May 28, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

An art and science collaboration that takes you into the largest particle physics laboratory in the world; CERN

Here at I,Science, we love mixing art and science – because why can’t things be both academically rigorous and aesthetically pleasing?! Luckily, Art and Science students from Central Saint Martin’s agree with us, and have put on exhibition bringing together contemporary art and science, creating works in response to a class trip to CERN. The students got to meet particle and theoretical physicists and engineers, as well as have lectures and explore the accelerators. I,Science spoke with three of the artists, Victoria, Helen and Reggy, who told us all about their trip and the exhibition.

“There was a Quantum knitting group, and physics themed lunches. There’s lots of humour, culture and art there. It’s an important part of CERN.” Helen explained, “You’d imagine it to be alienating and soulless and just a big machine, but it’s got a rich community there.”

Victoria added, “We had a specially tailored lecture from the theoretical physicist John Ellis, which was laden with art. He’s actually very interested in art, but it isn’t usually something he can explore – although his daughter works in an art gallery!”

Victoria was interested by the role that creativity plays in being a theoretical physicist, and the need to think uniquely and outside the box. She believes that there are a lot of parallels between how artists and theoretical scientists explore their ideas. To investigate this more, Victoria created a soundscape in an isolation booth, to relax people, helping them to access their subconscious. Before the trip to CERN she asked artists to draw what they felt when thinking about atoms, whilst in the booth. She then did the same with scientists at CERN. Taking the images of each of the two groups, she used algorithms to combine the images to make one picture for each; atoms according to artists, and atoms according to scientists.

Reggy, on the other hand, looked at the amazing symmetry and geometry that can be found at the particle accelerator. She said, “I took pictures all around CERN which represented these concepts.” Giving I,Science a sneak-peak at some of the images, she explained how focussing in on smaller areas can often tell you more; the intricacies of the structures or details on buttons and walls.

But, looking at the much bigger picture, Helen’s work considers the concepts of time and the shape of the universe. She thought about how scientists measure these elements, for example through signals, and integrated this with her wider ideas. One of the pieces she showed to I,Science was a Mobius strip of points, each of the points relating to our cosmic structure. The Mobius strip can be fed through a wind-up music box, so you can play the sound of the universe!

Clearly there’s going to be a lot to see, as Helen explained, “There’s 19 of us in quite a small space – it will really hit you when you go in – high impact! We will all be working together to make sure it works but at the same time the pieces can stand alone.”

So, what will the exhibition say as a whole? Reggy, Helen and Victoria all spoke about the importance of bridging the gap between art and science, to make science more accessible to everyone. They also felt that we should be showing the humanity in science more often. “Of course, it’s also giving people a chance to learn more about CERN.” Reggy said.

“The universe is so amazing and wondrous, and the work in science is currently our only way in to understanding. We hope this exhibition will allow people to take a moment to stop and think about the work and maybe even to ponder our existence.” Helen added.

I,Science think it sounds absolutely great, and if you do too, then head to the Four Corners Gallery in Bethnal Green, 14-17 June, 10am-6pm. Free admission.

CSM x CMS logo

Madeleine Finlay is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London

Image: event banner, Four Corners