Tag Archives: art

Merseyside Totemy

The recent extreme weather is perhaps leading more people to appreciate the changes in our climate are real and likely to have a serious impact on our way of life [see ‘Climate change and tides in Liverpool‘ on May 11th, 2016].  However, I suspect that most people do not appreciate the likely catastrophic effect of global warming.  For example, during the 20th century, the average rise is sea level was 1.7 mm per year; however, since the early 1990s it has been rising at 3 mm per year, and sea levels are currently rising at about 4mm per year according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It is difficult to translate  statistics of this type into a meaningful format – the graph below helps in recognising the trends but does not convey anything about the impact.  However, I am impressed by a new art installation on the Liverpool waterfront by Alicja Biala called ‘Merseyside Totemy’ which illustrates the percentage of each of three high-risk local areas that will be underwater by 2080 if current trends continue: Birkenhead (centre of photograph), Formby (left) and Liverpool City Centre (right behind tree) [see www.biennial.com/collaborations/alicjabiala].  Perhaps using data for 30 years time rather than 60 years would have focussed people’s attention on the need to make changes to alleviate the impact.

Figure 1 from

Figure 1. Time series of global mean sea level (deviation from the 1980-1999 mean) in the past and as projected for the future. For the period before 1870, global measurements of sea level are not available. The grey shading shows the uncertainty in the estimated long-term rate of sea level change. The red line is a reconstruction of global mean sea level from tide gauges, and the red shading denotes the range of variations from a smooth curve. The green line shows global mean sea level observed from satellite altimetry. The blue shading represents the range of model projections for the SRES A1B scenario for the 21st century, relative to the 1980 to 1999 mean, and has been calculated independently from the observations. Beyond 2100, the projections are increasingly dependent on the emissions scenario. Over many centuries or millennia, sea level could rise by several metres. From https://archive.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/faq-5-1-figure-1.html

Horsepower driving ambition

A photograph of 'Physical Energy' in Kensington Gardens - a sculpture of a man on a horseWalking across Kensington Gardens in London last week, on my way to attend a conference on Carbon, I came across the sculpture in the picture.  It is ‘Physical Energy’ by George Frederick Watts (1817 – 1904), which really confused me because I automatically started thinking about the sort of energy that is associated with horsepower.  Horsepower is a unit of power (energy per unit time) developed by James Watt (1736 – 1819) to evaluate the output of his steam engines.  The plaque below the sculpture calls it a ‘sculptural masterpiece; a universal embodiment of the dynamic force of ambition’ and states that the artist described it as a ‘symbol of that restless physical impulse to seek the still unachieved in the domain of physical things.’  So, while the connections seemed obvious to me, it would appear that Watts was not inspired by Watt.

The conference was interesting too.  There were delegates from all over the world presenting research on a wide range of topics from new designs of batteries to using carbon as an sorbent for toxins, carbon-based composites and self-assembly of metal-organic meso-crystals.  Two students that I have supervised were presenting their research on establishing credibility for models of the graphite core in nuclear power plants and on algorithms for identifying the surface morphology in samples of graphite.

You can only go there in your head

“Inner space and outer space are similar, aren’t they really?  You’re never going to get to the edge of the universe in a spaceship.  You might as well try going on a bus.  You can only go there in your head.”  This is a quote from David Hockney in ‘Spring Cannot Be Cancelled‘  by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It’s a beautiful book.  Full of thought-provoking insights and recent artwork by Hockney painted in Normandy mainly during the pandemic.  I read it last month while in the Yorkshire Dales [see ‘Walking the hills‘ on April 13th 2022].  Hockney writes about his need to paint.  He finds it utterly absorbing and endlessly sustaining.  Gayford compares this need and experience to the work of American psychologist, Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi [see ‘Slow-motion multi-tasking leads to productive research‘ on September 19, 2018] who wrote about concentration so intense that there is no spare capacity to think about anything else, your self-consciousness disappears and you lose your sense of time leading to a deep sense of happiness and well-being.  I cannot paint but I can achieve something approaching a similiar state when I am writing.


Martin Gayford and David Hockney, Spring cannot be cancelled – David Hockney in Normandy, London: Thames & Hudson, 2021.

A brief respite in a long campaign to overcome coronavirus

Globally, it is clear that the pandemic is far from over.  However, government restrictions on movement and meeting people imposed at the start of the year combined with a successful vaccination programme have allowed a gradual return to normality in the UK since late April.  I have particularly appreciated this resumption of life over the past fortnight.  While most meetings are still conducted online, I have managed to meet most of my research students in person in our lab, in pavement cafes or occasionally in my office with the window open and wearing masks.  I have even been to the pub after work on two consecutive Tuesdays.  On the first occasion, it was after a progress meeting on a research project when we enjoyed continuing our discussion of a new idea over a couple of beers; and, on the second occasion, t with our faculty management team to celebrate the first anniversary of one of the team joining us, who had only met half the team in person.  On both occasions we had all tested negative using the lateral flow test and we sat outside in the sunshine.  I have also been to three concerts at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall where we wore masks throughout the concert and both the audience and orchestra were socially-distanced.  Last Thursday, I enjoyed Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 ‘Classical’ as well as the world premiere of Dani Howard’s Trombone Concerto.  The second concert featured works by Astor Piazzola which were a revelation to me.  I had never heard of him let alone his music and really enjoyed the concert.  However, as I write this post, the number of cases in Liverpool is rising rapidly and we are being advised to be more cautious in our interactions with other people.  Not enough people have been vaccinated and are taking regular tests to allow us to return to our previous state of social interactions.  Nevertheless, I am optimistic that we can eventually take back control of our lives from the coronavirus.  Our global society is a complex system, which like any other complex system, operates without central control but with simple operating rules generating self-organising and emergent behaviour [see ‘Destruction of society as a complex system?‘ on July 31st, 2019] that allows us to find new states to handle changed circumstances regardless of the efforts of politicians.

You can listen last Thursday’s concert on demand at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s website: https://liverpoolphil.com/whats-on/video-on-demand/on-demand-domingo-hindoyan-conducts-stravinsky-howard-ravel-and-prokofiev-with-peter-moore/3926