Category: Film, Art & Animation

In the Window: Sophie Longwill

Continuing our annual In the Window partnership, the Bluecoat Display Centre, Design and Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCI) and Liverpool Irish Festival selected emerging glass talent Sophie Longwill as the 2021 featured artist.

This year’s ‘exchange’ brief provided one of the largest responses to our open call, set against the backdrop of Covid-19. What made Sophie’s work notable, was her exchange with Liverpool -via her sister- and this is embodied in the work. Below, Sophie explores the relationship between optical input and translation; materials and meaning; experience and storytelling. In her words, we travel to the heart of Sophie’s fragile work; it’s delicate, but fierce processes and the resulting representations that blend the ephemeral and untouchable with the creation of recognisable, tangible skies. In talking about the work, we visit her relationship with time and experience, central to many makers’ ability to bend materials to harness and communicate ideas.


Glass skies

Our family joke is “where there is a Longwill there’s a long way”; it really sums up my artistic journey. I tried a lot of different things before I fell in love with glass. I grew up in the countryside of County Kildare, surrounded by beautiful scenery and my lovely creative family.

My mum was a member of the local printmaking studio, Leinster Print, so I used to tag along. I was lucky that she -and other artists- were generous with their time and materials. I got to learn many different printmaking techniques, from a young age and began exhibiting my work professionally, aged 15. After finishing school, I went to the National College of Art and Design (NCAD, Dublin) to study Industrial Design, leaving the course when my father passed away.

In 2010, I went to Grennan Mill Craft School. A beautiful, converted mill in Thomastown (Kilkenny), I spent two years there learning a variety of traditional craft processes, such as batik, weaving, ceramics and metalwork plus more printmaking. I returned to NCAD where I did a double BA (Hons) in Glass and History of Art & Design, graduating in 2016.

Influences

Glass artists I love (and recommend) include Anne Petters (www.annepetters.com), who taught me many of the techniques I use; she’s an incredible artist. The brilliant Caroline Madden (DCCI Portfolio artist) and Isabelle Peyrat (both at NCAD) were and continue to be big inspirations on my glass journey. There are hundreds of incredible Irish glass artists. For anyone interested, the Glass Society of Ireland (www.glasssocietyofireland.ie/) is the place to find us all!

Though my work has taken multiple forms, a common thread is capturing fleeting moments of everyday life. I love transforming ordinary or overlooked parts of life, adding a little sense of magic and wonder, because that is how I see the world. A bra hooked over the back of a chair… a text message from a loved one … a chance glimpse of sunset walking home… the world around me constantly inspires and influences my work.

Materiality

I adore glass as a material; not only for the limitless possibilities as a sculptural material, but for its strong material narratives. It is an intoxicating contradiction; neither solid nor liquid. It can be strong, sharp, confrontational or delicate, fragile, and ethereal. I love this duality, plus the challenge of working with it. After many years, I am constantly learning, pushing the material, and being pushed back.

My process incorporates elements from printmaking. I make moulds -flat like a printing plate- and carve in my designs. Instead of ink, powdered glass is pushed into the crevices. Once fired the lines are raised (as on an intaglio print) on the flat piece of glass. Fired again, I further manipulate it into a 3D sculptural form. I love the way this captures my mark-making and brings my drawings to life; an idea you can hold.

Sensitivity to colour and surface texture is vital. I am fascinated by the tension of tactility in artworks and the interaction between the viewer and object. Perhaps it stems from a childhood desperation to touch everything, in every gallery we visited, an impulse I still struggle to control! I give my glass works a raw ‘dragon’s teeth’ edge, which gives the pieces a seductive, sensual fragility.

Inspiration

My current series Nubivagant (Cloud Wanderer) reflects my experience of the pandemic and a desire for breathing space. The series is inspired by beautiful skies and mindful moments on my lockdown walks. Living in Cork city centre, the sky connects with nature via an urban environment.

