Interview with Artist Luci Eldridge

We spoke to artist Luci Eldridge about her practice and research trip to NASA which forms the basis of her joint exhibition at Phoenix from 10 June - 31 July.

What was it that first triggered your relationship with printmaking?

I first became involved in printmaking during the first year of my BA at Loughborough University. I had painted before, but looking back the relationship with printmaking was always strong in the images I was using, and how I was using them – I mean in terms of layering, repetition, deconstruction and the break down of information through different processes.

It wasn’t until the third year of my BA that I decided printmaking was more in tune with my thinking, and I started using it as my primary medium. At that time my work looked at the breakdown of the digitally projected image of Google Earth landscapes, and four-colour photo-etching and screen-print seemed a much more effective medium to work with.

You recently went on a trip to NASA as part of your research. That must have been really exciting! What did you get up to?

I’m writing my PhD on immersive image forms used in Mars exploration. The writing is broken up into chapters that look at panoramas, 3D imaging, false colour imaging, and ‘Mars Yards’.

I am now in the third year of my PhD and for the first couple of years I had spent time researching at the Regional Planetary Imaging Facility at University College London, visited the Mars Yard being used to test ESA’s (European Space Agency) ExoMars rover, and interviewed various scientists and engineers at both ESA and NASA.

As my ideas gained clarity, it became clear that a visit to where all this went on would be fruitful for the progression of my research. As it was out of the question to go to Mars, I headed for the next best thing, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

‘Mars rover driver’ John Wright began my visit with a general tour of JPL; I was shown the developmental stages for the Mars rovers and where they were built, the control room, Curiosity’s Earth-bound twin, and the Mars Yard used to test it in. After the tour I sat with John and he showed me exactly how rovers are driven across the surface of Mars; using stereoscopic data from a pair of cameras, three-dimensional maps are constructed, enabling both scientific and driving planning.

Whilst at JPL I also spoke to visual imagers, and those developing the software used to process the images. This was a truly exciting experience; a real behind-the-scenes glance into the workings of JPL.

Framed Expanse

As my research looks at how different image forms are used for the virtual exploration of Mars, I also arranged a visit to NASA Ames in California’s Silicon Valley. Ames’s Human Systems and Integration division develop advanced systems of control and display for planetary missions, so this was my main point of contact.

I was given the chance to experience head-mounted displays developed for perception tests and most memorably, a 360 degree panorama of Mars in what’s called Future Flight Central.

FFC is generally used by the Federal Aviation Administration to simulate control towers at airports, but it has also been used by scientists and software developers to experience and explore immersive images of Mars. It was thrilling to be able to see the image of Mars on such a scale, and to witness first hand the similarity such an illusion has with painted panoramas of the 19th century. I have made a four colour photo-etching from one of the images I took in this facility, which will be in our exhibition Framed Expanse.

At Ames I also spent some time with the Intelligent Robotics Group, where I spoke to engineers about the development of rovers and the software onboard, and spent time taking photographs and hearing about their ‘Roverscape’, which is quite different from the one ESA are using.

I was asked to do a talk at Ames, and I spoke about my research on stereoscopic imaging to a group of scientists and engineers. This experience was incredibly fruitful, providing different insights and questions about my research. It was also uplifting to see my research so well received by a scientific community who work with these images on a day to day basis.

Framed Expanse Luci Eldgridge

The connection between technology and printmaking seems to be important to your practice. What technological shift do you think has had the greatest effect on printmaking recently?

I think 3D printing is a really exciting area – to be able to build a virtual model on the computer and output it to a machine that makes a physical object has so many possibilities.

I love how many of these machines build up layers and layers to compose the object, very much like making a print! Obviously the developments in digital printmaking are having a big effect too, but I do hope the more archaic processes like etching and lithography can be held onto.


What are the joint concerns between yours and Meg’s work? 

Meg and I are both interested in the digital representation and re-construction of landscape. In both our practices we recapitulate the digital within handmade processes – with mine it’s etching and screen-print, with Meg it’s woodcut prints and handmade textiles. We seem to both be interested in how more explicitly digital works (like inkjet prints or computer renderings) can sit alongside more handmade pieces and the kinds of dialogues and juxtapositions this combination creates.

Technologies mediate our experience of landscape, we see through eyes of machines and our work questions these technological visions. It’s curious how we both focus on landscapes that are intangible; for Meg it’s the sky, as imaged in Google Street View, made visible only because of the Earth’s atmosphere and the way light from the sun enters through it.

I am interested in the physical landscape of Mars: although there is a definite terrain – there are rocks and sand – the images of this landscape remain without referent. It won’t be until at least 2030 that humans will step foot on Mars, and even then it’ll be a very select number of hyper-trained astronauts! It’s a landscape that’s within reach of our visual comprehension but out of reach of our bodily perception – this is what’s so fascinating about the images of Mars: we can see but we cannot ever hope to touch.

You recently spent some time making work for this show at the new building of our friends and neighbours Leicester Print Workshop.  How have you found your time working in the new facility?

I’ve loved it. Having spent the last two and a half years sat in front of the computer writing away, it was refreshing to get back into making properly. The new facility is brilliant – there’s much more space and it’s so light!

It was great to meet other members and chat about the work and the upcoming show. I’m excited to see the Small Print exhibition – I saw a couple of people editioning their prints for that. The technical team are so supportive and gave me loads of really useful advice – I’d definitely like to continue working there.


Have you noticed a change in the arts scene in Leicester since your time at University?

I think there is more going on – there seem to be more shows and more critical discussion around making art. LPW and Two Queens are a great resource – their studios and seminar programmes are essential. There’s also the Attenborough Art Centre (where LPW’s Smallprint is) and Phoenix, and of course the football! The creative atmosphere has certainly increased since I left Loughborough – it’s a super exciting city for an artist right now.

Framed Expanse runs from the 10 June – 31 July in the Cube Gallery