CERN

On two occasions now, a group of students from the MA Art and Science course have visited CERN, engaging in a collaborative relationship with various physicists and engineers that reside there. It appears to be the perfect place to explore how art and science collide. 

During the first visit, we were introduced to the CERN complex, including the old-school décor, the statue of Lord Shiva, amusing posters and streets named after Nobel Prize winning scientists like ‘Route Marie Curie’ and ‘Route Rutherford’.

We were also given a brief history CERN. With regards to the acronym, it stands for ‘Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire’ in French or the ‘European Council for Nuclear Research’. It was founded in 1954, as a world-class physics research organization in Europe that aimed to further understanding of what constitutes an atom, hence the word ‘nuclear’. Owing to the negative connotations of this word and because the research now goes further, concerning the constituents of matter (not just atoms) and the forces between them, it now prefers to be known as the ‘European Organisation for Particle Physics’.

In terms of location, the CERN complex sits between the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It has 22 member states and over 11500 scientific users. The physicists and engineers at CERN are probing the fundamental structure of the universe, by studying basic particles, ‘protons’, which are made to collide together at close to the speed of light to provide clues about how they interact and what the outcome may be. 

The instruments that do this are ‘accelerators’, which boost beams of particles to high energies before they collide with each other, and ‘detectors’, which observe and record the results of these collisions.

There are 4 main experiments involving the LHC or ‘Large Hadron Collider’(an accelerator). The detectors and the objectives include: 

·      ALICE (the target is primordial cosmic plasma);

·      ATLAS and CMS (both discovered the “Higgs boson” and are exploring the forces that shape the universe); and 

·      LHCb (the focus is on defining matter and antimatter)

We found out that the mission of CERN focuses on the 3 factors, innovation, research and education:

1.    to push forward the frontiers of knowledge;

2.    to develop new technology; and

3.    to train the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.

cern-machine-protection-systems-5-728.jpg

The slogan is ‘Science for Peace’. 

Further to this, the 3 main questions the work at CERN aims to answer are those that humanity has been asking since its conception, as expressed in Paul Gauguin’s renowned painting, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”. 

where-do-we-come-from-what-are-we1.jpg

We visited the site of the first hadron collider in the 1960’s. It was fascinating to see their raw materials, including a typewriter and chalk board, highlighting the magnitude of their invention. Moreover, our guide also directed us through an important corridor – where the World Wide Web was first developed by Tim Berners-Lee and his group in 1991. 

One of the days, we crossed the border into France to visit the much-anticipated CMS or ‘Compact Muon Solenoid’ particle detector.  We found out that it was a huge challenge to set up, taking six and a half years, finishing in February 2005. CMS itself is like a cylindrical onion built around the beam pipe, cut up into 15 slices (2000 tonnes each); these were assembled and tested above the surface, then lowered 100m underground.  

To see the colossal experiment therefore, we took an elevator, 100m underground. Before we entered the main cavern, we noticed a curious entity; it looked like a floor mat, however it was white, and footprints could vividly be seen on it. Michael Hoch, an artist at CERN explained that is was an art experiment, involving white sticky paper, therefore footprints would inevitably stain. It was an expression of how the many people that visit CMS, each with their unique footprint, can be compared to the unique results of each proton collision. 

When we got into the CMS cavern, the scale and intricacy of the detector was astounding – beautiful on both technical and aesthetic levels.   

We also experienced the AMS ‘Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’ control centre. This involves a particle detector, looking for dark matter, antimatter and missing matter from a module on the International Space Station. 

A memorable part was a talk from Dr Piotr Traczyk, a physicist at CERN, about how it is possible to detect a new particle using Einstein’s theory about energy. He used the Higgs Boson discovery as the example, explaining that there are 4 steps involved: creation, decay, detection and analysis. 

1.    After the collision of the protons in the LHC, a new particle, the ‘Higgs Boson’ was created, with a mass 120 x that of one proton.