In preparation, I woke with the dawn every day for weeks (I am not a morning person!). As a starting point I take hundreds of photos; I spend time just absorbing and studying the light. I may work from one image or set of images; I often do watercolour paintings to get a sense of layers and colours, all the time considering my glass palette. “This underbelly of cloud is 10% cobalt blue, mixed with royal purple. That haze of sunlight is peach cream with a pinch of pink opal”… Soft colours are translated into delicate discs of pâte-de-verre (glass paste), allowed to gently fold in the kiln, resulting in vessels that suggest windows to other realms holding the serenity of the natural world.

Exchanges

As I developed the series and shared the work with friends and family, a beautiful exchange began to happen. People began to send me pictures of their skies from all around the world. The most frequent contributor was my sister, who lives in Liverpool. Every week we exchange pictures of our ‘sister skies’.

As I work with the glass, I blend my impressions of our exchanged moments into the vessels. They become a way to express our stories and the feelings from this time that we cannot find the words for; the love and the longing. In everything I make I try to capture a sense of wonder; to transpose transient and intangible moments into visible, physical form. The delicate fragility inherent in glass as a material accentuates the impression of ephemerality and preciousness.

The flow

Once I get to making the glass it is very free. I aim to enter a flow state by listening to certain music and allow my hands to go to work. I carve patterns and lines into the moulds and mix concoctions of powdered glass to fill them. A lot of glass artists are very precise; I know that -really- I should be testing all my colours and taking notes, but I love to get in ‘the zone’ and play, seeing what magic happens in the kiln overnight. It doesn’t always work; glass is tricky to work with, but when it does it is really special.

Individual vessels are not usually a direct interpretation of, say, one particular sky. I like them being open to interpretation. It may have a familiarity, but I’m not necessarily telling you exactly when and where it is. It’s more about the sky representing that thrill of wonder at a beautiful moment in nature and feeling connected to something outside of ourselves. A sense of grace, perhaps? That’s why the surface textures and play of colour are really important.

Juxtaposition

I am interested in the narratives of time within glass and the element of transformation. We use glass in our lives every day. It’s so ordinary; humbly beginning as sand, yet able to be transformed into a material that has a sense of liminality. It is present and not present simultaneously; especially when worked in a fragile, delicate way. It is the perfect material to express feelings I don’t have words for, to capture a moment in time or something otherworldly.


Sophie Longwill is based at the National Sculpture Factory nationalsculpturefactory.com

W: longwillstudio.com
F: @longwillstudio
T: @sophie_longwill
I: @longwillstudio

You can see Sophie’s series Nubivagant (Cloud Wanderer) at Bluecoat Display Centre from 1-31 Oct 2021 during the gallery’s opening hours. Works start at c.£300.

Bluecoat Display Centre is a nationally and internationally recognised contemporary craft and design gallery that has been established since 1959. It has multiple outreach projects and holds exhibitions across the year. Jointly, the Centre and the Festival are members of Creative Organisations of Liverpool.

Our combined thanks go to the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland whose direct support has enabled this exhibition.

Associated events (please note these may have passed)

Quarantine – a response

We began work with Alison Little in 2016 when we first launched our In:Visible Women programme. A Liverpool based artist, activist and educator, Alison’s work layers texture and printed evidence against abuse and empowerment.

Following on from the in memoriam work the Festival did with Eavan Boland’s poem Quarantine in 2020, Alison has created a visual response to this work. Working with physical materials to draw on the emotional experiences of the people within the poem, and the millions they have come to represent. We are presenting this work on St Brigid’s day as a female led-work, but also as a story that connects with St Brigid’s work for equality, as we continue to stave off disease, work together as a society to cure our ills and come to understand our history.

What we present below is a short ‘making of’ gallery of Alison’s process, making the installation, followed by images of the installation ‘in the field’, in both the snow and  wet of January weather.

