully-written text messages and status updates to create an illusion of wit and style, while blocking anyone we would rather ignore. In the process, we give up our privacy and allow companies to record, analyse and sell the details of our lives. We also begin thinking of the people around us not as a community we belong to but as an audience for our online performances. Similar ideas have been made popular by Nicholas Carr, who argues in “The Shallows” that the internet is destroying culture, society and our ability to think by changing our brains.

This kind of concern is nothing new. In the 1990s, Robert Putnam diagnosed a collapse of community in the USA in his best-selling book “Bowling Alone”. Writing before the new digital technologies that worry Turkle and Carr, Putnam argued that enthusiasm for joining anything – bowling leagues, sports clubs, political organisations, churches, and pretty much anything else that involves attending meetings – had collapsed in America since the 1950s. Putnam identifies many factors behind this decline, including the rise of a new, more individualistic generation, the growth of sprawling suburbs and the limited free time available to families when both adults have full-time jobs, but above all he blames television. Television encourages families to stay at home and be passively entertained, encouraging laziness and stealing time that could be invested in a local community.
Former member of Robert Young Memorial Church explore the themes in the exhibition through workshops with the artist.
These ideas weren’t new in the 1990s, either. In the late 19th century, German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies argued that there were two kinds of social group: Gemeinschaft (which can be translated as “community”) and Gesellschaft (which can be translated as “society”). Gemeinschaft is based on common beliefs and stories, supported by family, tradition and religion, and can be found in the rural countryside. Gesellschaft is the form of society found in cities, where individuals with quite different beliefs and customs try to benefit themselves and must be forced by the laws of the state to obey rules governing their behaviour.

Tönnies, Putnam and Turkle are all arguing something rather similar, more than 100 years apart. We once lived in close-knit communities based on shared beliefs and loyalties, but now that has disintegrated, replaced by a world of self-interest, competition and commerce. Community has been transformed, and not in a good way. But there’s a problem here: if community was destroyed by cities in the 19th century (Tönnies), how can it have been destroyed all over again by television in the 20th century (Putnam) and digital media in the 21st (Turkle)?

Perhaps “community” only ever exists in the past. The memory of “community” works as a contrast to our everyday experience, an imaginary ideal that allows us to use the past to criticise the present – like the classical mythology of the Golden Age, or the Christian story of the Garden of Eden, but located just a generation or two before our own time. The imagined idea of “community” functions as a secular version of the “Kingdom of God”, a Christian belief that locates social perfection in the future rather than the past. Whenever our world threatens us with change, critics can use the “community” of the past and the “Kingdom” of the future as two perfect, imagined worlds that demonstrate the distance between reality and our ideals.

Look again at Louise’s definition of “community”. There are four parts: a community is a group of people, built through human activity, sharing beliefs and sharing memories of their history together – or, as Louise puts it, sharing stories. Community takes work, and it means spending time sharing experiences with other people. We could add a sense of belonging, as another key part of what it means to be in community. But this definition is very broad and flexible, and it isn’t restricted to the past or to the imagination. Communities that meet these five markers have not disappeared or lost their value, even though they have been transformed over time. 
Visitors to the exhibition try out the social media element to the work.
For example, the rise of cities, cars, televisions and now digital media really have changed our relationships. As it becomes easier to travel and communicate over long distances, it also becomes easier to work, shop and find entertainment without relying on our local neighbourhoods. We still build relationships, share stories and feel a sense of belonging, but we aren’t as closely tied to family or geography when we choose who to connect with – and we have gained and lost much through that change. Instead of retreating into isolation and living “alone together”, as Turkle claims, we are now learning to adapt, thrive and intelligently critique this new form of society. Sociologists like Heidi Campbell and Nancy Baym have shown that we can use digital media to build close-knit online communities, or to network with people who share our interests around the world. According to Barry Wellman, Lee Rainie and Manuel Castells, we now live in a “network society” in which powerful new kinds of collaboration are bringing great benefits to politics, business, education and human relationships, while leaving some groups isolated. Bex Lewis and danah boyd (who doesn’t approve of capital letters) have both published great new books that help us to challenge the never-ending stream of panic-inducing newspaper headlines about the terrible dangers of the internet for young people, while identifying issues that deserve our genuine concern. “Community” has not been lost or destroyed, but transformed – a process that Louise Mackenzie’s art helps us to visualise and understand.

