During my residency, 'Sculpting with Light: Medieval and Modern Cosmology'  at Durhum University, I confronted human attempts to grasp and master the structure and meaning of the universe. I investigated the world of medieval cosmology from Aristotle to Dante, exploring the central importance of light to the universe in both periods, and ideas about unity and complexity, order and disorder, structure and entropy.

The relationship of light and dark, and the nature of light and its philosophical significance became a motif for the continuum of knowledge and awakening. Through Empyrean we see a geometric representation of the ten nested spheres of the medieval cosmos as described by Bishop Robert Grosseteste (c. 1170 - 1253).

In Grosseteste’s De Luce, he describes how the cosmos came into being from a single point of light, radiating outwards in equal measure. After the light extended to the furthest points it gave rise to the firmament, at which point the light returned inwards to progressively form the subsequent spheres of the cosmos. Each decreasing sphere is less pure until we reach the elements and the Earth at the centre of the cosmos.

Referencing Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s treatise De Luce, which illustrates how the universe came into being through light, much like our current notion of the Big Bang, Carr examined the geometry of expanding spherical space. In addition, elements of Grosseteste’s De Sphera feature, in its attention to observational points in relation to the movements of the celestial bodies.

The act of observation and perspective is central in this piece, highlighting how visual perception informs our experience of reality and our place in the cosmos. Motion and parallax are employed to create the illusion of expanding spheres of the medieval cosmos. Half of the glass beads of Empyrean are treated with a golden finish to form golden spheres, each with their own specific position of direction, in line with the viewers’ line of sight. Each of the spheres is positioned offset from each other so that you can only view each sphere from a specific viewpoint. As the viewer moves around Empyrean, their focus shifts from the central spheres, highlighted by strategically placed golden accents, which spread further to the outer, more ethereal spheres. The growing spheres become more elusive in the viewers’ eyes.

Empyrean - Glass, steel, brass, aluminium, Perspex, acrylic, mdf.   1.1m x 2m

Supported by The Leverhulme Trust, Durham University and Ushaw College.

The collection of Durham University