Alison’s work is all the more poigniant having fought off Coronavirus herself, but who lost her partner to the virus. Our condolences go to her and their loved ones and our thanks go Alison for her courage, creativity and commitment.


You can hear and read Eavan Boland’s Quarantine. here.

Installation: Quarantine – An Artist’s statement

Installation: Quarantine reflects the poem; Quarantine, from the late Eavan Boland. Two, rather soiled, life size figurines [made] from polythene [and] brimming with printed media, represent man and wife. Using related working techniques to that of Jane (produced for the 2017 Liverpool Irish Festival), the forms contain printed statements, statistics and quotes from the literal work: Quarantine. These quotes identify that 20-25% of Ireland’s population was lost to the Famine and related emigration. Further statements reflect on the fact that there was no ban on the export of food, as there had been in the famine of 1782-3. Additional found objects and additions include modelled blighted potatoes, manifesting the poem and the period of An Gorta Mór/The Great Famine.

‘Worst’ is repeated throughout the poem, highlighting the [desparation] of the late 1840’s. Black acrylic paint was applied, using flicking techniques across the inner of the polythene, to represent the anguish and distress the couple endured, [reflecting on] 1847 being titled ‘Black 47’, the worst year of the Famine. The leaving of the workhouse [has been] determined by printed replicas of discharge papers and statements included within the forms. Newspaper articles of the period, relating to the hardships and failing crops, [occupy] the bodies. Ragged clothing is prominent; [demonstrating] how workhouse conditions often meant that clothing was often re-used from those who died from fever and dysentry, without being laundered. The roll-up (cigarette) butts draw attention to how smoking tobacco was commonplace among the poor and labouring class during the Victorian era. This led to tooth decay; studies show that up to 80% of famine victims suffered from poor oral health. The empty bottle of whiskey is equally familiar; the Irish took the drink to the United States, through the period of mass emigration, due to the Famine. A rural location is suggested through the chain and shackle, habitual within farming communities.

Walking on foot -for a prolonged distance- is implied by uncomplicated shoe soles on the outer surfaces of the man’s feet; sufficiently degraded to push the concept of ‘Worn thin’ to the extreme. Women were often barefoot, her shoe soles not present. Hunger is simulated by the inclusion of modelled blighted Irish lumber potatoes. Created from potato clay, [these were] actually produced from flour and cornstarch, but the

named potato clay due to it’s mash-like qualities in production. Acrylic paints reinforce the idea of blight through the white areas. The potatoes situated around the wife’s breast identify with the female form. Fake foliage leaves with black speckles reflect the toxins of the times. Leaves are prominent  around the groin, giving an indication of public hair and unquestionably the human form. The female form displays a kerchief; the male a cloth peak cap; both are well worn.

The figures are positioned on the floor upon a sack cloth; woven and tattered. This forms the impression of being exposed to the elements; [the couple have lain] the sack cloth  down as a blanket to protect from ground frost. Stones are added betwen the figures -at any exhibit- to represent their rough sleeping [and hardship].

The figures are [positioned to indicate/symbolide a] man and wife; an intertwining of hands and an evident physical connection. True to the poem,  the wife’s feet are held against the husband’s breastbone; red papers represent the remnant of heat present in his body, whilst the white papers present the notion of frost [which has consumed] the female.


The making of Quarantine

To see a larger version, please click on the image.

Quarantine: the art work

To see a larger version, please click on the image.


Alison Little: Artist Statement

Alison Little is a visual artist and writer based in Liverpool. She looks to integrate her visual arts and creative writing practice. As an artist, she has worked on numerous commissions from Go Superlambananas to  Kirby Town Centre Renewal. Her creative endeavours include the project management of Rags Boutique; a scheme to open a disused retail unit as an exhibition space and workshop venue.

Moving from County Fermanagh in the early 1960’s, to the UK mainland, Alison’s father came to Blackpool first then began working on the motorway systems which were being constructed at the time. He began painting the lines and eventually relocated in the South East, where Alison was born. She has links to family across the area and routes back to when many emigrated to the USA in the 1840’s.