2.    The Higgs Boson instantly decayed (after 10-2 seconds) into two photons 

3.    This ‘debris’ of the initial collision was detected using CMS and ATLAS

4.    From analysing the data, concerning the measure of product decay on a graph, it was clear that there was an uneven distribution, leading to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

Another day, we visited LEAR or the ‘Low Energy Antiproton Ring’, which built in 1982 and operated until 1996. This cooled and decelerated protons for use in experiments. It was then converted into the Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR), which now provides lead-ion injection for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

It was interesting to see the old machinery and how instead of being destroyed, it has been updated to suit the current technology. Our guide told us about a particularly interesting old art experiment, which you can still see remnants of; an artist decided to make up random names like Decoherence hazard’ and stick signs up around the complex. Apparently, most of these were never questioned! 

One afternoon, we took part in a ‘cloud chamber’ workshop. We found out that a cloud chamber is a particle detector used for detecting ionizing radiation. It involves a sealed environment containing a supersaturated water or alcohol vapour. The fluid becomes ionized when a charged particle (for example, an alpha or beta particle) interacts with the mixture. A mist typically forms as the resulting ions act as condensation nuclei and a trail is left behind from charged particles. The tracks have distinctive shapes; for example, an alpha particle creates a broad, straight trail and an electron creates a thin, curved trail. Furthermore, if a uniform magnetic field is applied across the chamber, positively and negatively charged particles will curve in opposite directions. 

We put some dry ice in an insulating container; covered this with a mat; poured isopropyl alcohol around the mat and sealed this with a large lid that had a sponge attached to the top. After turning the lights off, and using a flashlight to view the experiment, we noticed the beautiful trails created by the charged particles.  

Naturally, as artists, we were drawn to art and quickly located the two exhibition spaces at CERN, ‘the Globe’ and ‘Microcosm’. Adjacent to the Globe, there was a fascinating metal sculpture that looked like a scroll unravelling from afar. As you got closer, it became clear that there were numbers, figures and characters etched into it. On one side, there were dates, equations and diagrams of historical and modern-day scientific discoveries and innovations, including the standard model equation and particles, as well as the periodic table elements and the masses. On the other side of this edifice were the names of the scientists involved in these discoveries…a beautiful artistic tribute to science and furthering knowledge. 

Inside the Globe were interactive games, videos and chair pods fitted with sound installations explaining the work being done at CERN.

Microcosm, similarly illustrated the processes involved in colliding and detecting protons, as well as other endeavours like the CLOUD experiment. It also involved a life size sculpture of CMS, which we exploited for group photo purposes. 

15492455_10154857384376834_8572405770760182568_n.jpg

On the last day, we visited the ‘IDEASquare’. This is a test facility at CERN that hosts detector research and development projects, bringing together physicists, visiting students and external project collaborators to generate new ideas and work on conceptual prototypes. It promotes engagement in a collective space. It was described by Markus Nordberg, who gave us a talk about it, as an experiment to explore whether innovation can be delivered at a marginal cost, as the activities are not covered by the CERN budget.  

Lastly, we had a talk by Professor John Ellis, a theoretical physicist based at King’s College London and CERN. He highlighted the need for creativity in his field in order to be able to develop new and potentially absurd theories about the universe. He suggested that the notion of polarised light in the sky has been mapped beautifully and vividly resembles Van Gogh’s sky in ‘Starry Night’. It seems from examples such as this, that there must be an intrinsic link between creativity and innovation. 

His mutual appreciation of art and science pleasantly summed up the first trip.

The second trip involved specific trips and workshops organised by the students. A highlight includes a visit to the CLOUD or ‘Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets’ experiment at CERN. This involves an advanced cloud chamber to study the possible link between galactic cosmic rays (charged particles from outer space), biogenic vapours from trees and cloud formation. It is suggested that cosmic rays may influence cloud cover either through the formation of new aerosols (tiny particles suspended in the air that can grow to form seeds for cloud droplets). Tiny changes in the clouds can affect the Earth’s climate, therefore learning about how they develop is important. 

We also had the chance to visit an extremely sterile zone where silicon sheets are created; these are subsequently fitted to the particle accelerators. 

Overall, the visits have been enlightening and inspiring. We plan to host an exhibition in the next few months exploring our collaborative experiences with CERN. 