Dr Tim Hutchings works at CODEC, a research institute based at St John's College, Durham University. He is currently the full-time Leech Research Fellow and is working with CODEC and local church congregations to create a new “digital pilgrimage” route between Durham and Lindisfarne. Tim is a sociologist of digital religion. His PhD (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online churches, exploring new forms of worship, authority and community emerging on the internet. 

transformation content is on show at The Holy Biscuit until 10th April. The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday 11.00 - 16.00.  Free guided tours of the exhibition by the artist are available for groups. Please contact the HB office on 0191 447 6811 for more information.

transformation content is generously supported by Arts Council England, Durham University, Newcastle University, The Jerusalem Trust and The Methodist Church of Great Britain.

Read interviews with Louise about her work at Corridor 8 and Peel Magazine.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Louise Mackenzie: transformation content

Louise Mackenzie, Lament, Dust, cotton bed sheet (2m x 2.35m)

7th March – 11th April 2014

Preview: 6th March 2014, 18.00 - 20.00
Live performance of sound work: 4th March, 19.00, Ryton Methodist Church, Gateshead
Radio Broadcast: Daily at 12.30 on and within the gallery space
Artist’s Talk and Discussion Evening: 13th March, 19.00 - 21.00

The Holy Biscuit is proud to present transformation content, a project and exhibition by contemporary interdisciplinary artist, Louise Mackenzie. In her first solo exhibition since graduating from Newcastle University in 2013, Mackenzie takes fragments of a 104 year old organ, once the beating heart of a former Methodist church in Gateshead and through sound, social media and sculpture redefines the  energy of a community within a contemporary context.

Mackenzie explores the relationship between human social behaviour and the scientific construct of entropy (the term coined by German physicist Rudolf Clausius, as a way to define the define the transformation content of a body).  Taking the concept of community as a social group built around common beliefs, shared memories, songs and stories, Mackenzie considers how is this manifested in contemporary society.

The composition, Entropy is a collaboration with musicians from Newcastle University, involving the creation of a score based on a system devised by the artist.  The composition will be recorded in Gateshead, broadcast on and played live into the gallery throughout the exhibition. The gallery will also be hosting a series of workshops with  the former church congregation and local schools in East Newcastle and Gateshead, where adults and children will contribute to a social media site as an ongoing element of the work.

Louise Mackenzie, Virtue and Faith, Still from social media website project (dimensions variable)

There will be an artist’s talk and discussion evening. This will take place on Thursday 13th March, 19.00-21.00 and will feature contributions from Durham and Newcastle Universities including Professor Robert Song (Durham University – Theology and Ethics), Dr John Lazarus (Newcastle University – Evolutionary Biology), Dr Tim Hutchings (St John’s College, Durham – Sociology of Religion) and Alexia Mellor, MFA (Tufts University, USA - Fine Art).

Exploring what it means to be human, Louise Mackenzie's work crosses disciplinary boundaries in an attempt to understand why it is that we are compelled to make, discover and progress, rather than simply to exist. Often working collaboratively, Mackenzie generates opportunities for dialogue between art and science. With an experimental, research-based practice, she explores human evolution, past, present and future: from the origin of the species, through social and cultural evolution in the present, to genetic manipulation, the post-human and the future unknown.

Winner of the New Graduate Award at Synthesis, Manchester Science Festival (October, 2013), Mackenzie’s recent exhibitions include Arthouses, Whitley Bay Film Festival; Symbiosis, The Late Shows, Newcastle and Embassy Tea Gallery, London.

transformation content is generously supported by Arts Council England, Durham University, Newcastle University, The Methodist Church of Great Britain and

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...