Endeavouring to fuse her creative practices, Alison often illustrates her writings or identifies analogous matter as the focal point for later works. Rape, mental health, impotency and feminist concerns are scrutinised repeatedly; the creation of sculptural form to the penning of adjoining flash fiction, poetry and short stories. Through this, she amalgamates intense personal experiences and fact-based research, identifying with various philosophies and scientific predictions. The outcome is predominantly sculpture and conceptual photography, with varied writing and scripture. More recent works, such as Tittle-Tattle, look to question concepts around homemaking, cleanliness and marriage. Alison provokes through practice, creating a vast array of outcomes.

In 2017 she produced Jane for the In:Visible Women conference at the Liverpool Irish Festival. The installation was accompanied by a shorter fiction work, which was read at the event. The artform and literary piece tied to the Repeal the Eighth Amendment movement, a pro-[choice] movement, which lead to the successful repeal by referendum in 2018.

Alison has had a personal struggle with Covid-19 throughout 2020, succumbing to the virus in late March 2020, which  spread to her partner, who was lost to Covid-19, 8 March 2020. After his funeral, the virus re-surged and Alison became ill again. In late August, she suffered a second infection and was to experience the sickness again. Due to lock down -and the almost complete suppression of the creative industries- she has struggled to find work as an artist throughout the year. Mentally, in terms of wellbeing, Alison is now ready to produce new creative works.

Alison has had work published in Hidden Gems, that art in Liverpool website, Dwell Time and Red Brick Writing, in addition to numerous zines. Her blog; alisonlittleblog.wordpress.com is well-read and she releases a weekly article.

Alison is an artist, a writer, creative explorer.


This work was funded by the Irish Government‘s Emigrant Support Programme‘s creative community fund.

#CreativeCommunity

Since the onset of Covid-19, cultural organisations and artists have suffered a lack of creative opportunities because of restrictions on arts venues and engagements. #CreativeCommunity is a once-off initiative by the Embassy of Ireland to Great Britain, the Consulate General of Ireland (Cardiff), and the Consulate General of Ireland (Edinburgh) that provided creative opportunities for Irish artists living in Britain to produce cultural content, shared online. Through Creative Community, the Embassy of Ireland in London and the Consulates General in Edinburgh and Cardiff have supported arts and culture-focused projects with eight organisations, directly engaging with at least 40 Irish creatives across Britain to produce and show their work.

The artists Liverpool Irish Festival has commissioned using this programme, include: Cathy Carter / Andrew ConnallyEdy Fung (via Art Arcadia)Alison Little / Maz O’ConnorCiara Ní ÉThe Sound Agents. The links will take you to the individual commissions.

Retrospective future gazers

Sub-title: A quick, short, and linear exercise to map the Royal Charter’s failed-return to Liverpool against the history of weather forecasting.


<<<During lockdown, Derry-based Hong Konger, artist Edy Fung has used weather to help motivate her working cycles.

In doing so, she has studied meteorological history, finding links between Derry and Liverpool. Edy’s generated an essay on this, complete with archive images. This sustains a digital relationship with the Festival that began for #LIF2020, advancing our work with Art Arcadia, where Edy is a resident artist.

The connectedness of internationalism, nature and platforming female voices sits within the St Brigid’s Day ethos of progressive acts and equality. We thank Edy for her work and ability to express her layered thinking to bring us something thought-provoking, fascinating and unexpected. You can learn more about Edy at the end of this article.>>>


2020 has overwhelmed the world with how fast every aspect of our daily lives can change for a new normal.

After the pandemic, we have all learned to be humbled by external impacts and environments. Most of us in different parts of the world meandered our way through lockdowns; rethinking our new normal. We have had to learn to adapt to uncertainties, getting used to making our plans with spontaneity, but ready to have them canceled or postponed. It is difficult. We always want an answer for the future; while we look for ways to predict it -analytics, predictions, prophecies- these very methods demonstrate that the need for human beings to ‘imagine’ is inevitable.