Why do we need trees?

I think my affinity for trees was cultivated from my upbringing in New Zealand; I don’t remember it, but there are many photos of 5-year-old me sitting in the tree at the bottom of our garden. Since, I have enjoyed photographing trees, learning about the different species, using trees as creative subjects and I even have a tree tattoo on my ankle. 

When I found out that The Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London was organising an outreach workshop about trees for the Imperial Science Festival…and needed creative assistance, I was eager to take part. In March, MAAS student, Olivia Bargman (‘Liv’) and I met PhD candidate Susanne Raum at Imperial College for a briefing about the project. 

We decided to direct the stand and activities towards a younger audience. In particular, the objective was to encourage children that live in urban settings to consider the benefits of trees. As there is frequently said to be less exposure to the natural environment for children today compared with ten years ago, Susanne wanted to evoke a fun, yet informative experience. 

The festival took place on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 April. Adorned in ivy headdresses and dressed like trees, perhaps it was our attire that attracted attention, as our stand was teaming with visitors for the entirety of the festival. Activities included a poster designed by Liv of an urban scene with missing gaps for visitors to fill in, concerning how trees affect our lives. There was also a series of boxes with everyday manufactured and organic objects including: cork, paper, pinecones, acorns, ivy, fruit and bark. The visitors were encouraged to touch the items. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, several children had never seen or touched an acorn! 

Next, visitors were able to observe illustrated plates from an old book of mine to learn about the features (leaves, flowers and habits) of several tree species that are native to the U.K., including: Oak, Ash, Sycamore, Beech, Birch and Elm. Accompanying the plates were collated descriptions, historical references and stories about the trees. For example, ‘the burning of the Yule log of Oak is an ancient custom which we trace to Druid times’. 

In the following activity, visitors were able to experience being a part of a tree through my VR installation, ‘Eyes of a Tree’, which involved 360 degree videos of various views around Finsbury Park, from the perspective of different trees. Despite the rather stationary videos, concerningly, a few of the children claimed that the experience was exhilarating, with one comparing it to a ‘roller-coaster ride’. 

Luckily, my trepidations about the visitors’ addictive immersion in the VR techno-world, were lessened somewhat, as it seemed that the tree appreciation message was put across during the last activity on the stand. This involved writing down or sketching what they had learned from the stand and how their attitude to trees had changedon paper in the shape of a leaf (their pledge to trees). This was hung on a fake tree. Several children wrote that ‘trees are cool!’ with drawings of them sitting in trees; and one visitor expressed delight at finding out what an acorn was. 

All things considered, the weekend was an exhausting, albeit, enlightening science outreach experience, allowing me to impart my affection for trees (there were even fake tree tattoos involved). 

Biochemical Society and MAAS engagement day

What happens when a group of artists plan a day of activities for a group of scientists? 

If you had peeped into Central Saint Martins’ MA Art and Science (‘MAAS’) studio on Tuesday 27 February 2018, you might have experienced this strange union. From ‘show-and-tell’ to a ‘poetry before lunch’, ‘tai-chi and yoga’ to the ‘sensory studio’, when MAAS students invited members of the Biochemical Society into their world, there were some surprising outcomes. 

The day kicked off with tea, biscuits and a (strictly timed) one-minute introduction from everyone involved using an object that best describes their work. Each artist and scientist could either pick their own object or someone else’s to aid their introduction, which led to some amusing interpretations of certain items. 

This was followed by an exercise that involved mixed groups of artists and scientists answering non-specific questions, such as: ‘What shape does your work take?’ and ‘Would unlimited time and resources enhance your work?’. As expected the artists and scientists explored the questions from different perspectives according to their work. Both disciplines, however were equally dubious of the latter question, revealing shared conscientious and cynical attributes. 

Poetry before lunch was next, which pushed everyone out of their comfort zones. With each member of the group writing a line of each other’s poems, this quickly escalated from a contemplative task into a myriad of eccentric narratives.  

After a delightful vegetarian buffet, the group jumped straight back in (literally) with afternoon yoga and tai-chi, to get the energy (and food) moving. 

