“The Sun, the Moon, the Earth and its contents are material to form greater things, that is, ethereal things - greater things than the Creator himself has made” - John Keats, 1817
Panel speakers: Fiona Crisp, Nahum Mantra, Tara Shears, Suchitra Sebastian
Moderator: Nicola Triscott
Many areas of contemporary science - including cosmology, particle physics and astrophysics - operate at scales and levels of complexity that lie beyond the imaginative and cognitive grasp of most people. Historically, Western culture measured space and time through the body, but over the centuries science and technology have pursued knowledge beyond the edges of bodily perception, from the macro extremes of the multiverse to the micro-scale of the sub-atomic world. If so much knowledge comes through scientific instruments and mathematics, how can we humans - biological sensing beings that the philosopher John Dewey refers to as the “live creature” – make sense of it within our own experience?
When Dewey wrote Art as Experience (1934), he was attempting to shift the understanding of what is important and characteristic about art from its physical manifestations in the “object” to the process in its entirety, a process whose fundamental element is no longer the material “work of art” but rather the development of an “experience”, an experience being something that personally affects your life. In this discussion event, a panel of artists and physicists will apply a similar shift in perspective to understanding physics as a practical, experienced reality, rather than an abstract set of facts or concepts.
Astrophysics and particle physics probe the limits of the known, the limits of language and concept, and present a kind of abstraction or transcendence that can free us from commonsensical thinking. Yet they are undertaken by human beings in real world laboratories and observatories. Artists can reveal and explore phenomena, ideas and histories of discovery outside everyday human experience, making us able to sense and experience them or in some way grasp their significance, as well as providing insight into the physical and material spaces of science and the human beings whose work is to study the fundamental science of the universe.
This panel discussion forms part of a research project initiated by artist and academic Fiona Crisp with Arts Catalyst. Crisp’s Leverhulme-funded research project employs non-documentary photography and film to bring science back within our world as experience by using still and moving imagery to place us in a bodily relation to the physical spaces and laboratories where fundamental science is performed.
Fiona Crisp is Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria University, Newcastle and her work is represented by Matt’s Gallery, London. Her current Leverhulme-funded Fellowship, Material Sight: Representing the Spaces of Fundamental Science, uses non-documentary photography and video to interrogate extremes of visual and imaginative representation in fundamental science and technology. Based at three world-leading research facilities, including the Laboratori Nazionale del Gran Sasso in Italy, the research places artistic production in the spaces where experimental and theoretical science is performed, foregrounding the “site” or laboratory as a social, cultural, and political space where meaning is shaped and constructed rather than received or observed.
Nahum is an artist and musician. His work focuses on creating alternative and unconventional perspectives of human experience by using outer space technology, illusionism and other strategies. He has directed a microgravity mission for artistic purposes entitled Matters of Gravity at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia. Since 2015 he chairs the International Astronautical Federation Committee for the Cultural Utilisations of Space. Nahum is the founding director of KOSMICA, a global institute that focuses on the cultural, critical and artistic aspects of outer space activities and their impact on Earth. KOSMICA has ongoing activities in Mexico City, London, Paris and Berlin. It has produced over 20 festivals with 180 space professionals and cultural practitioners worldwide. Nahum is a fellow of the National System of Art Creators, National Fund for Culture and Arts in Mexico. In 2014 he won the Young Space Leader award for his cultural contributions to outer space activities. Since 2015 he is a visiting lecturer at the International Space University (ISU) and is an associate artist at the Arts Catalyst, London.
Professor Tara Shears is an experimental particle physicist and Professor of Physics at the University of Liverpool. Her research focuses on testing the limits of our understanding of particle physics, using data collected by the LHCb experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. She is interested in understanding why that there is so little antimatter in the Universe, where and how our current understanding breaks down, and what lies beyond it. She is also interested in how some of the unseen, non-intuitive aspects of physics can be experienced and visualised, and how art can provide a different, illuminating angle.
Dr Suchitra Sebastian holds an MS and PhD in Applied Physics from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad). She moved to the University of Cambridge as a Junior Research Fellow in Physics at Trinity College. From 2010, she is a Royal Society University Research Fellow in Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory, and from 2013 a University Lecturer in Physics. Suchitra was named as one of thirty 'Exceptional Young Scientists' by the World Economic Forum in 2013 and one of the top ten 'Next big names in Physics' by the Financial Times. She received the L'Oreal-UNESCO fellowship for women in science in 2013, among other awards including the Lee-Osheroff-Richardson Prize (2007); Young Scientist Medal in Magnetism (2012); Moseley Medal (2012); Philip Leverhulme Prize (2015); and Brian Pippard Prize (2015). Her research pertains to novel and exotic physical phenomena such as superconductivity, which emerge from quantum mechanical effects. She is particularly interested in public engagement and communicating science in accessible ways. She is the Director of Cavendish Arts-Science Project.
The Leverhulme Trust