My name is Edy; I am an artist who lives and works in Derry, Northern Ireland. I have begun research on exploring atmospheric patterns and their implication on societal and political shifts in macroscale*, bringing these discoveries into a personal, bodily and relatable scale. My artistic practice currently aims to connect human sentiments, affect, weather, politics, science, and technology after the Anthropocene^. This piece of writing, commissioned by the Liverpool Irish Festival, will form the foundation of another online collaborative project: The Meteorological Cartomancer that looks at the beauty of chance and collective feelings. Perhaps, borrowing from the temperament of the Greek Tragedy aesthetic form, I am making some reflections for this day and age; arising from the story of the storm that hit the Liverpool-bound Royal Charter (ship) in 1859 on its journey through the Irish Sea, to incidents concerning geographies of both sides of the water.

* involving general or overall structures/processes, rather than details.
^ the geological time during which human life has impacted the earth.

Image: The Liverpool and Australian Navigation Company’s Steam Clipper, The Royal Charter; 2719 Tons. Registered 200 horse power. By Francis Boyce Commander, (CC BY-NC-SA) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/110902.html)

This is an attempt to trace our desire to foresee the future during uncertain times. It documents the first time in history that humanity came close to future ‘prediction’ with a scientific foundation. I am drawn to look into the 1859 storm that shipwrecked Royal Charter in the Irish Sea. Prior to this, the weather was believed to be an act of God and if a storm came, so be it. This storm -and the resulting shipwreck- holds a vital place in pushing advancement for what is known today as ‘weather forecasting’.

The Royal Charter was a steamship built in Sandycroft Ironworks, on the River Dee, as one of the fastest ships at the time. On the evening of 25th October 1859, the steamship was bound to make the last leg of its 60-day cross-continental journey from Australia. When it left Queenstown -in the south of Ireland- to return home to Liverpool, it encountered a gale so fierce that it rose to a hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort Scale (devised by Irish hydrographer Francis Beaufort in 1805), pushing the ship towards Anglesey (Wales), causing it to sink.

Here, I am excavating materials from the MET archive, starting with one of several (consistent) testimonies documented from people from Wales and Ireland, who recalled the weather and witnessed something more unusual before the storm:

On Tuesday, 25th, I could perceive nothing at all unusual in the appearance of the weather, till, at half-past seven, when in the neighbourhood of Ballinamar and Ballyporeen, about, I should say, 12 or 14 English miles west of Athlone, the sky being free from clouds, I saw, in the direction of the Pleiades, a meteor. At first, when I saw it, it was about the size of a star of the first magni­tude; it advanced swiftly towards me for about four or five seconds, rapidly increasing in size, and appeared to be coming so straight towards where I was that it created alarm; the colour was an intense white light, similar to the electric spark. At the end of the first four or five seconds it changed colour to a bright ruby red, and it seemed (but of this I could not speak positively) then both to change its course and to lose its velocity; while the red colour remained was not more than one-and-a-half to two seconds. It then burst into about, I should suppose, 15 or 16 bright emerald green particles, which, after remaining visible for about two more seconds, disappeared altogether. I saw nothing  more that night. I arrived at Athlone about 12 o’clock, and up to that period the sky was quite clear and calm, and there was not the slightest appearance of storm. I was much astonished to hear, on my arrival in Dublin, on the night of Wednesday, 26th, of the violent storm that had taken place on the coast of Wales. […] I could not but think that the fall of the meteor had some connexion with the storm”. 

— Thomas. T. Carter (Annual Report 1862, page xl).

