Sunday, September 12, 2010

Art Imitating Hard Science

Inspired by the physics of Fermilab on a recent tour with physicist Teppei Katori, joint curators Chuck Przybyl and Edyta Stepien have encouraged a pose of artists to create an ensemble fit for showcasing the universe.

Hard Science - Any of the natural or physical sciences wherein facts or truths are derived from empirical investigations or experiments based on scientific method.

Unlike scientists of other disciplines, particle physicists perceive their work through mathematical equations, charts, models and various computer generated data sets. Whilst this method of communication is useful for those in the know, the message would be lost on anyone outside of this particular realm.

Appreciating this fact and the overwhelming drive to be able to visualise all this information Chuck and Edyta realised the potential of the theories and experiments of Fermilab to be communicated through contemporary conceptual art.

Bellow are some of my favourite pieces from the Hard Science Exhibit.

by Edyta Stepien
Strings | Ink & Graphite on Paper | Edyta Stepien | Chicago Art Department
Like art, string theory is abstract, controversial and an interpretation of the universe. As its propagators grappled with the complexities of uniting and mimicking the laws of gravity and those of elementary particles its development took on an art like process as additions over the years were painted in, detailing more of the universes into the theory. However Its failure to predict any quantifiable experimental predictions whilst also proving helpful in unrelated areas of mathematics and physics continues to draw criticism and applause.

How appropriate then that art should try to conceptualise the theory in an effort to encourage dialogue and exploration by the wider public.

In "Strings", Edyta brings the theoretical sub sub atomic world to view in a simple portrayal of the chaotic yet formal behaviour of these supposed one dimensional objects.

by Teppei Katori
Eyes | photomultiplier tubes & clay | Teppei Katori Chicago Art Department
Exploring his artistic side and drawing on his physics knowledge Katori focused on communicating the importance of the photomultiplier to his main domain of partical physics. As individual packages of light emitted by high energy experiments are often too weak to detect by ordinary means, a photomultiplier which uses the principles of the photoelectric effect and second emission, is used to multiply the current induced by photon absorption by up to 100 million times.

As Katori explains, "It’s like an eyeball for the physicist". Using this analogy, Katori conceived the work "Eyes" as a pair of photomultiplier tubes that extrude veins or nerves from their back, much like a human pair of eyes, emphasising the tubes as extensions of the human form.

by Edyta Stepien
Anticipation | Ink and Graphite on Paper | Edyta Stepien | Chicago Art Department
The great expense of machines, such as the Tevatron at Fermilab, in both their construction and use is all to the purpose of slamming the smallest pieces of matter in the universe into each other and watching the chaos unfold. As higher velocities are achieved, the particles mass increases due to the mass energy equivalence principle and the possibility of finding an unknown or only so far theorised particle increases.

When the particles finally slam together the total mass/energy is released in the form of various other particles but prior to this event, it is unknown exactly what will be found.

Depicting this anticipation Edyta has drawn upon the intense energy built up prior to the impact as seen in the lines of force warping around each particle and the intense compression between them. However the frame is frozen in time and the final result is not yet known. Will we finally see the elusive Higgs boson?

by Chuck Przybyl
Uni | Screen Print on Acrylic | Chuck Przybyl | Chicago Art Department
The promise of String Theory was that it was going to unite the laws of physics, primarily gravity, with that of elementary particle physics. That promise started to wane when not two or three but five different string theories emerged for contender of the title of The Theory of Everything. It took the brilliance of Ed Witten to show the world of physics how they were all talking about the same thing in a slightly different language. The result, M Theory.

Now the promise of the unification of the laws of physics are as strong as ever as depicted in Chuck Przybyl's portrayal of the task that M-Theory and the unified field theories face in uniting the four fundamental forces. Uni clearly defines the task of unification as the bringing together of world of the small (Quantum Mechanics) with the world of the big (General Relativity). Also apparent is that Gravity remains the one force yet to be unified as opposed to the Strong, Weak and Electromagnetic forces which have been unified under quantum electrodynamics and quantum chromodynamics.

Unification, if achieved, will be the greatest accomplishment of mankind and some believe that it is within the next generations grasp. So whilst we may have to wait a little longer for physics to get it's act together, we can all surrender to the beauty of science and the human mind in the unification of art and science at the Chicago Art Department.

But Wait, There's more! Although I was only able to feature a few artists in this post, the Hard Science exhibit displayed the wares of so many others and more from the same artists I've had the pleasure of introducing.

I recommend the floor installation, which depicts the distribution of matter and dark matter of the universe, Heavy Particle which imagines the form of the Higgs Boson, If Only I Could Get My Hands On The Raw Data and Torus

I'd like to thank the Chicago Art Department along with Chuck who agreed to let me use their images in this blog.

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