Suzanne Treister and Semiconductor feature in ‘To The Edge of Time’ at KU Leuven
The exhibition showcases two works of art developed by the Collide–winning artists after their residency in the Laboratory – Suzanne Treister’s multimedia installation The Holographic Universe Theory of Art History and Semiconductor’s computer-generated animations of ATLAS Experiment’s data HALO 0.1 0.2 0.3.
From an interdisciplinary perspective, To the Edge of Time reveals the stories of the key scientific discoveries behind modern cosmology, bringing together modern and contemporary works of art with scientific artefacts. The show embarks on a journey starting from two critical stages of its development—Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and Georges Lemaître’s formulation of an expanding universe from a Big Bang. The story continues up to the most recent research, featuring contemporary scientific contributions such as Stephen Hawking’s final theory on the origin of the universe, which he worked on with KU Leuven’s Professor and co-curator of the exhibition Thomas Hertog.
Artists and scientists have the same drive to explore and reveal the shadows in our understanding of the complex world that surrounds us. To the Edge of Time includes scientists’ objects showing their unique processes and ideas, alongside works on paper, sound and data installation, sculpture, experimental photography and film. Time, space, the conditions for our existence, the construction of scientific data, and the nature of reality are explored from the point of view of scientific and artistic practices.
At CERN, artists come with myriad ways to question nature, from theoretical models to complex experimental scenarios. British artist Suzanne Treister’s multidisciplinary work engages with eccentric narratives and unconventional bodies of research, with an ongoing focus on the relationship between new technologies, society, alternative belief systems, and humanity's potential futures.
As the winner of the Collide Award in 2018, Treister arrived at the Laboratory with a question, ‘Is the holographic universe principle—the theory that our universe could be a vast and complex hologram—something that has been sought by artists since the beginning of our civilization?’. She explored this inquiry in collaboration with theoretical physicists, who mainly work on quantum gravity and black holes. Based on this artistic research, she hypothesises that, beyond acknowledged art historical contexts and imperatives, artists may have also been unconsciously attempting to describe the holographic nature of the universe.
The resulting artwork, The Holographic Universe Theory of Art History (THUTOAH), consists of a video projecting over 25,000 chronological images from art history, from cave painting to global contemporary art. Treister’s work echoes conceptually CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, by accelerating 25 images per second in a looped sequence.
The video installation is displayed with watercolours drawn by the CERN physicists that collaborated with her during the residency, including Wolfgang Lerche, Alessandra Gnecchi and John Ellis. The different drawings aim to describe the theoretical concepts behind the holographic universe principle. A new version of the accompanying soundtrack previously shown in the touring exhibition Quantum/Broken Symmetries was commissioned by KU Leuven. It features a conversation between Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog discussing their holographic theory of the universe.
Over the last twenty years, Brighton-based artists Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt have explored the material nature of our world and how we experience it through the lenses of science and technology through an innovative body of work. In 2015, the artists undertook their Collide residency at CERN. They began working with particle collisions data collected by ATLAS, the largest of the four detectors at the Large Hadron Collider and explored the use of physics data in a visual form. The monumental installation HALO—a ten-metre-wide cylindrical structure housing a 360-degree particle collisions data projection surrounded by a synchronised soundscape—invites visitors to physically experience a particle physics event, transcending its scientific context and reflecting on the technological mediation of nature.
Continuing this body of work with particle collisions data, the artists made the three computer graphic animations HALO 0.1 0.2 0.3, now on view in ‘To The Edge of Time’. In a recent interview with Arts at CERN, the artists remarked their interest in minimum bias data, which scientists collect before adding or removing layers of information. This interest comes neither from its scientific context nor its aesthetics, but sparks from what this data tells us about nature. As the artists remarked, ‘We’re interested in how you look at the data. There’s a certain complexity in it, which suggests nature, but there’s also a structure that suggests man and technology reading nature. We’re fascinated by what data becomes, what it tells us about nature and how we as humans respond to that.’
Presented on custom-made square screens, each point of light shows where a particle of matter interacted with the detector, offering each animation of HALO 0.1 0.2 0.3 a different perspective of the data. Removed from its scientific framework, Semiconductor explore data as an artistic medium, which becomes a physical form in its own right.
The exhibition also features how scientists recreate the conditions of the Universe when it was only a tiny fraction of a second old, as achieved at CERN's particle accelerators. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, this everyday cooking pot was used as a vacuum chamber in the Isotope mass Separator On-Line facility (ISOLDE), which studies the properties of atomic nuclei, with further applications in fundamental studies, astrophysics, material and life sciences. ISOLDE fulfils the old alchemical dream of making new chemical elements.
The exhibition ‘To The Edge of Time’ runs through 16 January 2022 at The Leuven University Library. The show is curated by physicist Dr Thomas Hertog and independent curator Hannah Redler Hawes.
Main image: Suzanne Treister, The Holographic Universe Theory Of Art History (THUTOAH), 2021. Installation view at the University Library of KU Leuven. Photo by Dirk Pauwels. Courtesy of KU Leuven
Article by Ana Prendes, Communications and Content Producer