This Royal Charter shipwreck, which occurred in the Irish Sea during the closing leg of an incredible adventure back to Liverpool, is linked to the emergence of weather forecasting. The MET Office was not established properly at the time, in the way we understand its function today; it was a position that Robert Fitzroy was taking as the ‘Meteorological Statist’ (Fitzroy’s term), advisor to the Board of Trade for the marine industry and the military. Responding to the Royal Charters demise, Fitzroy worked intensively to understand how how the shipwreck could have been prevented. He wanted to avoid further tragedies in the future. Next, we will see in more detail his research on new methods of using barometers, and his invention of meteorological telegraphy and weather map that led to the existence of the weather forecasting system.

Under pressure: Barometers

In the 19th century, barometers were used inside boats and ships to detect the change of the atmospheric state, mostly for localised usage. These were the instruments most closely associated with a scientific method, reliable enough to provide “some definite idea of the amount of change which indicates unusually violent wind”. Such barometers could react and fall at the rate of nearly a tenth of an inch an hour before the shift of wind occurred. Fishermen and sailors would take this drop of pressure as an indicator of a storm, so they could decide whether to proceed the voyage or to find shelter.

Advertisement for Barometers by John Patrick, c.1705-1715. British Museum, The Ilbert Collection. Accession number 1958,1006.3050. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Admiral Fitzroy’s storm barometer. Face-on detail of top half; grey background. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.
Fitzroy’s illustration of ‘Cautionary Signals’, from Report of The Meteorologic Office of The Board of Trade, 1863 © The MET Office archive.

Cautionary Signals, Storm Telegraphy, Lighthouses  

In February 1861, Cautionary Signals were initiated.

According to the report of Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade, Fitzroy tried to argue his case about the idea of giving storm warnings using telegraphy before 1836, in American and Europe, “Yet the subject attracted too little popular interest to be taken up by any influential body until September 1859.” (Annual Report 1862, page xi). We do not know the reason why these telegraphic storm warnings were not adopted earlier. The system of measuring wind conditions was already created by Francis Beaufort (an admiral from County Meath, Ireland), but only appeared in his diary in 1806, kept private in navy logs instead of broader application. He created the ‘Beaufort Scale’ to estimate the force of the wind, in a range from 0 to 13. The Royal Charter Storm was classified -under Beaufort Scale- at number 12. In 1859, the same year as the shipwreck, the British Association for the Advance­ment of Science finally proposed to the government a trial plan by which the approach of storms might be telegraphed to distant localities. By 1862 20 stations were built to establish the telegraphic communication of meteorological facts.

By 1863, more barometers and stations were dispersed on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. Locations sending cautionary storm signals -through both electric and magnetic telegraphs- reached 97, including 24 in Ireland (some of which today remain as lighthouses). Blacksod Lighthouse (County Mayo) was constructed in 1864, becoming the first land-based observation station in Europe, where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. It became famous for reporting the fierce weather that delayed the Normandy Landings and saved D-Day. What would Fitzroy say about his legacy if he could see that his application of storm telegraphy had affected the ability of trained personnel to change the course of a world war? It was more than merely saving us from a natural disaster, but also humanitarian and political catastrophe when these telegraphic signals came to function.

Blacksod Lighthouse, County Mayo, Ireland. Photography © Bryan Hanna.

As good as the technological advancement was, a data cloud did not exist at the time. However, their name today suggests a historic connection to these meteorological transfers and the early days of communications, continuing to demonstrate the importance of the Royal Charter’s legacy.

The first network of meteorological communications has laid the foundation for development towards the concept of a global system of interconnected computer networks; the internet and global information storage. The archive revealed Fitzroy’s continuous contact with observatories including Paris, Berlin, Rostock, Hanover, Turin, Copenhagen, and Gothenburg. Some of his correspondence with Urbain Le Verrier can be read in the 1864 report. Le Verrier is recognised as the pioneer who proposed the concept of a chronological map for storms and weather changes. These are some of the first data visualisations and analytics, now traceable in our data clouds (I am doing this exercise).