This was followed by the ‘sensory studio’ workshop. An artist was paired with a scientist; the artist was blindfolded and asked to feel an unknown object; the artist described this to their scientist partner using descriptive rather than literal language; in response, the scientist sketched their interpretations of the object onto some paper. Subsequently, this was repeated using different smells with the scientists blindfolded and artists drawing. The results and interactions between the pairs during the activity were surprising, as many of the artists had an investigative approach to the exercise, whereas the scientists tended to use figurative language. 

After some ‘free time’, the group gathered to reflect on the day’s creative discourse. The intrigue and effortless conversation between the artists and scientists was noted, and further collaborative, experimental activities were planned.   

All in all, as the session concluded with the group mingling over wine, the disciplines of art and science – which are often considered counterparts – felt like old friends.

BLOOD

SGL mediators

Between July and November 2017, I was fortunate enough to work as a Mediator for Science Gallery London’s pop-up season, ‘BLOOD’. The role involved engaging the visitors in conversation about the artwork, events, workshops and performances. These were primarily collaborative endeavours between artists and scientists. 

The creative interpretations on the topic of blood were diverse and wide-ranging, including: Casey Jenkin’s piece, Bad Blood, focussing on social taboos concerning the menstrual cycle; Elaine Whittaker’s, The Swarm, exploring the battle against blood-borne tropical diseases like malaria; and Jordan Eagles’ activist piece, Blood Equality, concerning the debate on blood donation from sexually active gay, bisexual or transgender people. 

I am going to discuss a few creative processes that have inspired me during the season. 

The first is VR (‘virtual reality’), the medium for a piece called Waves of Grace(2015) by Gabo Arora & Chris Milk. It is a video chronicling the experiences of Decontee Davis, an Ebola survivor who uses her immunity to care for orphaned children in her Liberian village. This was my first VR experience. At first it was disorientating, but after a minute or so I became immersed in Decontee’s narration and the vivid scenes in Liberia. After 10 minutes, I was on the verge of tears and completely absorbed in the VR world. 

I decided to look into the VR process, as the headset did not look too complicated – merely requiring a Samsung phone and headphones. I discovered that Waves of Gracewas filmed using a 360ocamera, which stiches several perspectives together. This inspired my piece for a later exhibition, titled Eyes of a Tree (2017). 

Waves of Grace(2015) by Gabo Arora & Chris Milk

The second is an immersive performance, inspired by historical events, used for a piece called Take this for it is my body (2017), by indigenous Australian artist, S.J Norman. This initially appealed to me when someone mentioned that there were tea and scones involved. There was quite a twist when we were silently greeted by three performers that ushered us to our seats; we were then informed, through an introductory paragraph disguised in a menu that we would be taking part in the typically British colonial ritual of afternoon tea; however, the scones would have some blood in them. Yes, blood. 

The ritual had been appropriated and re-inscribed by the performers, evoking the actions of the artist’s great grandmother. She worked in the kitchen as a maid for a British settler and every day when it was time to make scones, she would knead the dough until her knuckles bled. So, the scones served to the British settlers literally had a hint of indigenous blood.

I found the whole experience fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The immersive, yet silent and eerie atmosphere, as our group of four were encouraged to take a seat and subsequently served the tea and scones; followed by the tense moment of decision regarding whether we would eat the bloody scones or leave them. 

The multi-sensory, interactive experience with an underlying narrative influenced me to look into and experiment with performance as a medium. Consequently, the pieces Introverted | Extraverted(2018) and Salutations(2018) involve a narrative structure and collaborative element with the audience. 

Take this for it is my body  (2017), S.J Norman

Take this for it is my body (2017), S.J Norman

The third process involves the use of physiological measurements to create the artwork. Cardiomorph(2017) is a collaboration between Dr Manasi Nandi, senior lecturer in Integrative Pharmacology at King’s College London, Professor Philip Aston (Mathematics, University of Surrey) and composer, Imran Ahmad. The participant listens to Ahmad’s Halloween inspired composition with a heart-rate monitor attached to their finger, which monitors how the participant’s heart and blood vessels adapt to changes in activity, posture and emotional state. A mathematical algorithm then converts the measurements into visuals on a screen.

