The Vast Extent : On seeing and not seeing further. / Greenlaw, Lavinia.

London : Faber, 2023. 190 p.

Research output: Book/ReportBook

In preparation


Essays drawing on poetry, visual arts, science and technology.

My central concerns are questions of vision, problems of description, and the relationship between technology, image-making and perceptual experience. We take the familiar to meet the unknown and largely make sense of what we see out out of what we already know. We create an image of something and experience it more vividly than when looking directly at it. There are things that help us see more clearly or convince us to see what’s not there. There are times when we want to see more or need to see less, or when we can only see what we expect to.

This preoccupation underlies everything I write about: early photography, myopia, getting lost, navigating empty space, microscopes, caves, weathervanes and luminous clocks. It informs my investigations of the shared imperatives of art and science. I was the Science Museum’s first artist in residence in 1995 and was awarded a three-year NESTA fellowship. My immersive sound-work, Audio Obscura, commissioned by Artangel, was an investigation of unsettled perception which won the Ted Hughes Award. I was one of the first artists to be awarded a Wellcome Engagement Fellowship which part-funded my short film, The Sea is an Edge and an Ending, a study of the impact of dementia on our sense of time and place. My commissions have included radio programmes about the Arctic midsummer and midwinter, reporting on a total solar eclipse in the Faroe Islands for The New Yorker, and a poem to mark the centenary of the Theory of Relativity for the Science Museum.

I want to keep alive the nature of my practice, which is to travel the question rather than try to answer it. Drawing on what I learnt from writing The Importance of Music to Girls and Questions of Travel: William Morris in Iceland, and creating Audio Obscura, I let the work take its own shape.

I have come to think of this as the exploded essay and a record of how thought builds and ideas emerge. Each is a series of short texts that cast light on one another, rather like the components of a poem. They align artworks, myth, strange voyages, scientific scrutiny, reminiscence and an artist’s response. They also feature those who have had most bearing on my thinking: John Locke, Virginia Woolf, William Morris, Henry Fox Talbot, Eva Hesse, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and Francis Bacon. I’ve followed all this back through my notebooks and found the moments when something they observed or made shaped me.

I’m also undertaking a series of conversations with scientists and artists, which will be embedded here as moments of live exchange. I’ve focused on what they reveal while talking about their work of how they think and observe.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages190
Publication statusIn preparation - 1 May 2023


Research outputs

ID: 33129961