Weather Maps

The following are some maps that Fitzroy made to analyse -retrospectively- the Royal Charter’s devastating storm, looking at changes between 25th and 26th October 1859. The arrows were drawn to indicate the wind direction as well as the strength of the wind (in proportion to the length of the line).

Synoptic Chart of the storm that shipwrecked the Royal Charter, showing the British Isles in the wider context of the Atlantic Ocean. The Meteorologic Office of The Board of Trade 1864 © The MET Office archive.

 

Synoptic Chart of the storm that shipwrecked the Royal Charter, showing (in a closer scale) the British Isles. The Meteorologic Office of The Board of Trade, 1864. © The MET Office archive.

These maps were called ‘synoptic charts’, according to Fitzroy, providing a visual synopsis of the weather observations at a or any given time. The below chart by Fitzroy is claimed to be the oldest in the MET collection, suggesting that he could be the first inventor, after Urbain Le Verrier’s vision, of what we understand today as the weather maps. However, it is Francis Galton who is recognised as the first devisor of the weather maps instead (in the method same as today), and he wrote the 1863 book Meteorographica, or Methods of Mapping The Weather in the similar times as Fitzroy’s research. Galton was appointed to substitute Fitzroy’s position and the pivotal figure in the development of weather forecasting in the later years by focusing on remedying the speed and capacity of data collection.

To see these charts as gifs, showing the air movement, click here.

Royal Charter gale, synoptic chart; 26 October 1859. © The MET Office archive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weather Forecasting

“In August 1861 the first published “forecasts” of weather were tried; and after another half year had elapsed for gaining experience by varied tentative arrangements, the present system was established. Twenty reports are now received each morning (except Sundays), and ten each afternoon, besides five from the Continent. Double forecasts (two days in advance) are published, with the full tables (on which they chiefly depend), and are sent to six daily papers, to one weekly,—to Lloyds,—to the Admiralty, —and to the Horse Guards, besides the Board of Trade“ (Annual Report 1862, page v).

The term “weather forecast” was coined by Fitzroy. Taken for granted today, few of us can imagine that weather forecasting was an impossible concept and so ahead-of-its-time that it encountered plenty of skepticism and restraint. When the first public weather forecast was published in August 1861; its reception was not smooth and was been challenged for a period. Fitzroy had to state, repetitively, that the ‘weather forecast’ differed from general scientific methodology and should be considered as precautionary advisement – “prophecies or predictions they are not:—the term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of a scientific combination and calculation”.  To quote Fitzroy’s own words from 1863:

Many may ask—” Is this system of weather telegraphy sound and advantageous ” ?—If so, why is it opposed? There are no less than four distinct classes of interested opponents, and they should be known. First:—Certain persons who were opposed to the system theoretically at its origin, and having openly expressed, if not published, their objections, are naturally reluctant to adopt other ideas until converted. Secondly.—A numerous body who cannot have had time and opportunity to look tally into the rationale, but do not realise any want of special information, undervalue the subject, assert it to be a “burlesque,” and misquote really great authorities. Thirdly.—A small but active party which failed in establishing a daily weather newspaper indirectly opposed to the Board of Trade reports, and have since endeavoured, by conversation, by letters, and by elaborate criticisms in newspapers or periodicals, to exaggerate deficiencies, while ignoring merit in the works of this office, however beneficial their intended objects. And fourthly, those pecuniarily interested individuals or bodies, who would leave the Coasters and the fishermen to pursue their precarious occupation heedlessly—without regard to risk—lest occasionally a day’s demurrage should be caused unnecessarily, or a catch of fish missed for the London market. 14. Especially referring now to persons who would have the warning signals, but not the ” forecasts” (results of considera­tions on which the signals depend), may I quote from my “Weather Book” the following words?—”Frequently, remarks in favour of the cautionary signals, but in depreciation of the forecasts, have been made. Their author now begs to say that it is only by closely forecasting the coming weather, and by keeping atmospheric condition continuously present to mind, that judicious storm warnings can be given. Forecasts grow out of statical facts, and signals are their fruitWeather Book, p. 193. Second edition. (1863 page v)

