Guest post by Fergus Horan, a seventeen-year-old student from the City of London School who joined art@CMS for two weeks as part of his internship at CERN. He offers a critical view of the work done at art@CMS.
On 24 June, the CMS experimental site hosted Circulez, a series of artworks from art@CMS, which is an education and outreach programme that is composed of exhibitions, school workshops and lectures and which has experienced great success over the last two and a half years. Seven hundred visitors had the opportunity to see a variety of artworks by international artists working with different media. These included a video showing shots of CMS being vibrated and distorted by sonified LHC data (Chris Henschke, The Nature of the Apparatus ), photos depicting CMS and CERN physicists explaining what they are most passionate about (Bree Corn, Passionate About), and live rap by London-based musicians. All this took place in a space 100 metres above the CMS detector, the inspiration for all the individual art pieces. The intention of the exhibition was to both reveal the beauty of the science going on at CMS and create a dialogue between physics at CMS and the arts in the wake of the recent restart of the LHC at 13 TeV.
In general, interdisciplinary projects often run the risk of seeming distinctly forced and ineffective for a number of reasons. There remain misunderstandings of the fields involved, resulting in projects that follow a patronising structure in which one field dictates how the other(s) should behave. Another challenge is finding exactly what one wants to gain from an interdisciplinary project, as there are endless lists of academic and non-academic fields that could potentially have some sort of value when discussed collectively. It is therefore easy to become tired of projects that claim to have provided a new view of a particular field. I would like to explain how I believe that art@CMS has fulfilled its aims of forming an effective dialogue between the arts and sciences, and why I believe that is valuable.
Working as an intern for art@CMS, I was fortunate to meet all of the artists whose works were exhibited at Circulez and discuss their pieces and how they came to be. Some of the artists, like Andy Charalambous, had a background in the sciences and were interested in taking functional scientific concepts to show their intrinsic beauty. In Charalambous’s case that was the simple elegance of a Feynman diagram (Sculptures IV). Some artists, however, had no background in the sciences, and it was really the effort invested in trying to grasp the intricacies of physics that was most significantly unique to art@CMS. Instead of superficially appropriating scientific terminology, the artists displayed concepts that are fascinating to all observers. This was partially down to the fantastic effort put in by the collaborating scientists who took time to discuss their work in an effort to clarify and celebrate the beauty of physics. An example of this is Lindsay Olson’s series with Don Lincoln, No Fixed Point, a series that shows through textiles a study of the Standard Model, its implications and incompleteness.
The exhibition was enhanced the dramatic setting and the life-size image of the CMS detector in all of its radiant colour. I think that, in addition to the presence of fascinating artwork, the true success of art@CMS can be measured in the reactions of those observing it. Physicists stopped and asked the creators how the art was made and why, while non-physicists asked the physicists around them what was being represented. This for me demonstrates the strengthening of the dialogue between the arts and sciences, and the creation of something in addition to the value of art in itself.
Another key element of the exhibition was the inclusion of artworks from students at the International School of Geneva (ECOLINT). Not only did it provide an excellent opportunity for students to have their artworks displayed, the work that they were a part of is a symbol of art@CMS promoting a model of “bottom-up” change.By encouraging and involving students, they can become more open-minded artists and designers with functional skills in sciences and engineering. It is also important to see art’s method of expression as eye-opening for a larger number of students who may so far seen physics as repeating and applying equations in class. A project like art@CMS can draw more students into the sciences by revealing scientific ideas in an innovative way. It is clear that the students have a strong grasp of the materials they are discussing both in a scientific sense and an artistic one. This is particularly shown in the wit of the God Particle Soup piece by Clelia Anchisi. Workshops like the ones done at ECOLINT have been running internationally, including 300 students across six countries, and have led to the creation of incredible works of art.
In this way I believe that the original challenges made to interdisciplinary work are addressed by a model like the one art@CMS has, due to the aim not being the production of a middle ground that respects neither field, but instead a dialogue that can benefit both fields. This is not a “top-down” enforcement of a way of thinking, but rather the cultivation of an interest in the arts and sciences that might not otherwise be able to flourish.