Unseen: The Lives of Looking presents acclaimed contemporary artist Dryden Goodwin’s first feature-length film, in the striking space of the 17th-century Queen’s House, alongside an exhibition of related drawings and artefacts.

The newly commissioned film continues Goodwin’s long-term investigations into portraiture and focuses on three individuals at the forefront of their professions, each of whom have a compelling relationship to ‘looking’: an eye surgeon (Sir Peng Tee Khaw); a planetary explorer (Professor Sanjeev Gupta); and a human rights lawyer (Rosa Curling).

Unseen: The Lives of Looking combines live action and original soundtrack with drawing and animated intervention. It follows a poetically and visually charged journey through looking at different scales, in different forms and for different reasons. Given intimate access to observe the working lives of these professionals, Goodwin charts each close encounter through his intense drawing and filmmaking activity. He considers both the physical act of looking, how we perceive the world around us and the imaginative leaps taken to comprehend what might be concealed or out of sight.

In the film’s episodic structure we follow the three modern professionals. We experience the eye surgeon’s dexterity and powers of empathy, working with the diseased eye and the fragility of sight, as his patients face the prospect of regaining or losing vision. We look at the planetary explorer, working with NASA. He uses his geological knowledge of the Earth to explore the Martian surface through the eyes of Curiosity Rover in a quest to find evidence of life-sustaining environments beyond our own. We see the human rights lawyer’s relentless scrutiny of public law, questioning governmental mass surveillance programmes and supporting individuals who challenge the state.

Alongside the screening of the film, Unseen: The Lives of Looking brings together the drawings made by Goodwin from direct observation of the three individuals at work, as well as a selection of the tools and papers of each of their trades.

The exhibition also presents objects connected to a triptych of leading observers from the history of the Royal Museums Greenwich sites: two astronomers and an artist. John Flamsteed was the first British Astronomer Royal and laid the foundations for the work of the Royal Observatory Greenwich; Edward Maunder observed Mars from the Observatory and conducted visual studies with the help of pupils from the Royal Hospital School, then located at Greenwich; and the artist Willem van de Velde the Elder made detailed drawings of naval battles in preparation for producing paintings in his studio at the Queen’s House.

With Unseen: the Lives of Looking Dryden Goodwin brings the act of close observation back to Greenwich, linking the modern day innovators to the pioneers of the past.

Creation of the film has been supported by an Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust, alongside funding from Royal Museums Greenwich, Arts Council England and Red Bee Media.