Less than a year after publishing The Weather Book: a manual of practical meteorology, Fitzroy died by suicide. Despite having proposed the idea of having the central office, to gather weather information (the MET office’s function today), he did not live long enough to see it. The literature he left us reveals his frustration and the great deal of difficulty he faced, while painstakingly realising an accurate weather forecasting system. Similar to the rise of today’s ‘cancel culture’ many rejected its merits, missing the goodwill and opportunities weather forecasting provided to change things for the better. It took a long time to gain traction, until public forecasts were produced in 1879, and became reliable in the 20th century after 30 more years of data accumulation.

Weather forecasting in today’s definition is “the application of current technology and science to predict the state of the atmosphere for a future time and a given location” (Science Daily). The use of both deterministic and probabilistic models is, nowadays, common and continually improved in applications beyond the weather, such as population, economy, energy forecasting and even in the betting industry. Provided the accuracy and the period (normally up to 14 days) that contemporary weather forecast can achieve, we are accustomed to treating the weather reports as valid predictions and make our plans around them. Perhaps this has also fueled our beliefs in the capacity of knowing the future in advance, as long as we have enough scientific tools. Then -logically speaking- one has to believe that the future is fixed and unchangeable, all to be determined by whatever data we have today, if we carry on with our obsession to predict something.

While it might be useful to know the future, we should imagine possibilities -and take positive actions- regardless of whether the future is predicted or not. Like the weather, a lot of things -viruses, traffic, public opinions- operate in a chaotic system; a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. History tells us that working with others, through long-term back-and-forth dialogues (sometimes cross-nationally towards a common goal), was crucial to confront macroscale events and reach solutions together for the betterment of society.

In this difficult time of the Coronavirus pandemic, would it not be more effective if we work together globally, using the best of our technologies, to find future-proofing solutions despite the naysayers, detractors, and decriers? Let us not stop listening to each other, no matter how far we are apart as we are all interconnected, prone to the same danger(s) on this planet.

Fitzroy’s illustration of air currents over the British Isles. From Robert Fitzroy, The Weather Book: A Manual of Practical Meteorology, 1863.

 

Fitzroy’s illustration of the Air Currents over the British Isles. From Robert Fitzroy, The Weather Book: a manual of practical meteorology, 1863.


Edy Fung

Edy Fung is a multi-disciplinary artist, musician and curator currently based between Derry and Stockholm. She has worked in the conservation of historical buildings and heritage mainly in County Donegal for three years, after graduating from an MA in Architecture at the Royal College of Art. Working at the interface between the physical and the digital, her practice seeks to understand how our material world is conditioned. These include exploring underlying systems, ecologies, ideologies and technological shifts that are dominating our everyday values. She works with images, videos, sound, text, installation and exhibition-making, treating them as ingredients and tools to test her inquiries and speculations about the present world phenomena.

edyfung.com


This work was funded by the Irish Government‘s Emigrant Support Programme‘s creative community fund.
#CreativeCommunitySince the onset of Covid-19, cultural organisations and artists have suffered a lack of creative opportunities because of restrictions on arts venues and engagements. #CreativeCommunity is a once-off initiative by the Embassy of Ireland to Great Britain, the Consulate General of Ireland (Cardiff), and the Consulate General of Ireland (Edinburgh) that provided creative opportunities for Irish artists living in Britain to produce cultural content, shared online. Through Creative Community, the Embassy of Ireland in London and the Consulates General in Edinburgh and Cardiff have supported arts and culture-focused projects with eight organisations, directly engaging with at least 40 Irish creatives across Britain to produce and show their work.
The artists Liverpool Irish Festival has commissioned using this programme, include: Cathy Carter / Andrew ConnallyEdy Fung (via Art Arcadia)Alison Little / Maz O’ConnorCiara Ní ÉThe Sound Agents. The links will take you to the individual commissions.