It was interesting to view how my physiological mechanisms were responding in real-time to the music. This ability to visualise often intangible processes through bio-technological feedback loops has inspired me to experiment with heart rate and galvanic skin response (sweat production) monitors using an Arduino circuit for my degree show installation.

Cardiomorph  - Dr Manasi Nandi, Professor Philip Aston and Imran Ahmad (2017)

Cardiomorph - Dr Manasi Nandi, Professor Philip Aston and Imran Ahmad (2017)

Florence

With the culmination of the academic year, students from the MA Art and Science course at Central Saint Martins visited Florence to explore the birthplace of Art and Science.  The trip was a fascinating addition to the inter-disciplinary course comprised of students from diverse backgrounds. It seems that by the end of the week everyone had found an area of interest: from historical artefacts belonging to the notorious Medici to renowned Renaissance artworks, striking wax-work models to contemporary video art. In conjunction with the educational and cultural aspects, which supplemented our academic objectives, the beautiful weather coupled with one of the most undeniably beautiful cities allowed us to unwind after a hectic year.

group.png

Our first day involved visiting the Accademia de belle Arti di Firenze (Florence Academy of Fine Arts). Our tutor, Roberta Ballestriero introduced us to her acquaintance who works at the Accademia. She took us to the library, which was full of Renaissance relics. In particular, we were fortunate enough to see the original manuscript of Andreas Vesalius’ de Humani Corporis Fabrica(1543). As Vesalius is often considered the forefather of human anatomy, seeing his work was fascinating. We also witnessed the anatomical illustrations of the German painter, Albert Durer during a visit to Florence in 1500’s. It was interesting to observe how both the scientist (Vesalius) and artist (Durer) approached the topic of the human body in different ways; Vesalius’ figures were expressive and intricate, whilst Durer predominantly explored physiological proportion and measurements. 

After this, we had the opportunity to meet students currently studying at the Accademia, as well as visit their studios. Some of the MAAS students gave presentations explaining their work also, in a sort of artistic and cultural exchange. It was interesting and engaging to learn about each other’s practices and projects. We had lunch with the students at their canteen and exchanged contact details for potential future collaborations. 

In the afternoon, we were lucky enough to partake in a life drawing class at the Academia. Some of us were quite rusty, nevertheless, this was a great experience. 

The next day, Roberta took us to the Museo de la Specola, where we continued the anatomical observations, however, this time, the artefacts were 3-dimensional and made in the 18thCentury rather than from the 16thCentury. The items in question were anatomical wax models with idiosyncratic expressions. They were in equal measures tantalisingly beautiful examples of human artistry and utterly grotesque corporeal representations. We found out that the museum was first opened in 1775 to the public rather than solely the elite, highlighting that it was rather progressive for its time. We were also curious as to why the wax has not melted or the colours faded since then. Roberta explained that the cool building keeps the models solid, whilst the pigments are strong, therefore wax is a durable material to use. 

The curator of the Natural History Museum also gave us a guided tour of the observatory, which offered a delightful view of Florence. We were shown an instrument that used the sunlight and a pinhole to measure the earth’s movement. For astrology lovers, there were also references to the zodiac signs all around the room.  

Another highlight was a visit to Bill Viola’s exhibition, Electronic Renaissanceat the Palazzo Strozzi. This involved remarkable interactions between Renaissance masterpieces and contemporary video art, amalgamating and appreciating fine art mediums on a universal and timeless scale. 

Exhibition-Bill-Viola.jpg

During our spare time, we did some sight-seeing, making the most of exploring Florence and learning about the extensive historical and cultural attributes of the city. Some of us visited Michelangelo’s acclaimed David, the Duomo, the Medici Palace and Boboli gardens, Dante’s house and the Uffizi gallery, housing masterpieces like Botticelli’s Birth of Venusand Da Vinci’s Annunciation. Others preferred to delve into the contemporary art scene of Florence. 

Overall, the trip to Florence was inspiring and insightful, enlightening us about the origins of Art and Science as disciplines, along with how they have evolved since the Renaissance days.