Observe Experiment Archive explored the relationship between contemporary photographic practice, science, technology, health and wellbeing, through a series of talks, screenings, seminars and new commission opportunities, culminating in the presentation of new photographic works in Sunderland.
Programme partners for the project included Kielder Observatory, Sunderland Co-Lab, The Cultural Spring, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Sunderland Culture.
Photography emerged from the creative innovations and networks of knowledge pioneered by 19th century scientists. Ever since, its history has been enmeshed with scientific and technological endeavour; through science and photography we explore the world and communicate our understandings. Key developments in each discipline have often been concurrent, from the harnessing of chemical processes and techniques by Victorian photographic entrepreneurs, to the shared exploration of the mysteries of light, the development of artificial light and the use of lenses as a means of mediating and examining experience. In our digital present, extensive communities of practice exist around both scientific and photographic endeavours, which now incorporate a spectrum of citizen, amateur and professional approaches. A democratization of knowledge and tools has enabled the rise of citizen science, citizen journalism and shared creative expression of lived experience.
Our first large participatory commission #WearExperimenting ran during June-December 2018 in partnership with The Cultural Spring and led by Jo Howell.
Associate artists Graham Patterson, Nicola Maxwell and Michael Davidson and Ben Freeth received developmental commissions to develop their audiences and engage the public in workshops, exploring the connections between their practice and participation.
During the project talks were held by photographers Marjolaine Ryley, Tim Mitchell, Fiona Crisp, Chrystal Lebas, Susan Derges, Wendy McMurdo.
The exhibition Observe Experiment Archive, opened at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens from 15 November 2019 – 05 January 2020. It considered how contemporary photographic artists can respond to both scientific innovation and historical collections, their work transforming our world through light and lens. It delved into the age-old sense of wonder we feel when faced with the complex nature of our ever-changing world and the ongoing struggle to learn more. The exhibition also considered the power of human inventiveness in meeting global challenges.
Observe Experiment Archive included new bodies of work by Liza Dracup and Tessa Bunney, both commissioned by NEPN in 2018/19. Work created in response to the natural history collection of Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens accompanied a UK premier of work by Robert Zhao Renhui. Helen McGhie presented new work commissioned for the exhibition and Sophie Ingleby presented SEED, which was supported by NEPN in its development. These projects were accompanied by existing work by Mandy Barker, Penelope Umbrico and Maria McKinney.