In 2002, Valerie Laws acheived world-wide notoriety when she received a Northern Arts grant to spray paint words on to sheep, for a project which bridged art and science, creating random poetry and at the same time illustrating the workings of the universe.
The sheep, which belonged to Donald Slater of Whitehouse Farm Centre, Morpeth, Northumberland, were sprayed, using the paint with which farmers traditionally mark their flocks, with the words of a "haik-ewe":
CLOUDS GRAZE THE SKY;They were then left to graze, and the poems formed as they wandered into different patterns were noted down. Some examples are:
BELOW, SHEEP DRIFT GENTLE
OVER FIELDS, SOFT MIRRORS,
WARM WHITE SNOW.
SNOW CLOUDS THE SKY,
GENTLE SHEEP GRAZE;
SOFT WHITE MIRRORS BELOW
WARM DRIFT, GRAZE GENTLE,
WHITE BELOW THE SKY;
SOFT SHEEP, MIRRORS,
SHEEP BELOW DRIFT,
SOFT SNOW CLOUDS;
WARM MIRRORS GRAZE
WHITE,THE SKY GENTLE.
Not only did the sheep produce random poetry (a form which Valerie has since explored further, with - among other things - poetry bingo, and beach balls in a swimming pool), they also demonstrated the principles of quantum mechanics. Valerie explained: "Quantum mechanics is a branch of physics which a lot of people find hard to understand, as it seems to go against common sense.
"Randomness and uncertainty is at the centre of how the universe is put together, and is quite difficult for us as humans who rely on order.
"So I decided to explore randomness and some of the principles of quantum mechanics, through poetry, using the medium of sheep."
Quantum Sheep was an entirely serious project, but Valerie was not disconcerted that some of the reports took it less than seriously; some of her poems are intended to make people laugh. Donald Slater (the farmer whose sheep they were) commented that "After last year's devastation (of foot-and-mouth) we all needed cheering up and this might just do it."
Inevitably, Valerie has now published a collection with the title Quantum Sheep.